*This post refers to my experiences preparing for and delivering a talk at the TEDxOakParkWomen event in December 2019.*

Remember what it was like when you were a kid and you got some wild idea in your head?  Like, let’s see if we can build a raft and float to the other side of the pond?! And before you know it, you’re halfway across the water…  That was me when I decided I wanted to do a TEDx talk.

I live in Oak Park, Illinois, a small “urban-lite” village on the western border of Chicago.  We are fortunate enough to have a TEDxOakParkWomen event every year so, when I saw the call for presenters in April 2019, I felt compelled to try out.  Flash forward to December 12, 2019, when I spoke about my “idea worth spreading” in front of an audience of approximately 250 people.  

After taking a little time to reflect, I’m sharing my experiences and the lessons I learned during the process – in hopes of encouraging and inspiring others to do the same.

But first, an overview of the process:

TEDxOakParkWomen releases its call for speakers in early April.  Potential speakers audition before a small panel and chosen speakers are notified in early June.  But, like the contestants on Survivor, you’ve got to the news secret for a while– which may be the hardest part of the entire TEDx journey!   Once the speaker line-up is made public, that’s when you get to bask in the excitement and good wishes from friends, family, and colleagues who are surprised and excited to learn you’ve been selected.

After that, it’s “Write, Refine, Practice” for the next 5 months or so until you go on stage. TEDxOakParkWomen has a great support network; the conference organizers, previous speakers, and other allied professionals help you focus your message, craft your talk, and provide a comfortable and supportive environment to practice until the Big Day arrives.

So, what did I learn from the experience?

Seek counsel but know thyself.
The TEDx process isn’t like a regular conference, where you can just get up and talk about anything you like.  There is a fairly strict time limit (about 16 minutes) and the conference organizers work closely with each presenter to help focus and refine the talks.  The organizers, and your fellow presenters, will become trusted advisors as you craft your talk.

In addition, it helps to have your own group of people to talk about your work with.  Sometimes it’s just to share your excitement; sometimes it’s to talk about a challenge you are having with the work or the process.  They can see what you can’t, e.g. what’s missing, out of order, or just not necessary. In either case, having this group of advisors is critical in helping you develop the best talk you possibly can.  

However, you’ll also get a lot of feedback that doesn’t improve your talk.  Build your talk in layers by first developing a strong core idea.  Then you can seek assistance as you craft a solid supporting framework and incorporate richly illustrative examples to bring your idea to life.

Set aside enough time.
By the time you’ve given your talk, you will likely have spent 6 months and greater than 50 hours preparing and practicing.  You might even get close to 100 hours if you: have a visual presentation to go along with your talk; public speaking is hard for you; and/or you’re working out some details as you go along.  In fact, in the book Your Amazing Itty Bitty Guide to Being TED-Worthy: 15 Essential Secrets of Successful Speaking Based in Human Neurobiology, the author states that Steve Jobs set aside 1 hour of practice for every 1 minute of his talk.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly seems like it could be true– and it was a guideline I tried to follow.

Stay loose.
It’s pretty much guaranteed that your Talk won’t go as you rehearsed, no matter how many hours you practice. In the excitement of the moment, when you’re finally on stage–you’ll likely skip over something or repeat a point or simply say something in a different way.  When that happens, the key is to keep going.  Performers know this; after all, no one in the audience knows what you’ve been rehearsing all those months and, as long as you play it cool, your talk will come off as flawless.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my TEDx talk was this–

Be genuinely excited by your TEDx topic.
The key to delivering an amazing TEDx talk is being genuinely excited by your topic.  The audience connects with your energy as well as your words and the more they can feel your enthusiasm for the thing you are talking about, the more engaged they are.  This, paradoxically, makes it slightly less important if you deliver your talk exactly as rehearsed–or even if you make a mistake. Your audience will connect with your aura and remember how you delivered your talk long after the night is over.

Now, a month after I stood on stage and talked about my “idea worth sharing,” I can honestly say I’d recommend this to anyone who has an idea they want to explore and share.  Maybe you have a story you’d like to tell. Maybe you have some expertise you’d like to share. Whatever your idea is, I encourage you to seek out ways to share it–whether it’s through TEDx, other speaking engagements, or a written format.  After all, it’s when we bring our powers to the world that we become superheroes.