I’m currently sitting on a flight to Dallas on my way to Baton Rouge where I will be starting a 3 week IBM Smarter Cities Challenge this coming Sunday [definitely a topic for my next blog post]. I’m feeling both exhilarated and exhausted after having delivered my first TED talk yesterday at the TED@IBM event in San Francisco. I’ve been a big fan of TED for years so being invited to speak at a TED event was a huge honour. However while I was excited at the prospect I was also terrified. As a technologist/data scientist/techno-geek I’m very comfortable presenting to other technologists and technologically savvy business users, however crafting a talk that could convey my message, which itself was rather complex, in a way that would resonate with a much broader audience was going to be challenging.
What I hadn’t expected, or been prepared for, was the level of effort required to prepare for a TED talk. I’d always admired TED speakers for being so articulate and polished, and I now know that this isn’t by accident. Once chosen for an event, the TED team kick into gear and kick you into shape ;-) And I mean that in the most complementary way possible as they are the most professional and hardworking bunch; with coaching skills that are second to none. For someone like myself who spends too much time talking with other technologists they bring a perspective to the creation process that is invaluable.
My TED journey was a tumultuous one where I started with a script that was pages long, a babble of techno jargon, and slides so ugly a mother couldn’t even love them :-) My first draft was too long, too geeky, and too disjointed. What I needed for a TED talk was something short, crisp, consumable, succinct, personal, and that told a story anyone could understand. My TED coach, an amazing lady called Gina Barnett, was patience personified and helped me transform how I presented my message, while keeping true to the points that I wanted to share with the world. She also brought the perspective of the non-technologist which gave me a chance to test the articulation of my ideas with someone who wasn’t an expert in the field. The TED team also have an amazing bunch of design guys who worked with me on slide design; the result being a set of slides that I feel both supported and enhanced the message.
The final emotional rollercoaster which is TED didn’t come until the day before the event; the rehearsal day. I’d flown in from Ireland the previous evening so was rather jet-lagged going into the rehearsal (although I am not blaming the jet lag for my meltdown). I don’t know what I had expected, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to react the way I did… Each speaker had their own rehearsal time-slot where we had to go into a tiny recording room with the entire TED production team to give our talk. Timing is really critical for TED talks, and I knew that I was borderline and at risk of going over. So a combination of my jet-lag, paranoia about timing, and being in the small enclosed rehearsal room — what I now like to call “the TED pressure cooker” ;-) — caused me to run through my talk like a racehorse on speed, blank at one point during the talk (something that has NEVER happened to me before in all my years presenting), and generally have a bit of a meltdown. It was totally unexpected.
I came out of the booth a gibbering mess; OK maybe a slight exaggeration, but I definitely wasn’t oozing confidence for my talk the following day… until I met the rest of my fellow TED speakers later that day. The old saying “misery loves company” was definitely true in this case, because when I met with the rest of the speakers it transpired that we were all feeling exactly the same way and had been similarly panic striken by the rehearsal. It was a rather bonding moment and I now feel a connection to my fellow speakers that I hadn’t anticipated. We were on this journey together and were going to help each other give our best performances. Another pleasant surprise of the TED process.
So the event came the following day, I felt surprisingly relaxed and back to my old self after my scare the previous day. There was that exhilarating hit of adrenaline just before you go up on the stage, but none of the panic of the previous day. The talk seemed to go well and be positively received. It was also my first time attending a TED event and I really enjoyed the whole day.
So for anyone who gets a chance to do a TED talk I strongly recommend that you grab the opportunity with both hands. It really is a transformational process on so many levels. The preparation prior to the event will stress the heck out of you, however you will always remember it as a great learning experience. Plus afterwards you get to say I’m a TED Speaker, how cool is that ;-)
Finally, I just want to give a big call-out to Gina Barnett and Juliet Blake from the TED team who were so supportive coming up to the event and so generous with their time. I couldn’t have done this without their advise and council. You guys are total rockstars in my book. Huge thanks! And to the rest of my fellow TED@IBM speakers, I’m so glad that we got to do this together and to have spent these last two days with you. It was a total pleasure.