Five takeways from TEDxGEM
It is no secret that doing my TEDx talk – The Seven Keys Robots are Taking From Us – in Grenoble, France has been one of the highlights of a year rich in successes. Even with my experience as a speaker, I found the commitment and investment in time and energy to prepare this TEDx talk were quite high. If you are considering doing a TEDx talk, here are my five takeaways from my recent TEDx experience:
1 – JUST ASK
The TEDx adventure was such a powerful lesson that we get nothing or nowhere if we don’t ask. First, I would never have been accepted to speak at TEDxGEM if I had not applied and asked to speak. Simple as that! The lesson to “Just Ask” popped up again while I was preparing my speech and it became clear I needed help understanding Amazon’s robot Alexa. I posted a message asking for help on FB and within the hour I had an unexpected reply from FB friend I had only recently added to my list of contacts.
The response gave me valuable links to more information and an offer to lend me an Amazon Echo Dot to practice with. After a discussion by Messenger of what I needed, we agreed to meet. As it turned out we met twice and this helpful ally even created the short video which I used in my speech. I learnt so much during our talks and my speech wouldn’t have been the same without this unexpected help which came from someone I had only met briefly through Toastmasters International.
To understand why he was helping me so much I also decided to JUST ASK. He told me that I had been an inspiration for him because he had seen me MC an event a year or two earlier. The confidence I displayed, while strutting about in my wildly colorful trousers I had worn on stage, had left a strong impression on him and inspired him to compete at Toastmasters contests. Hearing that I had influenced a top sales professional working for one of the biggest Silicon Valley firms to step out of his comfort zone was for me the GIFT hidden inside all the TEDx process and I would never have known this if I had not begun to ask. So next time you want to know anything, JUST ASK!
2 – BE OPEN
TEDx talks and events are carefully timed and as such seem to be part of a closed framework. But being part of a TEDx lets you see how being open to outside elements can change your speech and improve it. The idea for interacting with a robot like Alexa came to me spontaneously during the first pitch I made by telephone. I had not planned to talk about robots and had no idea how to make it work technically yet I accepted this challenge which resonated with the organizers. Once it was agreed, I let it influence the design of my speech. And the outside influence of the FB friend I mentioned above strengthened this as I learnt from him all about the robot Alexa. My speech and knowledge were enriched by being open to follow these ideas into new territory and new friendships.
Another moment like this came on the day of the event. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I went out looking for a park to practice my speech in as I love to practice outdoors. As I was unfamiliar with the city of Grenoble, I headed for the nearest green square I could find on the map. I found a park about 15 minutes’ walk from my hotel and when I entered the park a large white monument with musical notes on it caught my attention. When I looked closer, I saw the words of John Lennon’s song Imagine written under the musical notes. My jaw dropped! I had originally intended to mention this song in my speech as an example of what I call “purple soul”, but had taken it out to reduce the time of my speech. I realized that this was a sign (who knew I would find this park and see this monument?) that I needed to follow my initial idea and refer to the song Imagine in my speech.
Moments of synchronicity like this reinforce our confidence in the power of our speech as if there is an external and unseen force which wants us to deliver this message. These signs should always be followed. I now see speeches are living breathing thoughts which expand when we are truly open to how they connect on all levels.
3 – YOUNG PEOPLE KNOW STUFF TOO
TEDx talks offer the words and vision of expertise to the world. But going in with the idea you are the only expert might be the wrong approach. I discovered this while working with the young students in TEDxGEM organization team. I quickly understood they were well-schooled in marketing, social media, and knew exactly what they were doing and what they wanted.
The organization and communication between us was professional and impeccable and I learnt from our discussions at the pre-TEDx dinner that all of those involved in the organization team had grown up watching a regular diet of TED and TEDx talks. They knew what worked and certainly had seen more TED and TEDx talks than me, who claimed to be the expert! This mix of ages and experience brought the idea of robots into my speech and made it a challenge for me to keep it fresh. The interaction with these young people was beneficial and a positive takeaway for me.
4 – YOUR BODY SPEAKS AND NEEDS A WARM-UP
“Your speech was so clear that I think I would have understood it even if I were deaf” A young woman at the post-event cocktail shared this astonishing compliment with me. Her words fill me with pride and also underlined a major takeaway. Yes, our bodies do speak and they reveal all of who we are – the inner tensions, doubts, and pleasures of speaking.
Mine definitely did on the night and although I warmed up my legs, shoulders and mouth as I always do, I regret that I forgot to warm up my facial muscles before they put on the headset microphone and I went on stage. This is technique I coach others to do, but in the excitement of the event, I simply forgot. The result is a rather tense and frightening look on some of the photos that I have seen. OMG! I would love to go back and redo it differently.
And next time, I will make sure that I rub my hands together to heat them up and then rub them over my face as a nice massage so that all my facial muscles relax. A complete warm up of your body and voice will make your body speak the right way and make your connection much better.
5 – STAY THE COURSE WITH YOUR VISION
Preparing a TEDx is a long-haul process. The time from submission of your application to the stage involves months of waiting, thinking, preparing and practicing. In the month running up the event, I spent time everyday either practicing my speech, reworking it, visualizing myself delivering it, or communicating with the team about the event.
When the organization team saw the video of my practice speech, they had doubts about the conclusion of my speech which they thought wasn’t working as powerfully as they had read it on paper. I had a choice. Satisfy them or stick to my original idea and satisfy my speech. In the end, I dropped the last slide which we agreed wasn’t working, and I am glad I did.
However, I stuck with my vision and kept the conclusion I wanted to deliver. I went with what I believed was the ending that was meant to be shared and I heard at the cocktail only good things about my conclusion. Some even asked if the ending had come to me during the speech! I smiled and took this as a compliment. I had stuck with my vision for a few months and had the skill to make it seem fresh and natural enough for someone to imagine I had just added it. Wow.
The path to TEDx is long and doubts will appear. You shouldn’t feel you need to know everything when you begin or during the journey. It will all be clear when you reach the stage and connect with your audience.
Like me you can get to the TEDx stage and share your message if you – Just ask; Be open; Accept advice and help and remember young people know stuff too; Prepare your body to speak; And stay the course with your vision.
The world needs to hear your vision and you need to hear if it resonates. Give yourself and your audience the chance to hear what you believe. Stop thinking and start doing by putting a TEDx talk, or another speaking opportunity which gets you excited, on your list of goals for 2020.