Lessons from a TedX Speaker

Everyone was encouraging, but the unspoken mantra was ‘Be Great or Go Home.’

It’s been just over a week since I spoke at the TedX Conference at the University of Michigan–Dearborn. Today, my knees are still a little wobbly but I’m still standing.

For those of you that have spoken or attended a Ted Talk, you know that there is high energy and high expectations from both the audience and the fellow speakers. I have never before — nor may ever again — felt such pressure to perform. Everyone was always encouraging, but the unspoken mantra was “Be Great or Go Home.” I’m still not quite sure how I fared, maybe somewhere between “Crash-and-Burn” and Simon Cowell putting me through to the next round.

I have to admit, I had little idea of what I was getting into when my application was selected by in July. Once selected, we went through numerous coaching sessions, presentations revisions and dry runs. With each passing day, I dreaded the coming of October and the day of the big event.

When the day finally came, I was numb. No longer fearful or nervous, I just tried to remain composed while the frenetic energy of the organizers and volunteers whipped around me.

I gave my presentation on “The Power of Storytelling.” I took some risks by actually writing a story for the event about a nervous, TedX speaker who was trying to convince his audience that there was real power in stories. I set my presentation up like I was reading a bedtime story to the audience, holding a giant “TedX” picture book while giant images flashed up on the screen behind me.

All in all, I think it went OK. I just felt like I was recovering from the flu afterwards. I do have to say that the team at U-MD was awesome. It was mostly students who organized the event and their passion, excitement and dedication made me proud to be a participant.

With that being said, I did learn some things from this speaking engagement; wish may be of help to someone who has to give a presentation:

  • There’s no substitute for preparation. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it does make better.
  • Always solicit input and feedback but remember that you own your presentation. You should clearly state your vision and approach to those who offer their feedback. Then, ask them to help you reach that vision with their critique.
  • When presenting, talk about three-times slower than you would in normal speech. If you sound drudgingly slow to your own ear, you’re probably just right.
  • Don’t get distracted. Focus on your task at hand and deliver like you rehearsed it.

Finally, remember that everyone around you wants you to do well. Most audiences are willing participants in your success. They will forgive you for any slip-ups and applaud you for your courage and willingness to share your message. After all, it may be their turn next.