Monday, October 31, 2011

Wrapping up my TEDx prep

With TEDx now only 3 weeks away I've been keen to get to a point of "content lock".

Looking at this as a software product (yep, I'm a huge computer nerd, this is exactly how I think), the draft in April was just a prototype - most of which has been thrown out or re-imagined since then, but the initial spirit is still intact. About 3 months ago I wrote a few "Alpha" versions, improving and changing things with broader strokes as I went. I'd say the first "Beta" release of the talk was about a month ago, with the structure starting to take shape and major decisions being made. I even had a few "stub methods" in there, slides with a big red "TEMP" across them, awaiting their proper implementation as I gained approval from Pixar PR and PR at my work to include actual production stills from Wall-E and other films.

Beta 1 and Beta 2 moved pretty quickly, as I gained feedback from key players and trusted advisers. Those comments led to a couple of high priority bugs that I needed to change before "ship date". :) In the final sprint towards Beta 3 and now Candidate Gold, I've done some last major tightening of the bolts and ensuring that everything fits together as I had originally intended.

Now of course I've only been talking about the content (speech and slides), not the actual *talk* itself. The presentation is probably the biggest unsung hero of the whole thing, and it only gets one moment to shine on the day-of. There is this large element - I might even say the key element - of showmanship and stage presence that truly cannot be replicated. That (thank goodness) for me is the easy part. Given my absurdly high level of extroversion, I will be so enthused and motivated and excited by the presence of the big audience that the day of is going to be much, much, much, much, much better than any of the demos I've given to people in advance. Feeding off an audience's energy and trying to make a personal connection to the whole crowd at once is one of the absolute most exciting parts about public speaking in all it's forms, and I'm so excited for the day-of. The practice sessions that are the closest to the final product are more similar to my private practicing on my own, just in front of my own computer screen. This allows me to imagine the audience and all their energy, and picture how I'll respond to it on the day of.

I have only demo'd the talk for a couple of people and it's funny, it was more like a read-through and an explanation of different sections than it was of an actual run-through. It's kinda funny. The only person who knows how it's truly going to be said on the day-of is me, and only as I'll be saying it. Very funny. This is like a hyper-well-prepared version of any of my old student council speeches. For those, it was: have a general thing you need to get across. write out a story in point form only. say it through once or twice to myself. go up on stage and try to get the crowd out of their seats and raising the roof. This talk is similar in the execution, but the preparation is not just one afternoon of point-form writing - rather more like several months of hashing and re-hashing my exact points over and over again until they are whittled down to the true core message that I want to give. It's been really exciting to get to this point. But even more exciting will be actually presenting it.

I think the real problem with run-throughs for me is not that I don't want to practice - in fact I've been practicing 2 or 3 times a day for the last couple of weeks. It's more that the emotion is not genuine during a practice. My talk is so emotionally intensive and I'm not a good enough actor to feign emotion - it has to be genuine. And for me the only time the speech will be truly genuine is if I'm giving it to myself, or the one single time I get to give it to the audience. I don't know if this is a common thing with presenters, but for me it's definitely the case. I've really got to read the Steve Jobs documentary. His talks were so well prepared but you could always tell when he really felt the emotional impact of something he was about to say, and that he wanted the audience to feel it too. It was brilliant to watch and you could see how well he'd prepared his speeches, but also how he got to a point where he'd just go for it and feed off the energy of the audience, ad-libbing wherever he felt like it. I love that experience, and I'm so excited to have it so soon.

Whew, anyway that was a lot of words. :) The speech is now at a point where I am ready to "content lock". I made a couple bigger switches a few days ago and a few very minor changes again yesterday but now I think it's finally all fallen into place. (Not that I am at all comparing this to a Pixar movie, but...) John Lasseter always says that his movies are never "done", they are just "released." There is some great truth in there, that you can always tweak and re-tweak a creative endeavor that you really care about or is really personal, but eventually it gets to a point where the slides are due or the movie has to come out and you just have to stop and say, "This is as far as I am gonna take it. From here it will need to speak for itself." I'm really happy to say I think I've reached that point (haha, I'm still not talking in absolutes!!!) but it's basically getting to the point where I need to memorize the order of the slides so I just can't change them or swap anything around anymore. I'm very happy with where it's ended up and I think the central message comes out so loud and clear, and I really hope people will like it (and, more importantly, find some part of my message useful to apply to their own lives). The goal of TED is "ideas worth sharing", and I'm ready to give my central life philosophy and message to the crowd and the world. It's not jaw-droppingly out of the box or something that no one has ever thought of - I wouldn't call this a "ground-breaking" idea. But I think it (enthusiasm) is something that society has undervalued, especially in the current day but definitely when I was a kid as well. I feel like I surrounded myself with a lot of like-minded kids when I was back in high school (through ASG, Student Council and especially OSSSA), and that definitely helped shape my world view a whole heck of a lot. Last I heard OSSSA had folded and that is a huge shame and a major loss for the world, honestly. I benefited so much from the extreme positivity of the fellow attendees there and if I can impart forwards even a little portion of that OSSSA-style pure, unbridled passion for life to this crowd and the YouTube viewers around the world, then I'll really have successfully given my "idea worth sharing."

I don't know the time I'll be on stage yet, but note that it will be streamed live on on Friday Nov 18th. For those close friends and family who are coming to watch me in person, thank you so much for your support on the day-of, but especially for your encouragement throughout all the years to get to this point.

This is gonna be fun.

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