Saturday, December 31, 2011

In summary: Creating & presenting my first TEDx talk

The big day

How to summarize my first TEDx talk? Whew. There is so much to say: a huge amount of preparation. An exciting responsibility to represent the change-movement that TED stands for. An opportunity to benefit from the wide view of the TED platform to spread my own personal "idea worth sharing".

Let's start with the preparation, as that was the biggest part. Then we'll get onto the practice, and finish up with a discussion of the event itself. Also, scroll down to see pics of the day, and a re-post of the YouTube video of my talk. (Thanks Mom, Kevin and Kara for taking photos!)

This world works in unusual ways. This past April, I was introduced to my old boss's boss's son's principal, who was the organizer for the TEDxIB@York conference this November in Toronto, Canada. After the initial recommendation, we met via Skype video conference and I spent a solid 20 hours on one weekend writing an initial draft of my thoughts, my personal history - a broad stroke about what I might speak about. This was an awesome opportunity to present my life-view to the world and after submitting my draft, I was so psyched to be accepted as a speaker.

I traveled to Iceland and Europe with my family this May and when I got back to San Francisco in June, I started working diligently on the talk. 5 months to go. I spent countless hours combing old photo albums, asking my Mom to scan pictures from the 1980's, researching myself and my own life history to boil down thousands of possible stories and anecdotes into just 3 solid examples. Over these few months, I agonized over the minute details, iterating over and over and over and over on the thesis, sharpening and zeroing in on my "idea worth sharing".

With 2 months to go, I kicked into a higher gear. Instead of working on the talk 1 or 2 nights per week, I started to work on it every single night after work. I verified all the details with the (extremely patient!) organizers: the slide dimensions for the projector, the minimum font size for the slides, the ability to use Apple's Keynote instead of Powerpoint... etc. After getting all of the ducks in a line, I created the slides.

Uh oh. I had way too much to talk about. I had 80 slides for an 18 minute presentation. Whoops.

The fierce editing continued as I cut and slashed unnecessary details in the stories, tightening the message and enhancing the thesis in the process. I then showed the draft notes and draft slides to a very few trusted advisors (what I call the Jutanclan Exec Team, i.e. family and friends!) At this point I got some excellent advice, flipping a few pieces of the talk on their head and pushing me forward into the final draft stage. I reached a "content lock" and stopped changing the slides with about 3 weeks to showtime, so I could focus solely on my speech flow, emphasis and performance.

Now for the presentation practice. In this final preparation step, I practiced the talk at my computer desk, by myself. I did this about 3 times a night, every night, for the last few weeks before the talk. This allowed me to tweak a few pieces and I added in a few new parts at this point: the part about Pixar near the end and also the trick of putting my goals up in front of me during long homework nights at Waterloo. It was all coming together. I presented it in it's near-complete form only to 2 people: Matthew Lausch and Alex Finlayson, my 2 best friends from childhood. These guys know me so damn well that they would know the stories and the details of I was trying to say, but could give me good critical feedback about the way I was describing it. My parents had seen so many written drafts, they were excited to see the final presentation and didn't want to see an almost-done version; rather, I asked for their advice only on a few critical pieces. My former colleague Kevin was super helpful as well and had some excellent recommendations for pacing and emotional flow.

This shot me forwards to the final 2 weeks and during that time I just practiced, only. No more changes. Just getting more and more comfortable with the flow of the slides, where to emphasize, what phrasing I did and didn't want to use on the final day. During the final presentation I would have no cue-cards, no point-form, no notes - the entire 18 minutes all had to be in my head. It had to come off as well-prepared and with a good flow, but not over-prepared and scripted.

In the last week before the talk, it was ready. I was confident, I knew the speech in-and-out. I could recite it in my sleep (and probably did). The flow was what I wanted and was up to the absurdly high personal standard I was holding myself to. And now... time to present!

I flew to Toronto a couple days before the presentation to acclimatize to the timezone difference and meet up with some close friends. I took my notes and slides in PDF format just in case, but I think I only practiced it once. I was ready.

We did a run-through the day before and I was a bit concerned about doing it for a mostly-empty room: but it was a very good idea to do the dress rehearsal. I had presented the talk in advance for so few people because (as described in this blog post) I was concerned about presenting in any forum other than the actual day-of. The speech was so full of genuine personal emotion that it was impossible for me to emulate "the" speech on any day other than the actual day. But the run-through was a great idea, it helped me get comfortable with the stage space, the microphone, the slide-clicker, and let me get to know all the great people who were helping run the event and thank them in advance. One last minute detail to clear up: all my prep had been with the counter climbing up from 0:00 to 18:00, and so my timing and flow was baked into my brain as a count-up rather than a count-down from 18min to 0. The kind technical crew graciously jumped to help and managed to get the timer to count up for me instead. So many details like this made it really beneficial to do the trial run. After that, I was all comfortable and ready to roll, and I actually slept the night before. :)

Then came the big day!

Months and months of preparation, hundreds of hours of research and thought and iteration, days of practice and mental preparation... the day had finally arrived! In my mind was the phrase, "Here goes EVERYTHING." My parents arrived at my hotel in Toronto, we had a coffee and my Mom took a few photos and off we went to the event. I dropped my stuff in the Speaker Green Room, met a bunch of the fantastic and organized student volunteers and sat down with my family and some of my very closest friends in the world and enjoyed the day of talks before mine. The conference theme was "Passion, Purpose and Perspective", and my talk was the final talk in the first afternoon session: "Passion". My start time was 4:00pm EST. I chatted with some interesting and motivated students and attendees during the breaks and even had a few folks mentioned they'd come specifically to see my talk. That was so cool.

I watched the talks in the block before mine and zoomed out in the TED video portion right before mine just to get some air, some water, and to wash my face and tell myself it would go fine. :) I spent a few moments on my own, calming down and mentally preparing for the stage. I headed back into the auditorium, got Mic'd up and waited for the TED video to finish and for Maureen (the radio host MC) to introduce me.

I got up on stage, the spotlight beaming down on me, the audience mostly in shadow from the stage lighting. Images of my time doing speeches for Student Council and in high school plays bounded through my mind, but this was no time to reminisce. It was time to explode out of the gate. BOOM!

After a jitter or two in the first 10 or 15 seconds (I *always* do that, no matter how much preparation!), I started to get my stride and start my 18 minute long relationship with the audience. The speech itself is a blur, I remember only a few moments like when someone in the crowd said "Woo!" when I mentioned Waterloo and I ran with that. I finished the speech with the planned emotional punch I was aiming for, and I was so happy that all my hard preparation work paid off with a presentation that I was proud of. The audience reception was awesome, and the explosive ovation at the end of the speech sealed the moment in my mind. I'd successfully demonstrated how important enthusiasm is, and I'd proved it's contagious nature by getting the audience on their feet. It was a moment I will never forget.

And that was that! 7 months after being accepted, I presented the culmination of countless hours of preparation and I was so psyched with the result. Even better, I was so glad to be able to share my encouraging message with tons of motivated students, my friends and family, and the online community via TEDx's livestream streaming video service.

Since then, the talk was posted to YouTube, featured on my favourite film blog Slashfilm as Video of the Day, and garnered approx 6000 views in the first week. What an experience.

I recommend this experience to anyone. Even for someone like me who loooooves public speaking and has had many opportunities in the past to do that, it was still nerve-wracking to get up there on stage and present. But if you feel you truly have an "idea worth sharing", I strongly encourage you to go for it with full force. It was such an invigorating experience. Tons of hard work, but worth every second. :)

See my blogs about my TEDx preparation here, and check out the video on YouTube here.

Early morning coffee at the hotel, props (shoes and t-shirt) ready to roll
"I'm really nervous to be here": a few minutes before my talk
The stage
Here goes... EVERYTHING!
The shoes making a grand appearance

Discussing enthusiasm as an essential tool for success
"Why?!": A moment when I took the word "no" as the first in a series of possible responses
Describing the T-1000 robot from Terminator 2, the image which inspired my entire career
Describing the unbelievable moment when my hard work, dedication, and luck all collided
The best email I've ever received in my life
The real goal of enthusiasm
And 18 minutes later... it's done!
Posing with Mom and Dad... and for a 2nd photo at the same time :)
New friends
Some of my closest friends from childhood were able to make it, that was amazing.
"Now, pretend you're all tigers"
Relaxing at the afterparty with David and Conor, the conference organizers

Here's the talk again on YouTube if you haven't seen it yet:

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