So... You Want To Do a TEDx Talk?

"Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners. We’ll call that something an idea." - Chris Anderson, Founder TED.

Last weekend I achieved a major milestone in my career.

I became a TEDx speaker.

It began three months ago when I got a message that felt like the old AOL “you’ve got mail”

The message on LinkedIn from my coach Marie Incontrera said, “you’ve got a TED talk! Check your email.”

This would be my next big accomplishment and I was scared but ready to take it on.

The title would be Unleashing The Power of Fear. A subject I know intimately.

Practice makes perfect they say, and no matter how many hours I developed the script, rehearsed, writing it out by hand, making flash cards, trigger words, I still felt unsure.

The talk would take place three hours from my house and I could drive there. A bonus if you don’t have to fly.

South Lake Tahoe Community College is situated at 6,237 feet on beautiful Lake Tahoe and surrounded by pine tree forests that rise like cathedrals toward the snow-covered peaks.

Arriving in South Lake Tahoe on Friday morning I was heading straight into dress rehearsal with the other amazingly talented speakers. The team at SLTCC was warm and welcoming, and made me feel very special.

I was first on the ‘red dot’ and thus, setting the tone for the event!

I felt out of breath but wasn’t sure if it was the elevation or my nerves.

As I waited to be called up for the dress, I was overcome by uncertainty.

Internally, my inner critic was doing a number on my head. 

I was going to forget the sequence of my talk, I would embarrass myself, look incompetent, and be the exact opposite of what I was there to do…

And that’s exactly what happened.

I had a full fear meltdown.

Me. The person who was there to speak about how to unleash the power of fear gave it full display.

I stuttered. I stammered. I apologized.

I frantically searched through notes that should never have been there in the first place.

I forgot to forward my slides and I felt like an idiot.

There’s a reason it’s called the dress rehearsal. I felt seriously underdressed!

Let me share one thing that I have not really spoken about. I am a professionally trained singer who all my life believed that I could not memorize the words of a song.

It was a belief that has limited my ability to perform spontaneously, and I have always regretted this limitation.

When the rehearsal was over and I could breathe again, I told my husband and the team members who were incredibly supportive, that I would do better tomorrow.

In many ways, the fear meltdown was a letting go of that old belief that has plagued me most of my life, starting at age 7.

But that’s a story for another time.

On Saturday, I went over my talk in my hotel room without notes in front of the mirror and sailed through it all. I was ready.

Ten minutes before the performance, I was in the dressing room with the next speaker, Meena Srinivasan, an accomplished mindfulness teacher.

The irony was not lost on me.

We each did our meditation, and I did a few martial arts punches to bump up the energy. I was ready.

When my name was announced I walked out onto the red dot, took a pause, and opened my arms wide and asked “So…What is your favorite four-letter F Word?”

The audience laughed. want to do a TED talk? Or maybe just curious about what it takes, so here's my experience.

  • The process to deliver a first-class TEDx is long. Many people take six months. I had about nine weeks.
  • Writing your idea takes time and a lot of iterations. I worked with a writing coach to make sure I was doing the subject justice, and I could back up all my conclusions.
  • I had a total of 14 drafts that were meticulously examined for each and every idea and word placement.
  • You must memorize the sequence of your talk, and go over it hundreds of times to get the flow, and make sure you are delivering with passion and intonation.
  • If you are not good with slides you need a professional presentation person to help construct them. I was lucky to be introduced to someone who does this for the main TED stage, and he did an excellent job.
  • The timing is strict.
  • Many TEDx have a limit of 12-15 minutes. I was fortunate, I was allowed 18 minutes, which is the length of an average TED.
  • For those of you who are not familiar with the TED structure, there are main TED events run globally by the TED organization, and there is TEDx which licenses the name and is run by local organizations. All held to exacting standards.
  • The TED slogan is Ideas Worth Spreading
  • While you are talking to a local audience, your talk is videotaped, and with agreement from the TED organizers is uploaded onto YouTube for global viewing. This is where you have the greatest impact if you do it right and have a compelling subject matter.
  • You don't get paid for doing this. If you are smart, it's a massive marketing opportunity to spread your idea.

Doing a TED talk has been a remarkable process.

It was a challenge that I occasionally wondered if I was in my right mind to take it on.

But in the final analysis, my anxiety over performance was overcome, and the talk flowed easily on the night, and was well received.

And yes...I will do it again if asked. Next time with a much clearer idea of what not to do when making myself crazy!

Many thanks to South Lake Tahoe Community College, the staff who worked tirelessly to make this a great event, videographers, and all the amazing speakers who shared the stage with me.

Related: What Does Fear Have To Do With It?