For me, doing a Tedx talk was the professional equivalent of what I imagine having a brief crazy affair with a hot young thang is like! Consider the similarities. Doing a Tedx talk was exciting and it was fun to see people’s reactions when I told them about me and Ted and yes, it gave me a little ego boost too. Speaking at Tedx involved learning a lot of new skills and at the same time it made me so nervous that I lost my appetite for days so Ted made me skinnier! Being a Tedx speaker became an obsession as it was all I could think about morning, noon, and night. Moreover, there were times I wished like hell I had never met Mr. Tedx in the first place and could just stay in place and enjoy the time with my family and my own students!
However, at the end of the day, I did my Tedx talk this past weekend on “How to Get a Mentor” and I think my most overwhelming emotion is just gratitude. I am grateful to have had the experience as it stretched me out of my comfort zone and taught me some things about being a better speaker and yet at the same time, I am so happy to have the job I have as a Professor of Management. I confess I had always wondered what it would be like to be an actor or a newscaster and this really gave me a taste of that. Condensing my life’s work of 20 years of research into mentoring down to a 15 minute talk that entertained and informed was one of the biggest challenges I have had in a while. The underlying theme of my talk was that to get better in our careers, we have to keep growing and learning. This weekend, I got to walk the talk, literally.
Here is what I learned and a few tips for anyone doing a Ted talk or an important presentation.
Tip #1 : Embrace the humility of this new experience. I had to have a beginners mind with this stuff. I learned I had to throw out all my rules of format, power point slides, and even format that I had learned and obeyed for many, many years. I had to learn about having mystery and surprise in my talk yet at the same time sound conversational. I had to tell stories but make sure the learning points were crystal clear without a lot of repetition. I had to get over the fact that I have an established expertise and learn what I didn’t know. Also, embrace your coach. Our speaker’s coach was Blakely Hull, special ed teacher by day, but coach extraordinaire by night!
Tip #2: Make friends fast! I went to a speaker dinner the night before and was gratified to learn that my fellow speakers, who were also VERY experienced also found this Tedx talk to be very challenging so our mutual insecurity was extremely comforting. Get to know your other speakers as they form your core support team. Walk around and chat and schmooze the audience ahead of time. Also, make friends by practicing like crazy. I did a practice pod cast, two speakers rehearsals, a run-through with a Ted coach, and prevailed upon my own students to listen to me at a pizza and practice party. By the time it was show time I felt supported and ready.
Tip #3: Get ready to practice grace under pressure. Shit happens. Most unexpectedly. So, here is what happened to me. I got up to do my talk and it was going GREAT! Exactly like I had visualized. The audience was laughing and I was completely in the moment. And then, boom, my audio dropped out. So, I stopped and waited for the cavalry to arrive in the form of a back up microphone. Nope, no cavalry. This princess has to get to rescue herself so I kept going .. another minute or so went by and I regained my momentum and then the MC came on the stage and said, “Ellen, so sorry but we need you to start all over again from the top as your battery is dead.” Okayyyy. So I did and while it felt awkward, I felt like the audience was really with me (or perhaps they were just thinking, I am so glad that is not me up there!). Deep breath, grace under pressure and the show went on.
Now it is Monday and I am prepping for my class tomorrow. No cameras, no repeat performance. Just me and my students. Welcome back. Sometimes there really is no place like home-professionally and personally.