I was introduced to TED Talks by one of my students several years ago (thanks, McCoy!). I instantly fell in love with them and have been viewing them ever since. You can, then, imagine how happy I was to discover last year (March 2014) that my own university had become a licensed TEDx site and was holding its second annual TEDx program (TED talks are out of New York and Canada, but TED licenses other locations to conduct TED Talks and those are called TEDx). Nirvana! I don’t know how I managed to miss the first one, but I was certainly going to jump on that train as quickly as possible. In order to get tickets, you have to commit to going for the entire program since it is done with an audience. We’re talking about from something like 10-6. I couldn’t imagine how that worked, but we were willing to try. I went with my daughter, AnneAlexis.
We were totally blown away. From the very first speaker, a student who spoke on the issue of the importance of debate societies, to the very last, it was simply mind-blowing. The TED Talk tagline is “ideas worth sharing,” and each and every one of the dozen or so speakers absolutely fit that. The ideas were incredible, the delivery of them incredible, and the overall way the audience experience was handled by the organizers was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. What seemed like an extraordinarily long time for a program, flew by. You were so interested in the speakers until time did not matter. We were given two breaks over the span of the event, we were fed, we played games and had time to speak to perfect strangers, it was awesome.
I recall walking away discussing the program with my daughter and saying, “I could NEVER do a TED talk!!!” Since public speaking of one kind or another is my life, my daughter couldn’t understand why I would say that. I told her that I was more of an extemporaneous speaker. Though always well prepared, I bring my audience into whatever I am presenting and use their energy and ideas to give them what they came for. They matter to me and they are an integral part of what I deliver. I HATE the idea of simply delivering a speech. Even when I do a keynote address for something like a graduation, I bring the audience into it. Just standing and speaking? No way. Using notes or having a prepared text memorized? Not me.
Then I was asked by the TEDx folks to allow them to nominate me to do a TEDx talk. Wow. Wonderful to be asked, but I declined. “Sorry. I don’t do that sort of speaking,” I said. “But, we’ve asked all around and your name keeps coming up! Of course you can. And we will support you the whole way. You’ll have a team assigned to you whose only job is to help you make your talk conform to the TED format.” We went back and forth about it and she finally convinced me to at least go online and fill out the nomination form before the deadline so I could be considered and I could always decline the nomination if it came. I was so hesitant until I emailed her just before pressing the “send” button. “Are you sure about this?, I asked. “Push the send button,” she said.
Well, I did, and days later I received the news that I had been chosen. Of course, once that happened, it was hard to decline. They sent a team to interview me to make sure I would agree to do it, was available for the event and surrounding commitments, and was amenable to having a team of students help me. The students take a class in how to do TED Talks and in addition to doing one themselves for the class, they teach presenters what they’ve learned about how this is done. As it turns out, part of why the interview is necessary is that some people are not at all comfortable with the idea of taking instruction from students. Well, that wasn’t a problem for me. I teach students every day and deal with them in extracurricular activities and I know how incredibly competent and committed our students are. Plus, they’ve had the class and I haven’t. So I agreed. More than giving the talk itself, I was intrigued by taking what was in my head and letting the students help me create a TED Talk that would be something that would look like—actually be— a TED Talk. Much like when I write, I did it because I wanted to see the final product. What would a TED Talk by me look like? How would I actually say the idea that I had that was worth sharing? What would the process of getting there look like?
The process has been all I could have hoped for. I have LOVED it!!!!!!! The entire process! Today is March 1st and the program is March 27th. The dress rehearsal is March 26. The 500 tickets were sold out within the first hour they went online. It has created enormous buzz. I hadn’t told my classes I was doing it, but I happened to have in my class a student I had had the semester before when I was chosen and I had told his class. I happened to have him in class the day and time that tickets went on sale and at the end of class he came up and excitedly told me that he’d secured a ticket. I didn’t have the heart to scold him for being online in class. :-) He told me I really should tell my classes. The truth is, I really hadn’t told a lot of people about it. Mostly, I told people as it came up in terms of dates. That is, when we were seeking dates for meetings, I would tell them I wasn’t available because I was doing a TED Talk. They always instantly registered awe. Actually, it’s rather embarrassing. I’m just giving information, but I forget how it will be taken. But the truth is, I would have reacted the same way if someone had told me they were doing a TED Talk!
After the website was posted announcing the presenters and because of my student (thank you, George! :-) ), I decided to tell my classes and to put it on my Facebook page. I was not prepared for the reaction. The students seemed to look at me with new eyes. My students tend to love me already, but this was different. It was as if the idea that I could actually be asked to do a TED Talk that could be seen by the entire world made me somehow elevated to a new position in their minds.
I don’t do an awful lot on Facebook. I tend to go on only if I receive an email notice that makes me want to congratulate someone for something or I click on “share on Facebook” if an idea regarding equality issues and civic engagement comes up. It is rare for me to actually go on and post something. But, I posted that I was doing a TED talk. I was amazed at the response. People from as far back as law school (I graduated in 1975!) left comments for me saying incredibly complimentary things. The list of names in the comments and over 100 “likes” was like reading a review of my life. People I had been involved with in ways large and small reached out. We touch so many people in our lives that it is easy to forget how much of an impact we have—and it doesn’t help if you tend to slough off the thanks and just move on to the next item on the agenda. With me being a professor, I touch even more people than most and sometimes do so at crucial times in their lives. Seeing the names and immediately remembering them, even from decades ago, was like getting to listen in at my own funeral. Unbelievable. Incredible. Truly, truly touching.
While that has been a part of the process I had not realized would be there, the part of the process that has been what I looked forward to —choosing a topic, honing it down and shaping it into an actual TED talk, has been amazing. I asked lots of people what I should speak on, including my students I told when I was chosen. I read a poem at the beginning of each class, and several suggested I do that because it was so impactful. My 8-year-old granddaughter looked at me with a “Duh..” look and said, “Nana, you have to talk about what you ALWAYS talk about! Love and the Law! One of the people I asked was the president of my university. We had been colleagues for 25 years before he was appointed and he knew me and my work, especially with students, well enough to know issues of interest to me. His suggestion was what immediately gave me my first draft of 18 pages. Of all the things everyone had said to me, his was the one that set my mind in a swirl. Not the topic he actually suggested, but instead, what it made me think of. Getting out that first draft was ENORMOUSLY helpful. If I was going to be confident about doing this, I knew I needed time. The sooner I could nail down a topic, the longer I had to be able to think about it. I am more of an appellate lawyer than a courtroom lawyer, though I am capable of both. Appellate lawyers get plenty of time to think about their topic, research it, try this and that, and craft their final product. Courtroom attorneys have to battle it out minute by minute on the spot. I am more of the former. I need time to think and re-think and craft my words and ideas. I realize that I get some of my best thoughts when I am working out at the gym each morning, or walking my 10,000 steps a day, or even drifting off to sleep. I need that time. So, although I had not yet even had the first meeting with my team, I had a complete first draft. When we met, they were astonished.
By the way, I am not revealing anything about my topic before I give my talk. Of course, it is always the first thing people ask as soon as they know I am doing one.
My first timed draft in October was 22 pages and was 30 minutes long. I was told it had to be no longer than 18. I honed it down to that and was told the time had changed to no longer than 12 minutes. I got there. But, the process of doing so has been phenomenal and will stay with me forever. Doing a TED Talk makes you have to think about the true clarity of your message. Everything I have said in every draft is worth saying, but in the end, if I have to cut something out for time, what can go, yet still leave my message totally intact? That clarifies my thinking in ways I am not sure I have ever done. It is totally different than, say, preparing for a 20-minute presentation to an audience for Black History Month, as I have to do for tomorrow, or even meandering around at will as I do here in a blog.
As a textbook author whose texts are used worldwide, as a professor who speaks to classes with students from all over the world, I am used to the idea of taking my audience into account (rather than saying what it is I might want to say with no regard for how it is received) and trying to make sure my message can be understood by all, not just people “just like me.” But, doing a TED Talk takes that to a new level. I am used to expressing my ideas, but I generally do so in a way that is a one-shot deal. With a TED Talk, you have to think about people all over the world watching your talk over and over. Some things that are fine on a fly-by basis, do not stand up the same way to close examination. The good thing is that my message is a familiar one to me and is absolutely what I would tell the entire world if I had the chance. That is comforting because it means I will not be struggling with something unfamiliar that I am trying to do just for TED Talk purposes. My message is my life, so it is not foreign to me, and that means I don’t have to worry about spending precious energy being uncomfortable on that score.
I have pretty much left this month free to deal with my TED Talk. Where I could, I have not scheduled things because I know that it helps me to be centered, comfortable, and laser-focused, which gives me the confidence I will need to go out onto that stage and face 500 people in the audience and potentially millions around the world. I’m not quite sure what people who are not used to public speaking do. That would be so daunting. One of the speakers from last year told me she had had, I think, an operation on her Achilles tendon the week before. I can’t imagine. And she was drop-dead phenomenal. I tell myself that if she can do that, then certainly, I should be able to speak my truth and do it well if I am in good health and centered. My team has been absolutely wonderful. They know their stuff and give great helpful suggestions and insights.
Even as I say this, I continue to hone and preen and craft and massage my message so that it meets the standards of the incredible TED Talk presenters that I know and love. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it! :-)
By the way, our TEDx program will be live streamed on March 27. To find out how to get it, visit the website at tedxuga.com.