What I Learned From My First TEDx Talk
The tension in my chest was present for at least the past four days. I'd rehearsed this talk no less than 100 times --I kept a daily tally-- but I still couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't prepared. The day before, during a dry run with event organizers and other speakers, I lost my place a quarter of the way through my talk and a sense of panic and impending doom washed over me like a tidal wave. "I'm going to blow this opportunity. Why the hell did I agree to do this? Who am I to speak in a format like this?!" The negative self-talk was pervasive.
And then I heard some version of the words, "Welcome to the stage Catie Hogan..." I can't remember exactly how I was introduced because the entire thing is a mushy blur in my memory.
I could see the faces in the audience. They were smiling at me and waiting to absorb whatever "wisdom" I had to impart. I took a deep breath, and miraculously, my first sentence came out in coherent English. Maybe it was the warmth of the stage lights on my face, but suddenly my heart wasn't pounding out of my chest. I relaxed and let the words flow out of me like I had practiced them 100 times. I think maybe it was because I had literally practiced them 100 times. I hit every beat, and even improvised for a moment or two as I became more and more comfortable in the setting. The audience laughed, smiled, and applauded when I finished. And just like that, my months of preparation, writing, revising, rehearsing, and panicking were over. I thanked the crowd and walked off the stage in my normal slightly bent forward "I'm always in a rush" trademark stride.
Holy shit. I just gave a TEDx Talk.
I've been a fan of TED for years. I often refer to Amy Cuddy's talk on body language when I'm giving advice to women who want to ask for a raise or promotion, or when I'm feeling insecure myself. I cried listening to Justin Baldoni's most recent talk on what it means to be "man enough." I think I've watched Robert Waldinger's "What Makes a Good Life" talk no less than 10 times.
Thousands of people have given TED and TEDx Talks (the "x" denotes an independently organized TED event). TEDx events are curated throughout the country to give ordinary people with extraordinary thoughts a platform to share their "ideas worth spreading."
I am humbled and honored to have been chosen for the inaugural TEDx event in my hometown. The pressure to deliver an impactful speech was immense. Admittedly, most of the pressure was me being my own worst critic, but I was going to be the only speaker native to North Adams and I really didn't want to let my hometown down.
In the end, the event ran smoothly. I was moved to tears multiple times by multiple speakers, and left with my brain full of inspiration and new knowledge. It was rewarding, thrilling, and BY FAR the most difficult thing I've ever done.
Here's what I learned:
Don't Take the Preparation Lightly
You need three months prepare. At least. In order to write, memorize, and then rehearse enough to not sound scripted, you need a few months. With a few weeks to go, if you're anything like me, you'll need about 2 hours a day to rehearse. Repetition is crucial.
If you're within a month of your talk, start rehearsing on family and friends. I HATE performing in front of people I know. Reciting my talk in front of my parents was awful the first few times, but it did help calm my nerves. Get in front of as many audiences as possible leading up to your talk.
Be Genuine and Authentic
My friend Katie Martell gave me great advice when I was first awarded the TEDx Talk. She told me to be honest and real. If you want to make an impact, you have to be yourself. You have to be genuine and authentic, it's as simple as that. Always speak from the heart, and remember that who you are is enough. You don't have to try to be anyone else.
Record Yourself and Listen to It While You Sleep, Walk, Exercise
Whenever I perform --comedy or otherwise-- I always record myself on the voice notes app on my phone. I find this is a really effective way to memorize lines and speeches. I even go as far as playing the recording on a loop at a low volume while I sleep.
Drink Green Tea
Of course, six days before the TEDx event, I woke up with a bit of laryngitis. As if I wasn't panicking before, now I'm less than a week out and I don't have a voice. I loaded up on meds, lozenges, and drank a ton of green tea.
I Googled the benefits of drinking green tea, and in addition to soothing your sore throat by reducing inflammation, green tea also improves memory! Win-win! The antioxidants in green tea provide all sorts of health benefits.
Break It Down into Chunks
Memorizing a 15 minute script is not for the faint of heart. I've had to learn lines in the past for plays, comedy shows, and short films...but this TEDx Talk was behemoth. Do you know how many words come out of your mouth in 15 minutes? A shitload.
My advice would be to break your talk down into digestible chunks. Work on one section at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, baby.
Make Sure Your Slides Help You
TED Talks are long. If you decide to use slides, be sure they assist you in remembering your important points. Slides are like little cheat sheets. If it's not helping you remember your words, then you probably don't need to include it.
Storytelling is an Art
I never realized until I did a little stand-up and now a TEDx Talk, that storytelling is an art form not easily mastered. Be sure your story and message is clear and concise. The ability to tell a good story comes in handy in all sorts of situations. Learn how to do it effectively.
Be Kind to Yourself
While I often preach about the power of positive thinking, I was extremely harsh on myself leading up to the talk. I let negative thoughts and self-doubt crush my spirit after I continually messed up during daily rehearsals.
Don't do this. You were chosen for this talk because the organizers believe in you and see your message as worthy. You absolutely can knock this out of the park. This task is undeniably difficult, you will get frustrated and overwhelmed, but you can do hard things. The world is waiting to hear what you have to say. Don't beat yourself up during this process. The most rewarding challenges in life take time and failure after failure. You will screw up during this process and that's totally okay.
Enjoy Every Damn Second
What. An. Experience. I don't know if I'll ever perform a TEDx Talk again. I was fortunate enough to be the second speaker in the lineup, with 9 more to follow. This allowed me to sit back, relax, and savor the rest of the afternoon.
Not only was this event fun, but it was informative and engaging. I loved every second of it. I tried to take it in as much as possible. I took a ton of pictures and mingled with attendees. I saw old friends and made a few new ones. I had a shit eating grin on my face all day long.
If there's one thing I'm really not good at, it's allowing myself to enjoy the fruits of my labor. The fact of the matter is, I worked really hard on this talk, and damnit, I deserved to enjoy this day.
I suggest you do the same. Break a leg!