Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Preparing for TEDx

By Steven S. Vrooman

This Saturday I present at TEDxSanAntonio. I will revisit the content of the talk in a future post. Right now, though, I want to share some of the things I've learned in the preparation process.

1. We All Need A Tutor

TED has this great model for speaker development. They call them curators. That's me on the right with mine, the excellent Jeff Adams.

I was initially skeptical of this arrangement, since I, you know, teach public speaking, but it has been very effective. Here's the key: practicing in front of groups is good, but how do you sort through all the competing feedback? For TEDx, it was Jeff's job to sort through it all and filter it down into key areas for me. It made it really hard for me to resist the changes that I needed to make! I am really trying to find a way to adapt this model to my classrooms.

Practice your speeches in front of a group, absolutely. But, in the end, you need to have someone you trust help you filter the noise.

2. Take Risks

I had to drive 40 miles to get to my practice session each time. As I would practice my talk in the car so everyone driving by could see me talking to myself, I would generally, about 10 miles in, begin to rethink everything. Each time I practiced at a TEDx rehearsal, they made me go first, which turned out to be great (although i hated it at the time). I would throw in all the changes swarming around in my head from the car, afraid it would all crash and burn. Once I even totally reorganized my talk. But I didn't fail. It was just the shot of adrenaline I needed to discover what I really needed to talk about.

Try it at least once with content radically different than you'd planned. If you never push yourself to the brink of failure with a live audience in practice, you might never find what you really needed to say.

3. Manuscript is Scary -- Avoid It if You Can

I largely stand by the claim I make in The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking that there is never a good reason to write a speech word-for-word. But that was something TEDx wanted, and so I complied. It turns out that the tech people really needed this so they could figure out camera setups on the day of filming. Sometimes the big screens and the inevitable YouTube video will be on me, sometimes my slides. They need to know where to focus.

But, then, so do I. What I dislike about manuscript is that it takes you out of the moment with the audience, kills spontaneity, and increases nervousness because it plops you into memorizing-lines-style performance. In this case, however, various stakeholders needed me to do something different than I'm comfortable with. But as I practice, I am compromising. I am clearly remembering the slide transition moments as the key transitions that are pre-planned, but I'm giving myself a bit of leeway to just talk about something I know enough about to not worry about content for the other places. In other words, I'm still outlining. I'm giving myself permission to forget by labeling the places I have to remember.

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