Sunday, October 19, 2014

Public Speaking Lessons from TEDxSanAntonio

By Steven S. Vrooman

TEDxSanAntonio was a tremendous experience. I learned so many interesting things from the speakers and the people I met at the event. And getting a chance to speak from a TEDx stage is everything you hope for when you watch TED videos and wonder what it's like to have an engaged audience like that. Short answer: awesome.

I wanted to take this chance to highlight things I learned, not from the speakers' "information worth spreading," because I want you to discover that in the speakers' own words when the videos are posted in a few weeks. Instead I want to focus on some public speaking takeaways.

1. Play It Off

The wireless presenter ran out of juice for urban farmer Mitch Hagney. He just kept going as if nothing had happened. Mitch and I had done a few practices together, so I knew he had great slides. But he was so cool up there that I just assumed he had decided, on the spot, to just bail on the slidedeck and connect with the audience directly. That was the most amazing accomplishment in a day filled with them, for me. When all else fails, make the connection with the audience and go for it!

2. Humor Will Save Us

Molly Cox is a force of nature. She and Victor Landa were the emcees, doing transitions between the speakers. If you watched live, you know how great they were. But I'm not sure their work will get compiled into a video for posterity, which is a shame (note to self: query the TEDxSanAntonio people....), so I want to highlight one moment. After a particularly moving speech, where the audience and the speaker and, allegedly, Molly, were fighting tears, Molly had to give the transition to the next speaker. She had two minutes to clear our mental palates. When I asked her after the event about that moment, she said she was just looking for a joke, something she could hold onto. She nailed it. She found a joke from early in the previous speech and surfed it for two minutes, doing that improv thing where you just beat the material to death. It was perfect. A really difficult moment to pull off. The lesson is this: sometimes humor is the ONLY way out. Keep at it until it starts working.

3. Let the Mistakes Go

None of us practiced for months for TEDx with the hopes of messing up. But you can see it. It happens. And it eats you, later, reflecting on what might have been if you let it. For me, I had a moment where some of my slides had suffered errors in the transition to the event's tech. It bothered me so much up there I kept hitting the button on the presenter advancing the slides too soon. All I was thinking about was, "I can't believe I didn't notice this when we went through our slides at the tech rehearsal! I'm an idiot!" I made some self-deprecating jokes and did my best to play it off. 

But during the breaks and the party afterwards, nobody wanted to talk about that kind of thing. With any of us. Sure I woke up I the middle of the night last night, wondering a big, "what if?" And sure, the audience noticed our mistakes. But that's not why we care about TED. I love some of my favorite TED Talks almost because of the errors. They reveal the real selves the speakers brought with them that day, like Ken Robinson, David Carson and Amy Cuddy. We are there to connect with people and ideas, and when we obsess about the errors, we really miss the point.You did the speech. It's not about you any more. Give it to the audience and let go. Bonus lesson: They will find the good in your work if you get out of the way and let them.

I learned more, and I'll post more later, but for now I think these three lessons from TEDx are worth spreading, And, if you've seen my talk, worth sharing.

1 comment:

  1. #3 gave me flashbacks to my own senior seminar in 2001. (WHAT?!) Several of my slides were corrupted in transition and some of my images didn't show up. I clearly recall saying, "What you would see here is..." and describing the photos aloud. What else are you going to do?