On Sunday, I gave a TEDx talk about Green Sketching at TEDx Bollington.
Crafting, memorising and delivering a TEDx talk truly is a unique experience. It is far more than ‘just a talk’.
And, as a textbook introvert, with a lifelong fear of public speaking, delivering a 2266 word talk with 29 slides in front of more than 100 people, while being filmed, with no laptop, notecards or prompts whatsoever… well, it was pretty daunting!
In fact it was so daunting I seriously considered crashing my car en route to the first rehearsal; not to injure myself, just to prang the car enough to have a valid excuse not to turn up.
Luckily, I’m too fond of my little car and showed up anyway.
Why did I subject myself to such self-inflicted stress? Because TED is an amazing platform for spreading ideas, and I had an idea I really wanted to share.
So when I discovered Bollington was going to host its first ever TEDx event on the theme of ‘The Art of Connection’, I knew it was a gift of an opportunity to spread the word about the joys and benefits of Green Sketching.
I was genuinely thrilled in a, ‘Oh no, what have I done?’ kind of way, when I discovered I was one of the lucky eight to be selected as a speaker.
Crafting a TEDx Talk
Some people really want to give a TEDx talk but don’t know what to talk about. Other people, like me, don’t really want to give a talk but do know what they want to talk about!
I wanted to talk about the joys and benefits of Green Sketching but I had no idea how to do so in a TED-style talk.
In my old life (many moons ago) as a climate change researcher and advisor, I had to give a fair few presentations — always very reluctantly — which inevitably revolved around communicating facts and figures via bullet points on PowerPoint slides. The classic death by PowerPoint talk.
A TEDx talk is a whole different ball-game: it uses story-telling; it’s personal; it engages the audience and it definitely doesn’t include any technical jargon or bullet points.
I enjoy writing (and editing) but I found it incredibly challenging to write a short talk that delivered a clear message about the benefits of Green Sketching, while also weaving in an authentic personal story about my career change. It felt incredibly vulnerable to ‘put it all out there’.
I wrote many many different versions of the talk and came close to walking away from the whole process at one point. But then I remembered why I’d signed up to TEDx Bollington in the first place and I focused on what I really wanted to say, not what I thought I ought to say. I brutally edited out everything else.
After that, the words flowed and I was able to write something I felt comfortable sharing. This process of crafting the talk was intense but probably the most valuable part of the whole TEDx experience. It forced me to evaluate and rigorously clarify my message.
Memorising a TEDx talk
Once I’d figured out what I wanted to say, I ‘simply’ had to memorise it. TED talks are very different from normal presentations: you don’t have a script, note cards or a laptop. You can’t even see your slides easily (you have to stand still on a red circle on the stage so that you can be filmed for the TED website) so I needed to remember precisely when to change each of my slides.
The physical act of memorising a TED talk posed a HUGE challenge for me. I’ve never been able to recall information on demand. Despite being reasonably academic, I often come across as a half-wit, unable to recall my phone number, my postcode or basic mental arithmetic! For me, memory blanks are just an irritating but normal anxious reaction to being asked a question.
I read books about public speaking, researched memorisation tips and discovered there is no short cut. You simply have to put in the hours and practise over and over (and over and over…).
So I did. I wrote out my talk, repeatedly. I read my talk out loud, repeatedly. I recorded the talk and then listened to it on walks, in the car, going to sleep. Each time, I tweaked, removed or rearranged words to make phrases easier to pronounce or remember.
The only thing that stopped the endless repetition being deathly boring was the quiet excitement that it actually seemed to be working. Gradually, I started to memorise it section by section, until one day, I knew I had it. It felt like a mini miracle.
A crucial part of the preparation involved a strict timetable of rehearsals, discussions and deadlines that started six months ago. Without this structured preparation, I’m sure I would still be trying to decide on a title!
But at each rehearsal, it was both remarkable and encouraging to see how much everyone else was progressing. My seven fellow speakers were on different but parallel TEDx journeys of their own but we were all, increasingly, rooting for each other.
In fact, the magic ingredient in the whole process was definitely the positive feedback and warm support from the entire TEDx Bollington team. They made the impossible seem possible.
Delivering a TEDx talk
The final challenge simply involved showing up, standing up and delivering the talk (I’m ignoring the small existential crisis of trying to decide WHAT ON EARTH TO WEAR?!)
I was nervous on the day, but not paralysed with nerves. I felt prepared. I also cared as much about the other speakers’ talks as my own. We were all in it together.
And then, before I knew it, it was my turn. I walked up onto the stage and gave my TEDx talk.
It all happened in a bit of a blur. I was conscious of making a few mistakes but they weren’t catastrophic. I was enormously relieved to finish!
I’m advised the video will be available to watch online in 4-6 weeks but I’m in no hurry to see it! I’m under no illusion that my talk will be viewed more than a handful of times online. But that’s not the point of doing a TEDx talk. The aim is to share your idea with your local community, to prompt new and rewarding conversations and connections. I’ve already been touched by the number of people who, having listened to my talk, have been inspired to sketch or pause for moment to enjoy nature’s beauty. That’s all I ever wanted: to encourage people to reconnect with nature.
Huge thanks to my wonderful fellow speakers and the entire TEDx Bollington team for organising and hosting such a wonderful event. Thanks to Martin Hambleton for the amazing photos and a special thank you to Sara Knowles who brilliantly curated such an impressive event and gave me the opportunity to take part. Thank you.
You can now watch my talk online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMuZjg7l7Wg Please share widely and help me spread the word about Green Sketching.