My TEDx Journey: Part 1 – Practice Makes Perfect

Taking a quick break from his ongoing travel blog, Patrick McIvor shares with you his journey as a presenter on a TEDx stage. In Part 1, Patrick walks you through the actual process one must take to be considered a presenter.

 If you’re unfamiliar with TEDx, it is an extension of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) that is a nonprofit dedicated to providing people a better understanding of the world around them through in-person and online conferences and events. Their motto: Ideas Worth Spreading.

 TEDx events are community-based, organized by independent supporters who want to create a TED-like event, but on a smaller scale, for their community. It’s a powerful program to foster the “ideas worth spreading” initiative and empower communities, organizations, and individuals to “spark deep conversation and connections at the local level.”

 After you’re done reading Patrick’s Part 1 journey, we invite you to learn more about TED by immersing yourself into these 11 Must-See TED Talks.

Last year was an amazing year for me.

I completed the first 50-year chapter of my journey of life.

I was inducted into the prestigious Intercoiffure organization.

I also was given the opportunity to spread an idea at a TEDx.

This was an absolute highlight for me because I LOVE TED Talks! I learn from them. I share them in my classes, with my friends, and with my family. I share them with my daughters and with my wife and we share which talks we love with each other.

I even share some on social media.

To me, a TED Talk, and the ideas it spreads are like college classes of inspiration in 18 minutes or less. Over the last few years, I have been attending TEDx events and similar types of idea exchanges around where I live, including last years TEDx LehighRiver at the Allentown Symphony Hall and the simulcast of the opening of the TED Global at the Steel Stacks. I loved both events and was lucky enough to meet some of the organizers and curators who asked me if I ever thought about presenting at a TEDx event, to which I replied, “That would be an honor and a dream.”

When I was asked what my idea was, I replied, “Why having your hair done feels so good.” “Why does having your hair done feel so good?” they asked. I replied with, “Being born, breathing, drinking water, sleeping, dying, being touched and groomed—having your hair done is the next most common experience.”

They liked it, and the next thing I knew I was kicking off a major life experience.

My first responsibility was to create a three-minute version of my TEDx talk. Next order of business was to fill out an online form with my information and a bunch of stuff about the talk including descriptor, title, length of talk, etc. I shot and edited my submission video, filled out the form and waited.

After some anxious weeks waiting, on Monday, May 23rd of last year, I received an email congratulating me and inviting me to present a 2-3 minute snippet of my talk and then have about a 10-minute interview with the curating committee on Wednesday, May 25th, which was only two days away.

I was so excited.

I practiced, practiced, and practiced some more.

On the 25th, I went in, met some other presenters, and presented to the curating committee. After 15 minutes it was over.

I left and called my wife, Leah, and as I was walking to my car and said, “I didn’t get it.”

I didn’t think the content was broad enough and it was one of the worst presentations I have ever given in my life!

I thought I bombed.

So imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I received an email saying, “Congratulations you made it to the next round! Please submit a written script of your talk by 6 pm, Sunday, June 12th, and if selected in this round, you will be required to attend the TEDx LehighRiver School at the PBS Studio.”

Did this just really happen?!

I sat down, wrote my script, practiced it, rewrote it, and practiced it over and over. I gave it to my wife and my parents to read. Then on June 11th, I sent my script in.

On June 21st, I received an email, “Congratulations! You have embarked on a journey called TEDxLehighRiver. The first steps were the hardest, and you’ve made it through. You applied, interviewed and now invited to continue. You submitted a draft and are continuing the process that may well land you on the round red rug at Symphony Hall on 9/17. Please come to the TEDx LehighRiver School with your latest draft, ready to make it better and prepare to deliver the next version of your talk.”

This was getting big.

I was going to TEDx School!

I made a call the week before to one of my TEDx coaches and asked for some advice. I asked her, “What were the biggest mistakes speakers make and what should I focus on?” She challenged my talk with pointed questions, and after our call, I immediately rewrote my script. And I practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more.

Every single morning and every single night I would deliver the talk to my wife.

And the week before the school, every appointment at my salon came with an optional TEDx Talk.

I was ready.

I arrived at the PBS Station at the Steel Stacks in Southside Bethlehem the morning of July 16th. It just so happened to be my late grandmother’s birthday (I was her favorite, my mom kept telling me this was a good sign).

As I entered, I looked around and noticed that no one from my interview group in May was here. It was down to eight speakers from almost 60. We opened up with quick introductions of our names and if we were a TEDx curating team member or speaker. There were almost 20 people total, with only eight of us speaking candidates, in a beautiful glass-walled conference room.

After reviewing some well-known TED Talks to help us with the flow of our talks, we were broken off into groups with a coach and another speaker. After going to a small meeting room, we had the opportunity to present our talks to each other and get some feedback before we returned to the group coaching for all eight of us in the conference room. As a large group, we watched snippets of Talks to help us hone our talks and crystalize the focus of our talk to one idea.

We were then given the opportunity to go back to our smaller coaching groups with the same partner and coach to work further on our idea. We were given tasks like breaking down our talk to single sentences, writing them on a post-it note, using one color if it was an analytical statement or a different color if it was an emotional statement, and then plotting the whole talk out on a wall with colored post-its. This helped us see its flow and how the structure of the talk is being built.

At this point, something happened I didn’t expect. One of the coaches expressed in front of everyone in our small meeting room that they were worried I was more committed to the script than the process.

Holy smokes, I was floored!

I thought I was supposed to have my script down, but honestly, I was the only one that far along, almost ready to give the talk I had! Everyone else was still formulating their script, and I was worried this could be it for me.

Maybe my subject was too limited for the audience TED has, and maybe the team is worried I’m not coachable.

After presenting a short presentation along with the other eight speakers that were recorded, we were released for the day and told the TEDx curating committee would be in touch with an “Individual Education Program” for each one of our talks.

About a week later I was sent an email and offered some more coaching, and on August 2nd, I met with the TEDx LehighRiver Co-Organizer, who became my new coach. I explained that I felt I was too prepared for the TEDx School and made it seem like I was too committed to the script for the curating committee, so this time I had nothing memorized and three new scripts.

The meeting went great. She loved the new analytical and data points I added. She also gave me a suggestion of flipping my talk by beginning with the end, and to make it about “touch,” not hair, and being touched.

I was thrown.

I wondered, “Was this even my talk anymore?”

And then it was like a bolt of lightening.

It clicked. I

I needed to look at my talk like Lego blocks. I needed to use all the Lego blocks and take it from Lego car to a Lego house, and I just needed to make sure I use all the same blocks. So I went home and rewrote my script.

Two days later this arrived:

 Hello, Speaker Candidates!

 Thank you all for attending TEDxLehighRiver School on July 16. 

 The Curation Team would like to meet with each of you on Thursday, August 11 at Miller Symphony Hall at 23 N 6th St, Allentown, PA 18101 starting at 5:00 pm.

 We are asking each of you to sign up for a 20-minute time slot below, during which you will deliver most or all of your talk 2.0, and discuss your status and next steps with the Curation Team. Please reply with your chosen time slot below.

And guess what?

I was going to be away for the entire week of the 11th!

I emailed the team and let them know I was going to be away and that I had another coaching session set up for August 18th and asked if I could deliver it to her then. Fortunately, they said yes, and added that other members of the curating team would be there too to hear my new presentation. The good news was I finally felt really good about the talk I had rewritten, and I replied that I was very excited to share my 5.0 TEDx Talk with them on the August 18th.

I arrived on the 18th first to deliver my talk to my coach at 11 am and then to the curating committee at 12:30. Again, I choose not to have it memorized but instead read it from the pages I had printed. I finished my talk, and my coach smiled, clapped her hands together, and if memory serves me right, she said, “You nailed it.” We discussed how the talk was 95% the same as the last one I shared with her on August 2nd, only it was all moved around from the last version, and it worked!

I was so excited that I had to call my wife, parents, and daughters before the next meeting with the curating team. At my presentation with the curating team, there was my coach, my original coach, and a second co-organizer, plus another speaker. Again, I received a great response, especially from my first coach. And they let me know that I was officially in! I had made it through the final selection to have the opportunity to spread an idea from the round red carpet!

I went home and started working on fine-tuning my talk. I rewrote the opening, created a keynote for my presentation, adding pictures and included a video.

As I grew, my presentation grew.

My next steps in the process involved a series of rehearsals on September 1st and 8th, a September 15th dress rehearsal, and one final rehearsal Saturday, September 17th, the morning of the event.

I’ll be back next month with more of what it was like to stand on the round red carpet and share an idea, once, and then have that idea start to spread at a TEDx.

Read: My TEDx Journey: Part 2 – Practice Made Perfect