A mock TED talk

A couple of weeks ago I went to a residency called The Story Collective led by Raghava KK, a 4 time TED speaker. One of the assignments during the residency was to draft one’s own TED talk.

What I expected was that this exercise would help me articulate an idea succinctly and build confidence to speak in public. While that did happen, the unexpected repercussions of this exercise happen oven the next few weeks, while I still absorb and process and realise that this taught me so much more.

Lesson 1: Showing off doesn’t work:
We had to assume that we were being given this massive opportunity to deliver a real TED talk. To have that pedestal to share with the world an idea, that could spark a potential revolution. Now that kind of pressure suddenly makes one want to immediately do the following things. 1. To justify why one is qualified for this opportunity. This makes one start rattling off their achievements. Such as – I have started this big company from scratch and I have won 6 awards in …. (you get the point) 2. One might feel the need to be sanctimonious and preach the acceptance of a method. Such as, let’s all move towards totally giving up single use plastic because we’re killing straw inhaling turtles… 3. One might feel the need to use big words and academic references to reiterate their expertise on a certain matter.

Needless to say, this is not interesting content for anyone. Your professional achievement is always going to be tiny compared to the Obama’s of the world, who have also been given this platform. Secondly, nobody cares for a preacher, and thirdly, the goal is to make your talk understood by everyone in the audience by not being academic. Of-course, this being my first time, I made most of these mistakes.

Lesson 2: So whats really interesting?
So what does one really talk about? What is it that is interesting for your audience to hear? This is the part that I’m still processing, and the concepts are still sinking in. My realisation is that people are interested in your humanity. Not your expertise, not your achievements, but your personal experiences. While it might be true that your experience in a certain field is limited, and your deductions or innovations have been done by someone else long before you; what you can share is still valid as long as its your unique point of view, relevant to your life. Your childhood, your social, financial, cultural, genetic environment, your choices, your mistakes, your geography, your joys, your discoveries. This is valid and interesting because it is unique to you, and nobody else is an expert on that. In a world full of noise and news, if you can open up and be vulnerable on stage and speak like you talk to a friend, your authenticity will make you heard.

Lesson 3: Speak like you speak to a friend.
It took me 5 iterations to remove the didactic bits from my talk to distil it down and add the bits that were interesting. This happened while reviewing my talk with Susanna, Raghava and Pooja when they would go over a line written formally and academically (like I am used to writing), and I would explain why I wrote that (speaking as I do, in casual language), because hey, I was speaking to them as my friends. That was my eureka moment when they said “hey, you need to put that in, exactly like you said it”. The learning was, even if you are addressing a larger collective, the ears that are hearing this are still individuals with their own feelings. So while you were speaking to a collective, you still had to speak like you were speaking to your individual best friend. That ingredient was key, as it’s this trust, openness and expression, that makes you interesting.

So why did I write this?
I’m not entirely sure. But it makes me wonder, how much of this applies to real life, and what mimics real life and consumes us all – social media? With social media I have come full circle, from following people to see their personal pictures of their lives and families, to completely moving to following only their work, to being overwhelmed by salesy advertising impersonal content, blowing their own trumpets and going back to only following people posting personal content of their kids and cats doing weird things. I wonder is this a cyclical trend, or is it at that in the end, we really are only interested in people as people, and wisdom that comes out of that persona. Or this is my mistake to apply communication for one medium to another?

This post is my musing, and I had to get it out of my system, to document this fleeting experience. This learning which I hope will assimilate into this vast ocean of memory where the individual drops merge, and the outcome is intuition. But when it comes to perspective on communication, I cannot recommend this book called “Kill your talk, not your audience” by Raghava, which is a bible on how to deliver an idea. Its wisdom in its few succinct words are overwhelming to absorb more than few pages a time, and one cannot otherwise easily access such poignant modern day lessons about communication all in one place. It is not publicly available yet, but if you ever plan to speak in public, I cannot recommend trying to borrow, steal or find a copy.


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