Back in December of last year, just before the Christmas break, I was wrapping up in the office one evening when I got a phone call from the organisers of the first TEDxMacclesfield, scheduled for the following April, they wanted a talk on the SKA. Out of eight talks, this would be the science one. With the project being headquartered 12km from the town, they wanted more people locally to hear about it.
Having in the past been inspired by TED Talks on astronomy, been a volunteer translator for TED, and helped my colleague Maria Grazia prepare her TEDxManchester talk, I immediately said yes.
I approached a colleague to do this one and we decided to focus on Big Data, a hot topic at the moment as more and more experiments are expected to produce huge amounts of data. Weekly two-hour long evening meetings with TEDx ensued to get everything we could say about the project on paper, find a driving theme and hammer out a script.
Unfortunately, in early March, my colleague had to pull out because of a work trip on the date (which turned out to be cancelled in the end). TEDx were about to announce the speakers and they needed a name…so I stepped in.
If you think giving a TEDx Talk is just like giving a presentation in the office, think again. As Tim Urban from Wait But Why – who gave a TED Talk – puts it:
The issue is, a TED Talk is not a speaking gig. In a speaking gig, I stand in front of a group of people and say stuff. That’s not what a TED Talk is. A TED Talk is a widely-distributed short film, except the only actor is my face and the only plot is me saying words out of my face and the only choreographer is my nervous pacing and awkward arm-flailing, and instead of a bunch of cuts and different shots and a long editing process, there’s just one do-or-die take, with no second chances.
Yup. There are also no notes allowed, very few slides and you can’t improvise because there is a strict time limit, so I had to learn my 5-pages long script by heart, until I could recite it in my sleep. If you’d like to learn how this feels and about the theory of different presentation styles, it’s worth reading Tim’s post, available here)
And so weekly meetings continued and we refocused the talk on collaboration and the passion that drives us – the things I could talk about without being *too much* out of my depth. Not a bad thing, since that was to be the theme of the day anyway I learned later.
In the last week, we got a coach to help us with our stage presence and finally, the dress rehearsal. That’s when I learned that my talk was to be the last one of the day, the conclusion. That’s probably as bad as being first. I nearly died, and that’s probably why they hadn’t told me before.
Until the last minute, I kept forgetting bits of my talk. And then, all too soon, D-day arrived. Waiting as every single one of my fellow speakers went through the same ordeal made this the longest Saturday morning I’ve ever had. My turn came, and here’s the result…I hope you enjoy it!