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I felt intense pressure before I did my TEDx talk - but I'm very glad I did it. Here's what I learned

I delivered my talk with my legs shaking – but I managed it in one take, writes Tony Duffin.

Tony Duffin CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project

IF YOU HAVE ever wondered, as I did, what ‘TED’ stands for – it’s ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’; and the ‘x’ in TEDx indicates that the talk is independently organised.

A TEDx is different to a TED – in that a TEDx has a more local focus whilst a TED has an international focus. It is this focus on the local ideas that has helped TEDx to grow in popularity.

I found this out when I was applying to give a TEDx talk as part of a Dublin Institute of Technology organised TEDx event.

Broadly speaking, the TEDx format requires the presenter to share an interesting idea; by giving a talk that is ideally somewhere between 8 and 16 minutes in length; whilst standing on a red rug to stop you pacing up and down; and ideally with little or no presenter aids.

There’s a tried and tested format for each talk – which the organisers train each speaker in. Nothing is left to chance and to me it seemed the only unknown was the nerve of the presenter on the day.

TEDx events are organised locally, there is an application process and the organisers chose speakers with interesting Topics. There are great Irish TEDx events and talks, like the Mountjoy TEDx event, which includes Philly McMahon’s TEDx talk about supports that can prevent people from falling out of the system – I’d encourage you all to watch Philly’s talk.

I applied to the Dublin Institute of Technology TEDx event, my proposed talk was accepted and I gave my talk entitled ‘Making the case for Supervised Injecting Facilities’ on 1st December 2017.

I planned to do the talk in one take and hoping that I didn’t say ‘uhh’ the whole way through – which I have a tendency to do when trying to stay on track during a presentation.

The talk was to be given in front of an audience of 250 people, with bright lights and cameras rolling. I had had plenty of experience of giving talks, but never felt pressure like this – to get it all done in the first take with no presentation aids.

Why did I feel such pressure? Through my role as CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project I have had the opportunity to convey important messages to large groups of people – politicians, policy makers and many other stakeholders. However, this was different. I felt pressure because Ana Liffey had worked for over five years on advocating for a change to the law which would allow for the existence of Supervised Injecting Facilities in Ireland.

I also felt personally and professionally passionate about the topic. I had to summarise the work of my team and all of our supporters into a short talk and make it interesting to a wider audience – many of whom don’t know what supervised injecting is and why it is important.

I realised I was not the kind of person who could tell a detailed story to an audience – moving seamlessly from one point in a narrative to the next. I have a tendency to forget the next point and ramble a bit.

So, how was I going to do a TEDx talk?

I tried writing the presentation down and learning it all line-by-line, but that didn’t work for me and deep down I knew it wouldn’t. I talked to a respected colleague who knew the subject matter and who is a great public speaker themselves.

We discussed the content of the presentation and through this discussion we fine-tuned the path of the narrative and the key learning to share. At that point I realised that there were key people associated to these learning points and that got me thinking – what if I tried to visualize those people and they would act as my points of reference to keep me on course and help me to tell the full story in one go. I was pleased when I found, with some practise, that it worked – I now had a strategy that could help me achieve my goal of giving my TEDx talk in one take.

I practiced the talk over and over again – in my kitchen at home in the morning, on the walk to work, anywhere! Each time visualising the people who led me through different stages of the narrative. It was immensely helpful. I went back to my colleague and asked them to listen to the talk – which I was able to do in one go. I got feedback on the content and tweaked it.

On the day of the TEDx Event, I heard the MC introduce me, I walked up and delivered the opening line, “Imagine Eddie, Eddie was nine years old when he first smoked heroin.” We had been taught that the first line was important to capture people’s attention and draw them into the talk. Eddie’s story certainly did that. The narrative of the talk goes on to explain how, with the help of others, our work at Ana Liffey Drug Project helped facilitate a change in the law to allow for the existence of Supervised Injecting Facilities in Ireland. Also, in the talk, I give practical advocacy strategies – like engaging with the media, creating meaningful partnerships and more.

I delivered my talk with my legs shaking and my throat dry throughout; but, I did do it in one take.

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Source: TEDx Talks/YouTube

I was relieved, and buzzing, that it was now done. I wondered how it came across and looked forward to seeing the final edit. However, doing the TEDx talk was only the beginning. I was to find that the hardest part of doing a TEDx talk is promoting it once it’s online – TEDx videos are hosted on ted.com and on Youtube. If, like me, your talk is niche and you don’t have a public profile to speak of, then it’s going to be difficult for people to know about your video. So, what can you do?

Here’s a number of activities that I have found useful to promote my TEDx talk:

  • Share your TEDx YouTube video across social media platforms. Not once, but ongoing and widely
  • Add a link to your TEDx YouTube video to your bio on your various social media platforms
  • Add a link to your TEDx YouTube video to your email signature, so friends and colleagues will know about your talk
  • Write about your TEDx talk – write an online article or opinion piece (like the one you’re currently reading)
  • Tell people about it at every opportunity

Share your fellow TEDx speakers’ presentations – people do reciprocate. DIT chose over a dozen interesting speakers covering a wide range of stimulating topics. The speakers included Aine Mulloy, Alannah Murray, Andrea Horan, Emma Loughney, Ian Kiely, Liam Donohoe, Luca Longo, Nicki Hoyne, Norah Casey, Sarah Joyce, Shane Finn, Simon Scriver and Una Begley.

When you decide to do a TEDx talk, you do so because you have a message to share, a story to tell and a desire to tell it. You’re so passionate about the topic you want everyone to see the video and think about the message you’re giving.

You don’t have to be famous to do a TEDx talk, but it helps people find and view the talk. If you have not got that kind of public profile you just have to work hard to promote the video once it’s posted online. Remember, promote your TEDx talk widely and often.

Finally, if you’re thinking about it, I’d encourage you to look online for a locally organised TEDx event and apply – you won’t regret it!

Tony Duffin is the CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project

About the author:

Tony Duffin  / CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project

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