One of my highlights of 2016 was speaking at the TEDWomen conference in San Francisco. I spoke in October, and the conference itself was fascinating, if a bit surreal. It was a major event — dinners, performing groups, gift bags, a big audience plus a simulcast lounge, plus hundreds of other TEDx conferences going on at the same time — and yet the speakers knew, going in, that the live event would not be the way the vast majority of people would wind up interacting with our talks. Indeed, many people who’ve heard of TED only know about the videos.
After being selected by the organizers in early summer (a very exciting thing!), I’d edited a version of my speech down to 12 minutes. I worked with one of the session curators on the speech, giving it by Skype to her, and then to the whole video team. I practiced on my own many times. Many many times. Possibly hundreds. Good thing it was only 12 minutes long! My family was in Orlando the weekend before, and I’d run through it multiple times in the afternoon while they were at the pool. I ran through it in the hotel room in San Francisco multiple times before the morning I filmed it. The goal was complete memorization, in and out.
The TED people have their ways of getting good videos too. We did a dress rehearsal the day before, which was also filmed. If the live talk had had problems, they could substitute some footage from the rehearsal. I had turned in a script, but I assumed it was just so it could be reviewed. Then I saw, during the live event, that someone was stationed to the side of the stage with the script. If a speaker forgot a line, or where she was, the person with the script could give a prompt. In an edited video, you wouldn’t even notice! Indeed, they told me something I’ve found helpful in all recordings since (including the podcast). Editors can take anything out. However, they cannot add anything you don’t actually say. So if you mess up, go back to where you know you were on track, and start again.
Anyway, I think my talk went well. I did not need the script prompting — a payoff for all that practicing! I spoke for my 12 minutes and off I went to listen to the other speakers. We had no guarantee that our videos would be posted on the TED website, but since TEDWomen is one of the “main” TEDs (there are also hundreds of independently organized TEDx conferences that often happen simultaneously) the odds were at least reasonable.
I heard from the TED team that my video would go live on December 16, 2016. And so it did! I will admit that I started watching the view count rise, somewhat obsessively. I was sitting there at a wrestling meet this time last year checking back every 10 minutes to see it rise another 1000 (the speed really was that fast at the beginning!) It has now been watched 5.3 million times. While that doesn’t put it up there with, say, Amy Cuddy’s power poses, it’s a respectable number.
Fortunately for me, a good number of those 5.3 million people have been people looking to book speakers for their own conferences or corporate events. Literally within the first few days of the video being posted, I heard from people looking to book someone for the spring of 2017. I wound up speaking at several of those events. Having this very professional looking video has been a great legitimizer as I’m building my speaking business. Some people who’ve read my books and want to bring me in as a speaker then show the video to their colleagues as a way to convince them. So it’s been a great thing to have. And I know that the volume of speaking inquiries has been way higher post TED than pre-TED.
I’ve gotten queries from several people this year asking about the whole TED process. I don’t know how the organizers choose people for the main TED conferences. In my case, the theme of the TEDWomen conference was “It’s About Time” so that was a good match. I came to the organizers’ attention because of an article I wrote for the New York Times about tracking my time for a year. In general, the TEDx conferences are more accessible than TEDWomen, TED Global, etc. There are big ones and small ones. The downside is that the odds of getting your video picked up on the TED website are probably lower (there are so many TEDx conferences, and the TED people feature one video per day). On the upside, if you are trying to build a business as a professional speaker, it’s not a bad thing to practice giving this kind of speech, and getting a good video of it, which you can then use as something akin to a business card, whether it’s on the TED site or not.
One thing I have had to be aware of: since many people who’ve booked me have watched the TED talk prior, I feel a little funny about re-using some of the material! So I’ve added a lot of new stuff to my basic talk, and shortened the stuff I used in the TED talk — but it’s good to keep the speech fresh anyway.
In other news: My 10-year-old has watched and listened to my TED talk. He was a bit miffed about the idea of me blaming my four small children for being late, which is a joke I open with. But he liked it, and his watching it gave me the opportunity to talk about practicing, and how practice is really what makes people comfortable on stage.
Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED