Having survived the excitement of presenting at the British Science Festival, as well as jumping on the wrong train to Manchester (instead of Birmingham), where me and Prof Kathy Romer were attending the INTERACT symposium; now here I am writing about my experience of giving a TED talk. Yeah, okay… it’s a TEDx event but still, it’s part of the giant Technology, Entertainment and Design conference series.
It all started with a LinkedIn message in July triggered by an article I posted about IRIS. At the first glance, it nearly looked identical to one of those promotional messages. Have I been in a more occupied state of mind, probably I’d have deleted it straight away; however, the magic words “TEDx” and “invitation” tempted me to have a quick look. Thinking it’s worth a try, I hit reply and responded with saying I’d be happy to talk about the Grapheel IRIS at TEDxMargate, to be honest not expecting a reply. It turns out, I was wrong and sending this was a good choice, as the official invitation with the paperwork to sign has arrived soon after.
The event has been scheduled for Saturday, 16th of September, in Margate (Kent) giving me about 5-6 weeks of preparation time. The general TED philosophy of “Ideas worth spreading” was topped up with the mentality of “Think differently” as the theme of the day. So after the initial shock, the first and foremost arrangement I made is getting my great friend, Dominic Ransom on board. He was born to be a public speaker, and is a master of english language with a wide spectrum of knowledge. Most crucially, he’s an amazing chef. Dominic kindly agreed to train me like Rocky would, which I’m utterly grateful for. All that was left: write script and back it up with visuals in form of a slideshow.
Me and Dominic developed the routine of meeting once a week for pretty much the entire day, working on the talk, and enjoy the pleasures of cooking and eating tastebud satisfying meals. The first week we spent on looking at my draft of the structure and main threads of the talk, to make sure we both know what the talk should aim for, and how to approach it. The general outline we came up with was the following. Talk about what science is in my mind, why most people freak out even just hearing the horrifying word, and how science does it’s job, what has changed over the past few centuries. After this, just to give it a more personal touch, I wanted to introduce my own journey into science while losing my sight. In the final third of the talk, I was aiming to transmit the message of “anyone can engage with science, all we need is the appropriate hook to it”. This was meant to inspire the audience to get away from the misconception that science is only for those who wear a lab coat and can solve odd looking mathematical scribbles on a blackboard. Warming up those cogwheels , this was the time to introduce Grapheel’s IRIS, and propose it as a way for people to hook into science by forming a community, enabling others while they are learning about the science illustrated by the images seeking descriptions. All in all, this brought us to the talk I named: “Science: The way I see it, and the way you can engage with it”.
I’m not going to give away details of the talk, hopefully this is something you can see anyway on the recorded video in a few months time. But before jumping to the evaluation of how the actual event felt like, let’s quickly see the rest of the preparation. Week 2, writing the script, with week 3 fine tuning it and adding the slides all the way until week 5. The more we prepared, the more we laughed, the more great material I had to present, and the more delicious dinners we had, making me leave with not only excitement about delivering the talk, but with an extra few kilograms in forms of roast meals and pudding.
Once all the content was finalised and submitted towards the organisers, it was time to memorise, practise, time the length, adjust, and finally 3 days before action, do a full dress rehearsal in a lecture hall, with clip-on microphones, clickers, and so on. Getting rid of the last “Erms”, “you knows” and fidget movements, all was set.
I arrived to Margate the day before, and after dinner with friends it was time too go to bed after a last rehearsal. The day has come! Arriving at 9 AM to the Turner Contemporary Gallery the seats nicely lined up waiting for those 100 owners of tickets sold. Few minutes after finding the place, I’ve met the other four speakers. According to the programme, the five live performances were separated with recorded talks and a lunch break. I was last in the queue to speak, which left me just enough time to bite all my nails under a decent adrenalin cocktail. Though now I say I’m happy with the way I managed to spread the word, despite room for improvement in public speaking, there were a few factors that I didn’t count with. Of course, in live nothing goes as smoothly as when practising in an empty theatre; however, the first loose screw in the machinery was when I came to the recognition that as opposed to the clip-on mic, we’ll have a stand. On its own this isn’t a huge issue, only if I didn’t have my talk start with a bit of acting where I poke and make vivid movements across stage with my long cane. Ignoring the fact that more often than not I didn’t actually speak into the mic, it worried me slightly more that 4 of 3 times I, with high precision, right strength, better than any rock star, managed to knock over the mic stand. Ah well. The second loose screw opening a new adrenalin pump up, was the misbehaviour of the video of the TED talk shown to the audience just before my turn, designed to give 15 minutes of preparation time for the next speaker, both physically and mentally. Well, the video this time decided I don’t need this preparation time and stopped streaming half way through, resulting in me being called to stage somewhat urgently.
After all, the feedback suggested that the content of the talk made sense, it was a fund day which I utterly enjoyed both in terms on learning new ideas and spreading the word about IRIS as a way for people to engage with science. Most importantly I enjoyed the time preparing with Dominic, and after a long day returning home with the feeling as if I was expecting twins. Now I just need to come up with a new talk invitation for say April, which we can start preparing for weekly as an excuse to get more of those flavours going.
That’s my summary of TEDx Daniel. Once becomes available, I would much appreciate from anyone reading this post and watching the video, if in comments you added some constructive criticism. While TEDxMargate was an excellent experience, and despite studying and practising a dozen public speaking tutorials, talks; there is still a lot to work on for a potential TED talk in the future.