Three lessons I learnt from doing my first TEDx talk

Last Tuesday, I was so stoked to speak at TEDxMelbourne’s, “Rebels, Revolutionaries and Us” event. The journey to my first TEDx talk (I’ve got so much to say, I hope it’s just the beginning), was slightly unusual because I won the first ever TEDxMelbourne Open Mic night and was wildcarded into the programme. This meant I had less than a month to prepare for the main speech, which was fine, until I realised the other speakers had been preparing for months. Weekly sessions with Jon Yeo, the curator of TEDxMelbourne, and the other speakers helped me craft and evolve my speech until I was ready to go on stage and share my story.

Pratting around before the Tech Rehearsal

I used the medium of the internet to try to figure out what to say (which has the brilliant tip: start the process six months out…), what to wear and helpful friends sent me sendups of TED talks but the main advice I found for TED speakers is: be your authentic self. Wear clothes that make you look like you, tell stories as you would to friends in the pub (perhaps a little more dramatic), and smile (what’s the point if you don’t enjoy yourself?).

I’ve had a week to reflect on the experience of being on stage in front of the wonderfully receptive crowd in Melbourne and I distilled three lessons that I’m taking into my future work. I come from the view point of startups (the area I’m most interested in) but I believe they are applicable to anyone sharing an idea, shifting the status quo and shaping a project.

1) The details of your story need to change to connect with people but don’t change the purpose

There is a ton of crafting and shaping that goes into a speech, and some of what I thought were the coolest ideas (the whole story of the goal posts arriving the day before the match, the fact we brought together so many nationalities from Saudi Arabia to Nepal to Argentina), didn’t make it to the final cut. Those ideas, whilst part of the whole, weren’t central to the point I was trying to make: inspire yourself first to change the world. Single words were substituted to make way for more powerful alliterations, whole sections removed to ensure the focus stayed with the theme.

Each time I practiced, I noted down what lines hit with people and what subtle shades of humour to keep and which to ditch. In the speech, as in life, I’m trying to find different ways to persuade people to engage and resonate with my ideas. When pitching my startup concepts, I have to change how I talk about the products to help the audience get to where I am. So, I think of changing the details as giving people a different access point; another way of joining me at the top of the mountain.

2) Stay within the red dot

One great piece of advice we all received was to stay within the red dot. There’s a time and a place for wandering; it’s not a TED stage. When you’re on stage you want the audience to focus on you and your message. You don’t want them to be focusing on the pacing and the sides of the stage.

I’m taking the red dot mantra to the world outside as well, if you wander you might get a different perspective but to truly deliver you need to focus. Shift your energy to the inside of the red dot and work on the central core of your mission. It’s easy to get distracted by the space around the stage and miss the opportunity to talk to the people right in front of you.

3) Silence is more powerful than words

Weird, huh? For an experience that is billed as a talk. The most powerful parts of the speeches at TEDx were the silences. The silences that allowed ideas to sink in. The silences that connected me to the audience. The silences that were broken by spontaneous applause.

With so much noise in everyday life, the ability to pause, accept an idea and let it sit with you is rare. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the fire-fighting of emails and responses but that didn’t get me to the top of a mountain and it won’t get me to change things. Taking a pause to check my map and make sure I’m headed in the right direction might just be the best pause I make this week.

Check back for more thoughts my startup journey and lessons from setting a world record over the next few months.

And check out our documentary for a longer look at our World Record Challenge and why we decided to play 90 minutes of football at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.