Archive for June, 2011

After TEDxSoMa

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

“It should be the best talk of your life.”

 The guiding words of Romain Nervil, curator of TEDxSoMa, an SF, “independently organized (x)” TED event where I recently gave a talk titled, “Social Med: a new model for community-based health research.” 

Aside from that, no pressure.

I say it tongue-in-cheek, but it’s largely true. Among the reasons to feel totally comfortable in any TED setting are that:

– the audience is altruistic. They’re looking for ways to make the world a better place
– they’re looking to the speakers to give them specific missions
– they’re there for YOU. And you were not asked randomly

The TEDxSoMa crowd turned out to be am-ah-zing. All smiles and enthusiasm and encouragement. They would have made any speaker feel great. Given that this year’s theme was “Community 2.0,” we may have been predisposed toward being brotherly, but that’s a good thing… (neat psychological hack!) And, particularly poignant was that, in reponse to Social Med, many audience members came up to me afterward to share their health story, their desire to be in an upcoming group study or to just geek out about big data. Awesome.

However, rewinding a few days, all was not so wonderful and surreal. The perceived burden of the talk was like bearing the one Ring to Mordor. The catch with sharing something you genuinely care about, as I did with my topic, is that you feel like nothing is more important that making others care as much as you do. 

Many of us don’t realize it until it’s gone but, for everyone, health matters. But the system for delivery and research is not all it could be, to put it gently. Both research and practical health applications need to funnel to the people to whom it matters most: us!  It was the pressure to get this idea across that kept me up most nights before TEDxSoMa. 

Ironically, much of my talk was about sleep research. 🙂 But the fact that I was able to share my own experience with sleeping problems and my journey to becoming empowered – to the point that I’m designing a community sleep study, the first of its kind – seemed to impact the audience as much as good delivery or pretty slides may have. Relief! And important lessons learned:

– sharing your personal story, what led you to your work or insights, is incredibly important
– it’s even better if you’re not perfect. What matters is having worked at making you and the world better
– best if your work can involve infinitely many people for an unmeasurable benefit to mankind (or as much as possible in both cases!)

Finally, my advice to speakers:

– get everything down on paper/powerpoint immediately! It should be your first step, before getting advice from your mom, reading blogs about public speaking tips or slide design, etc. Don’t keep ideas in your head! They will make you go crazy!!
– consider how much time you have to speak. Can you go narrow, or do you only have time to go broad? (My advice is to be broad AND narrow. Have one BIG idea (the one worth spreading), then 1-3 ways your work relates to it, then a few concrete examples so the audience can visualize your work.) Plan out the scope of your talk based on how much you can say in a given time. 
– try breaking down your ideas/notes into slides. Aim for 1 idea per slide. Reframe the number of ideas and slides you can fit into your talk in your allotted time. What you thought you could say in 7-18 minutes will look different once you see how many slides it takes to explain yourself. Whittle down (or beef up) what you plan to talk about at this step.
– begin to write a script to accompany your whittled down slides. Only after you have the entire script written or seriously thought out can you know how long it will really take you to get it out. Whittle down or beef up again.
– you now have the skeleton of your talk. Find a few images you might use to guide you as you talk, especially if the examples you use require an image.  Don’t worry too much about design at this point, this is a rough draft
– ask a minimum of two friends (or groups), at two separate times, to listen to your talk at this step. Get their feedback on whether it’s clear to them what you’re presenting and whether you managed to connect your personal experience to the idea worth spreading. Awesome friends will also give you feedback on things you never thought of. Try to find awesome friends!
– sleep on it
– work on integrating the feedback into your slides. Play a little more with design. You will be thinking about your previous delivery of the talk now and it will help guide the design process.
– you should have a couple more friends lined up to listen at this point. You will be fairly comfortable and confident and have your spiel come out easily. Integrate their feedback (after some contemplation) into your slides.
– final design touches
– sleep!
– good luck!