I was in my early 20s, sitting at my desk with a pile of law textbooks attempting to study. Flicking through my textbook looking for the chapter I needed to get through, I put my highlighter down and decided to hop onto YouTube.
There was a video recommended to me — what may ordinarily appear to be something quite boring was delivered to me in an energetic, easy format. A man, standing on a grand stage on top of a circular red carpet delivered a 15-minute talk that felt years’ worth of work and research delivered in a nugget.
I was hooked. These things called ‘TED Talks’ became part of the way I learned new things, and discovered answers to questions I had. These TED talks also became part of my entertainment. I’d download them, watch them on plane trips, and at moments when I had nothing else to consume.
It was at this moment I decided that one day, I’d deliver my own TED (or TEDx) talk!
If you’ve followed me for a while, you may already associate me with the TED brand. I published my own TED-style talk after completing TED Masterclass through a partnership program with the Association of Corporate Counsel. The talk titled ‘How our words say more than you think’ has now been presented at global conferences.
Thanks Chaz Hutton for this little sketch!
You may have also seen that I’m the Executive Director and Licensee of TEDxHobart. Running a TEDx event is no small feat, and I’ll have to share another blog post about that experience, and it certainly captures everything you could imagine and more.
For me, running a TEDx event is special because it enables myself and the team to create a significant experience for the volunteers involved, the speakers who get to share their idea, and the community who are provided with an exclusive opportunity to be in the room to learn, grow and mingle with other innovative, creative local people.
With all of this, it is still not the same as sharing your idea with the world.
While at lunch break during TEDxHobart 2023, I was chatting with some friends who asked me, ‘If you could do a TEDx talk, what would it be about?’ I immediately shared a story that was at the core of my idea. I’d been thinking about this question for a while. Running a TEDx event means that I cannot speak at it. Sadly you cannot curate yourself into the program (makes sense of course…)
Then the opportunity to apply popped up.
I caught wind that the TEDxKatoomba team was on the search for ideas. At this point in time, it was late March and I was having a short break between jobs. I was at home at the time and I messaged a friend who was exploring the Blue Mountains that day during a quick trip to NSW before heading off to the US. Coincidentally the curator for TEDxKatoomba (a town in the Blue Mountains) let me know that speaker applications were open and I may want to apply. I thought it funny that these things aligned, so decided to use my spare time wisely and apply.
Fast forward a couple of months, I was in Sydney for a conference I was presenting at. I got a call saying that my idea was selected, and I’ll get the chance to speak! As much as I wanted to run back to my room in the Hilton and scribble out my thoughts, I still had to present and continue mingling at the event.
My flight back to Hobart turned into two of the most productive hours I’ve had. I sat down with my Remarkable 2, and mapped out what my talk was going to look like. I had a relatively short lead time (just under 2 months), so the stress and pressure made me want to work faster and harder to get my first draft finalized.
The most critical thing to get right is the ‘throughline’ (the common consistent theme that carries through the entire talk), and the key point I want to share. I had to map out how I wanted to share the key point and break it down into digestible pieces.
Through the coaching work I do with professional service providers, business owners, and entrepreneurs I’ve created a method for how to structure a presentation so I needed to use some of the things I teach and implement it myself. It’s important to start by grabbing the attention of the audience and creating some context. In the early phase of the talk as well, it’s critical to show you’re credibility and why you’re the right person to be speaking on the topic.
My talk is titled ‘Lessons from my ethnic lunchbox’, and the main message in the talk is about how it’s important for us to share who we are, and to find a way to communicate our identity in a way that feels safe. This doesn’t come from my experience as a lawyer per se, but it does utilise my experience in the law where I need to understand the perspective of my clients and the perspective and interests of an opposing party to ensure that what I’m communicating is appropriate for the circumstances.
Once I had my draft script ready, I began making the relevant materials to support the talk. I love slides — I used slides in my workshops, keynotes, and any presentations really because they help me remember what I’m saying and can articulate my points visually through images and some big key words. My slide deck and my notes became the tools I used to learn my talk. I didn’t want to memorise a script, as that doesn’t seem natural for me. Instead, I needed to know the key points, the stories and facts I had associated with each point, and I’d be able to associated those with the images I was presenting on screen.
The thing that kept distracting me was a level of expectation and pressure. I’ve been speaking at events for years, my name became synonymous for TED and TEDx related things (probably doesn’t help that Ted is a nickname for Theodore…), I’m a speaking coach, and I run a TEDx event… I felt that there were a lot of eyes on me, and a high level of expectation that I’d be the ‘expert’ at this stuff.
I did feel a whole new pressure to be ‘perfect’. Something which I’ve been able to shake off for most other things in my life. With this, I felt I needed to make it the best presentation ever. This didn’t help me though, and it made me feel more stress…
I reminded myself of something I use to coach people. I had to move the focus away from myself, and how others may perceive me and their expectations, and remember that the entire point of doing a TEDx is to share an idea — not be word perfect on stage. Once I shifted the focus from myself, to the fact that I have a message to share and an impact to make through my message, I was able to focus.
I rehearsed as often as I could. Read my notes, recited them out loud, practiced with Yoodli (AI speech coach), and recorded myself to see how I presented and sounded.
I was feeling ready.
The day finally arrived. I travelled up from Hobart to Katoomba (plane, then train, then another train…) the day before. I wasn’t feeling completely rested as a fire alarm went off in my motel at 11pm, and continued for a while. Once it finally stopped, I was feeling pretty unsettled and a little jumpy. I managed to calm myself down and get to sleep.
I arrived at the venue and made my way to the greenroom. I got to chat with a few of the speakers who were about to get on stage. I was sitting with my notes, not actually reading them, but I guess looking at them to ensure I was comfortable.
I didn’t feel nervous. I was happily chatting away with others who were about to be in the same boat as me. I felt comforted that there were others who’d been doing the same thing I had, and were probably feeling the same way I was.
I get grabbed by one of the volunteers “ok, you’ve got to get ready to jump on.” I immediately felt my heart start racing faster. I bust through the auditorium and get escorted to back stage. This is the first time I felt nervous before speaking in a while. I do some deep breathing to calm myself and centre myself before getting on stage.
It was then my moment. I walk up the stairs, centre myself on the red carpet, and feel the heat from the lights shining on me. What felt particularly special for me was being able to see the audiences faces, and their reactions. I saw head nodding, smiles, laughter, and could feel the warmth and support coming from those watching.
I left the stage feeling proud and excited — I was stoked with my delivery and I think I hit the right notes.
I learned a lot about myself and how I prepare for prepare for talks moving forward. Reminding myself that it isn’t about me, and it’s instead about the audience (both in the audience and watching at home) that really matter, was the biggest lesson and best motivator to make it a worthy experience.
I cannot wait to share the video with you once it’s live!
Can I help you?
- Join my online on demand course Communicate for Impact
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About the author:
Theo Kapodistrias is a multi-national award-winning lawyer and speaker, MC, trainer, and public speaking coach. He is passionate about community involvement and holds several voluntary positions, including as the Executive Director of TEDxHobart. His keynote speaking, training, and coaching business is designed to help professionals, business owners, and entrepreneurs to speak up, show up, and make an impact through their voice and through their words www.theokap.com.au