This year we asked one of our speakers, Alyson Shane, to give us some insight into what it’s like to prepare and give a talk at TEDxWinnipeg. This is her first in a series of posts about just that — she’ll check back in and give us another update in a few weeks’ time.

Recently it was announced that I’ll be speaking at this year’s TEDxWinnipeg conference, and as someone who will be speaking about the power of digital communities, and who has blogged their way through life for the past 15 years, it only seems natural to share my experiences as I go through this process as well.

Applying & Choosing a Topic

I feel like the topic of my talk came pretty naturally: I’m a writer, and I own a digital marketing agency, so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people interact online. I’ve also been deeply influenced by the people I’ve met online throughout my life, and wanted to speak to those experiences and share them with the audience.

That being said, a good talk isn’t just about telling your own story; it’s about sharing information and ideas with your audience, so I made sure that my talk also focused on the positive power of digital communities in broader, less personal examples, as well. Because while a compelling story is great, a good TEDx talk needs to also introduce an idea or concept, because the talks are about sharing ideas, not just stories.

If you’re thinking about applying to speak at a future TEDxWinnipeg event I strongly recommend beginning to think about your talk as far in advance as possible. Some of the things that I did to help me included:

  • Write down ideas and thoughts relating to your talk
  • Start gathering links and supporting data before you apply
  • Check out other TED Talks and make notes of any which are similar or related to your idea
  • Ask for input from friends, family, and colleagues. Ask if they’d find it interesting, and be receptive to suggestions and feedback.

Being Selected as a Speaker

Being selected to speak at TEDxWinnipeg was an exhilarating and terrifying experience.

On one hand I was beyond excited: I’d been selected to speak at a TEDx event! I’ve been attending TEDxWinnipeg events for years and had always loved the idea of being a speaker. On the other hand, I have anxiety, and struggle with Impostor Syndrome, and the idea of standing up in front of hundreds of people and giving a talk set off every alarm bell in my head. I’m thankful that there was a few weeks between when I was notified that I’d been selected, and when the official press release was sent out, since I had some time to allow things to sink in.

“Oh my god,” I’d find myself thinking, ‘I’m going to speak at TEDxWinnipeg this year.”

The reality didn’t truly hit until our first meeting, where I met the other speakers and some of the TEDxWinnipeg organizers. We went around the table and did introductions, and explained what our “ideas worth spreading” were.

Being in a room of courageous, creative, funny, and compassionate people was inspiring, to say the very least, and being around the other speakers and knowing that they’re feeling the same nervousness that I am helped soothe my fears. This is still going to be a challenging process, but I feel better knowing that I get to go through it with such strong and brave people.

Saying The Hard Stuff

Without going into too much detail, my talk touches on deeply personal aspects of my life, much of which I’m still processing and healing from. While I’m not intending to delve too deeply into this topic (I only have so much time, after all), I knew that opening up about it on stage would be a challenge. With that in mind, the first thing I did was sit down and write out all of the things that came to mind when I thought of “my story” and how it relates to my talk.

I knew that a speaker rehearsal was coming up, so I focused on memorizing what I’d written, and mentally preparing myself to say it aloud in front of a room full of people. I re-read my notes often, and recorded myself using my Voice Memos app on my iPhone so that I could hear what I sounded like as I read.

Then, last weekend at our first speaker rehearsal, I got up on stage in front of the other speakers and a handful of TEDxWinnipeg organizers… and said what I had to say. It was hard in a way that I wasn’t prepared for, but it was also exhilarating. Standing up there, owning my history, and my story, and my experiences was empowering in a way that I haven’t experienced before.

While I’m fairly certain that a lot of the stuff I wrote and shared at that initial rehearsal may not make it into the final version of my talk, it was important to me that I be open and honest with everyone. I’m glad that I shared with the group, and I’m thankful for everyone’s support.

Moving Forward

Now that I’ve gotten past the first hurdle, it’s time to buckle down and start really blocking out my talk and making changes. I know that I need to edit some of the personal stuff, but how much and which sections still remain to be seen; I’m likely going to keep this part intact as much as possible for now, and will focus on building the less personal, more data-driven examples to illustrate my point and connect with the audience.

My speaker buddy, Amanda, who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks, has been an invaluable resource. She helped me find other talks and resources to support my idea, and provides me with ongoing feedback to help shape my talk to be the best that it can be.

I’ve been doing heaps of research into topics like digital literacy, the impact of social media on communities, behaviours within different peer groups online, and so forth. I’ve probably done more research than will actually go into my talk, but that’s okay; I’m harnessing my tendency for over-preparedness and am now starting to turn facts, figures, and quotes into actual sections of my talk.

The next few weeks will be filled with lots of reading, writing, re-writing, and rehearsing. I’m excited to see how my talk will start to take shape over the coming months, and am looking forward to sharing more of this journey with all of you.