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Doing a TEDx Talk: The Truth About My Experience

Doing a TEDx talk took way more than I could have imagined. When I first applied, I had no idea what I was in for.

I didn’t know there would be so much to learn about what to do and what not to do during a TED talk.  And so much to learn about myself, my message, and the creative process.

tedx talk ted talk Photo by Erica Mueller Photography.

It was just over a year ago that I stood up on a big red dot on a stage in front of 500 people and gave a TEDx talk in Asheville, North Carolina. It was the first year Asheville could have an audience of 500 instead of just 100.

I had worked tirelessly for months applying, interviewing, preparing, writing, and researching. The process also included lots of rewriting, editing, freaking out, getting and giving support, practicing, resisting, and planning more details than I ever expected. I even had a custom shirt made for my stage time.

But, it didn’t go as planned. Usually, I would get a burst of exhilaration and energy from connecting with an audience. Instead, as soon as I looked out from the stage, I felt like a deer in headlights and could barely breathe.

All I saw was black in front of me due to the stage lights shining on me and the completely dark lights in the audience.

This was the closest I’ve ever come to a panic attack in public. I did my best to hide it because of the 500 people, a live stream running, and 3 other cameras filming me for TED.

Even though I didn’t normally have a fear of public speaking, the pressure of it being a TED talk and having to remember 17 minutes of my talk was a lot. Then, looking into the darkness with no connection to the audience and months of stress pushed me further than my capacity could handle.

I don’t know how I made it through that talk because my brain didn’t seem to be getting enough oxygen. One miracle was that I had someone off stage queuing my lines to me. I didn’t know that was an option until I asked not long before the talk. (I doubt this is always the case.)

But because I had never practiced with support, waiting for my lines contributed to my stress level. At times I couldn’t hear her because the audience was laughing. I also knew she was skipping some content that I felt attached to. But I kept talking somehow.

After I finished giving my talk, I thought it had been a disgrace. The critical voices in my head were screaming nasty judgments at me. From my panicked perspective, there had been long, eternal, gaping pauses.

I had forgotten a bunch of ideas that I had planned to say, and I couldn’t catch my breath more than once. To imagine that it was coherent at all felt delusional.

Luckily, my speaker coach assured me it wasn’t as bad as I thought. But those who know me could see it. In the theater lobby afterward, a stranger even said, “You did a good job of pulling it together there.” She saw my stress too.

tedx talk jen aly creative process business doing a ted talk

Later when I watched the video, there were a few times, especially one that was edited out, where you could see I was having a hard time catching my breath.

And yet miraculously, somehow the ideas and points I wanted to make came through. The only explanation for it coming together is grace….and the support of a great team of colleagues and friends.

The video you see on TED.com was edited from a 3 camera shoot. Luckily I had a say in the edits (not always the case apparently).

Later in the year, I found out that my talk was among the 10% of TEDx talks chosen to be on TED.com(instead of just TED’s YouTube channel). My mind was blown. The process felt more worth it because more people would see it and I felt a level of satisfaction.

The talk, “Harness Creativity as your Greatest Business Asset” is all about being in the creative process and trusting it no matter what you are creating. Even though it’s simple, it’s not always easy to see it through whether it’s a painting, a project, or a business venture.

Getting through the creative process of applying for, preparing, and completing a TEDx talk was one of the most intense creative processes of my life.

In the talk, I share that harnessing the creative process is an asset in creating a business. It is focused on growth instead of a more traditional or linear idea of building a business. 

As more of a holistic and creative-minded person, I had tried to ignore aspects of business in the earlier years before filing bankruptcy. Later, I re-framed and embraced business concepts that I had previously resisted to create new businesses that thrive.

components of business tedx talk creative processPhoto by Erica Mueller Photography.

Creating my TEDx talk was a major creative process for me. It had a life of its own and morphed more times than I can remember. My living room was TEDx talk central for the last two months of the process with a rigged-up practice space with piles of papers and Post-Its.

When you speak out against the grain, old emotional gunk rises to the surface. When you stretch and grow, old stuff you didn’t even know you had in you comes up. Needless to say, I cleared a lot of emotional energy through the process.

And I became stronger through it all. I was able to more fully embody the lessons I was teaching in my TED talk and to trust my voice because no one could really edit my talk except me. I eventually sought less external validation because I survived through a public speaking nightmare.

Even though it wasn’t perfect, I’ve received feedback that the talk has had a positive impact. It has helped people honor their creativity, heal from challenges they experienced in the education system, and inspired them to face their fear of not getting it “right.”

As one of my mentors used to say, “Done is better than perfect.”

What are you afraid of not getting right?

What are you wanting to do but you’re waiting until the conditions are perfect?

How can you show up in your messiness?

TED.com TEDx Talk Jen Aly

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