“Storyteller. Nostalgist. TED talker, too.”
That’s what I changed all of my bios on social media to ever since I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxJerseyCity on Saturday, November 8th, 2014.
Now I think we all know that TED is a big deal, but I didn’t put that into my head until after I got off the stage at PS4 on Bright Street in Downtown Jersey City because I knew I would have panicked. I consider myself so fortunate to have spoken at most of the top film festivals all over the world –– household names like Sundance, SXSW, and TIFF –– but a TEDx talk is a TED talk, and it’s an honor granted to a few people all over the world.
And for the first time in a long time, I had to work for it.
I wanted to dive into what the process of preparing for a TEDx talk was like for me because it was very different than anything else I’ve ever had to prepare for. First of all, I had to audition for the part, and that brought me back to when I used to perform Shakespeare in the parks. I haven’t auditioned for anything since then, and the organizers of TEDxJerseyCity took this part of the process very seriously.
In fact, I almost didn’t make the cut.
When I did my first audition, I was trying not to focus so much on crowdfunding and instead veer that subject I could talk about in my sleep more towards the power of the crowd. My four-minute audition piece was quite honestly a mess. But one of the organizers, Alicia, believed that I had something truly important to say, and so she met up with me at The Warehouse Café and helped me shift the focus of the talk back to what I’m really meant to talk about –– crowdfunding –– and through that, reveal the power of the crowd through personal stories, examples, and a quick lesson on how ordinary people like us have the power to create positive change in the world because money is no longer an obstacle now that we finally have the tools to overcome the problem of lack of funding.
Freshly armed with that as my focus, and a couple days of hardcore rehearsals, I ended up wowing the judges during the callbacks that I almost didn’t get invited to, and I made it onto the roster along with sixteen other proud Jersey City speakers who would take the stage and talk about a “Brave New World” of their choosing at TEDxJerseyCity 2014.
The other part that was most difficult for me personally was the actual writing of the talk. See, whenever I speak at an event, I never write down what I’m going to say. It’s all very beatnik (I am a poet, after all) –– “straight from the mind to the voice,” as ol’ Jack would say. The only other time I felt I had to write out my talk was during my SXSW Future15 talk about being a face in the crowd of crowdfunding, where I talked about crowdfunding through the lens of the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith.
But I basically did the same thing with the written out version of my TED talk that I did with that SXSW one. I tossed it in the trash and winged it.
The thing about “winging” something is simple: You have to be confident that there’s a wind beneath those wings to hold you up, and that wind is the intention behind what you want to say. How you say it, that’ll always be secondary.
Before we bust into a chorus of Bette Midler’s famous tune, let’s get back to TEDx. Aside from the rough outlines/four-minute audition pieces, I wrote a full outline and a first and second draft of the talk. What I noticed was each time I wrote it, I would add more to it. Always more. Never less. And ultimately when I had a week left and was about to start rehearsing my talk, I let my fiancée Marinell read it.
And she liked it.
“I can’t picture you saying it like this,” Marinell kept on saying, and no matter how many times I reassured her that “the talk that I give on stage will most likely sound nothing like what’s written,” she still wasn’t convinced until I took her to my apartment and performed it for her for the first time. No notes. No cheat sheet. Nothing.
And she loved it.
Did the writing out of the entire talk help me keep the intention behind those words in the forefront of my mind? Sure. But knowing myself the way I do, I should’ve simply sketched out a quick outline onto a couple of napkins and worked off of that. When you know your subject matter, it makes no sense to spend all that time writing it out; just know what you need to say and practice getting it out in the order you need it to be presented, and all will be well.
I spent the next entire week practicing every night after work –– again, something I’m not accustomed to doing. I recorded each rendition of my talk into my iPhone, all the while timing it more old school on an old Breitling stopwatch I permanently borrowed from a high school science class. From my first time of twenty-six minutes to just barely cutting it down to the eighteen-minute TED maximum, the more I practiced, the more I knew what I needed to get across to my audience.
On the day of the talk itself, I practiced one last time in the morning, and I was pleased to get it down to fifteen minutes. That meant, I now had precious time to infuse into the talk the spontaneity that makes all of my talks all the more memorable. The quick asides and off-the-cuff additions, but most importantly, working with the crowd in the moment to create with them the best talk possible. To give to them the speech they want to hear. And I think I accomplished that with my TED talk.
But man, it was a lot of work!
It’s been a week since my TEDxJerseyCity talk, and I’ve been thinking of my Dad a bit more lately. It always happens during this time –– he passed away eight years ago on December 16th –– but this time feels a little different. I find myself wishing I could take a minute and tell him all about my talk, and to hear him in that silent whisper of a voice he left this world with say that he’s proud of the man I’ve become.
I know he is, of course. But sometimes you just need to hear it.
But it’s funny –– We all know that “TED” stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design,” but it’s also short for “Teddy,” a nickname for “Theodore” and what the “T.” in “John T. Trigonis” stands for.
And it was also my father’s name, too.
My TEDx talk marks a huge milestone for me, and I have no idea where it will take me next. Perhaps nowhere. Perhaps it will afford me further opportunities to talk about the power that crowdfunding gives to mild mannered men and women all around the world. Time will tell, and I want to thank you all ahead of time for helping me get here.