What Is It Like to Give a TEDx Talk?

Short Version

That is the most intense thing I have ever done in my life. The video should be out in a month or so.

Long Version

30 Seconds of Joy and then…


I was invited to apply to give a TEDx Talk by a member of the content team at Penn State. I found out in mid-December that I had been accepted. The acceptance email brought about 30 seconds of thrill as giving a TEDx Talk is literally on my bucket list of things to do in my life. What an amazing opportunity to have an impact on such an important issue. “I get to give a TEDx Talk!” After that 30 seconds of elation came the devastating and overwhelming anxiety, “I have to give a TEDx Talk.” Well, that’s not exactly what I said. There was more cursing involved.

Mind Game

Not only is there the pressure to perform and deliver, but the TEDx platform and the potential reach and impact are overwhelming. They tell you that some of the lesser viewed talks get about 100,000 views. That’s more people than I’ve ever spoken to in 15 years of speaking on college campuses to address sexual violence. Then I started to really mess with myself. The thought creeps in. It’s unavoidable. “What if… What if it got 1 million views? Now that’s highly unlikely, but there is a chance. What kind of an impact could that have? How many sexual assaults could that prevent?” Then in my brain, I’ve made that impact. “Don’t screw that up. Don’t mess up and prevent yourself from preventing those assault.”

The Star Trek Approach – All Auxiliary Power to the TEDx Talk

As the date approached I found myself feeling like the captain of the Starship Enterprise. “All auxiliary power to the TEDx Talk. Shut down life support, other projects, email, everything!” It was a blessing to travel to Penn State. Many of the other speakers were from Penn State and had to carry on their regular lives while preparing (parenting, laundry, etc.). It was a great luxury to just be able to obsess focus completely on this.

I’ve Done this Hundreds of Times, but Never Like This


I’ve spoken to hundreds of audiences about ending rape. I still get anxious before I go on stage, but it’s manageable and helpful in that it dials me in and gets me focused. This was totally different than all those other presentations. I had to take my regular 75 minute talk and cut it down to just 12 minutes. This can’t just be a highlight reel. It needs to have it’s own story arch with a beginning, middle, and end. There are also things you can say and explain clearly in a 75 minute talk that you just can’t get into in 12 minutes.

Usually, when I speak I know my content and weave in stories and points as I get non-verbal feedback from the audience along the way. It keeps things fresh for me and makes it a better presentation for the audience. This is a different animal. I had 12 minutes and needed to be precise with the timing throughout. It had to be memorized word for word. Then there is also the additional pressure of six cameras and the stage lit for those cameras, which is blinding.

You Can’t Prepare Enough

It was tough for me to memorize. I had to read it over and over. And rehearse over and over. I also would record myself so that I could listen to myself while driving, working out, or during any down time in the week or so leading up to the talk. You can prepare and prepare, but you can never prepare enough to prevent a brain freeze on stage. Have you ever turned to introduce a friend you have known for 20 years and couldn’t pull their name from your brain? Well, that’s the fear every presenter has walking on stage.  I could have prepared for another 6 months and that could still happen. I probably rehearsed this 100 times. Only twice did I not majorly mess up a portion of it – on stage during the rehearsal and on stage during the TEDx Talk. Phew. The sense of relief at getting through it – mentally, emotionally, and physically was surreal and something that I hadn’t experienced before.

Camaraderie Among the Speakers


The speaker before me was a climate scientist with his own PBS special. The speaker after me was telling a deeply personal and authentic story about how we need to rethink marriage. The next speaker studies the fastest particles in the galaxy. All of the speakers were interesting and wonderful folks to get to know. It was great to be in community with really smart and accomplished folks all sharing the vulnerability of the moment. There was no competition among the speakers. Everyone was rooting for each other throughout the weekend.

Ever wonder what it is like in a TEDx green room? It’s a bunch of really smart people all talking to themselves while sitting next to each other.

It Takes a Village. Grateful for My Village.

Although I was the only one on stage during my TEDx Talk, I wasn’t alone. Troy Headrick, whose work on sexual violence prevention I have carried on for the past 15 years, was there as well. As was my TEDx coach, Katie, who helped me get around the curse of knowledge and provided awesome feedback from the perspective of my audience. She also helped me completely revision the slides. I also got lots of great feedback on the script and slides from folks who I have learned from along the way including Heather Shea Gasser, Mollie Monahan-Kreishman, Virginia Solan, Jody Jessup-Anger, Grant Anderson, Paul Gordon Brown, Amanda Fischer, and Kathleen Kerr. I was also up there with all of those who have helped my learning, growth, and understanding on the issue of sexual violence.

And one last thank you. As I intended to say during the talk (thanks to Mollie for helping me improve this, sorry I messed it up a bit on stage):

We have to acknowledge the decades of work feminists and women’s organizations have done to put laws on the books, shelters in existence, resources in place, and to raise awareness. Women deserve the recognition for starting this movement, for laying the foundation, and continuing to do the vast, vast majority of the work today.

TEDx Talk 1
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