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Emma Brassington standing in front of the TEDx Holgate Women Sign on the stage

What’s It Like Being A TEDx Speaker?

Did I really deliver a TEDx talk?

5 months ago I was up there, standing on the red spot, on the TEDx stage talking about AI and compassion.

Lots of people have asked me what it was like so I thought I’d share, but as the experience was much bigger than standing up there on stage, I thought I’d share some of the other bits too. 

1. Submitting The Idea

Being a coach and a speaker, TEDx was on my list of things I wanted to do, but it wasn’t something I planned to do for a while.

Then I saw a call out on Linked In for speakers for TEDx Holgate Women from the amazing Louise Saw (business growth manager at City of York Council) and thought I might as well find out the details.

When she sent the info through, my immediate response was “No way!”. 

I had 2 days to come up with a talk title and a 5 minute video overview, along with a list of things I couldn’t possibly commit to. So I decided to say “not this time.”

That night, cycling to meet a friend I let my mind wander. The theme was compassion – what could I bring as a new perspective to this topic…? That’s when the idea of bringing together tech and compassion popped into my head – which evolved into a talk about AI and emotion.

The next day, I got out my tripod, switched on my camera and threw something together. It seemed to flow and it sounded ok, so I sent it off with all the info. 

Then imposter syndrome hit!

Could I really talk credibly about AI on a stage as big as TEDx? And could I communicate the ideas I had about compassion and emotion in a way that made sense?

I tried to capture the rollercoaster of imposter syndrome and excitement in a blog post, while I was waiting to hear if I’d got through.

2. CREATING THE TALK (AND DISCOVERING THE TEDX GUIDELINES)

The committee liked it! My talk was accepted! 🥳

I had a week to create a first-draft video of my talk! 😱

I wanted my talk to be as natural and flowing as possible, so instead of trying to write a script and then learn it, I decided to try breaking it down into sections, and just get used to talking through each section to camera.

So I stood in front of my camera and talked…

And I talked…

And I talked!

I also read and re-read lots of books, noting down the ideas that sparked in my head, then speaking about them out loud, enjoying the connections I made as I went along.

The core talk idea started to emerge and there was enough there for me to submit a video to our speakers’ workshop. There were just 4 weeks to go.

I had the sense I was onto something but I wasn’t confident I’d get it done in the time available in the way that I wanted. By this stage, I’d decided to accept the worst that could happen (falling flat on my face and messing things up in front of 100 people) and to just try to enjoy the whole process.

The speakers’ workshop changed things for me:

  • it gave me a boost in confidence as I realised that I already knew quite a few of the speakers as well as the (volunteer) organisers – I realised that my presentation skills were as good as anyone else there.
  • we were asked to share the reason why we wanted to do our talks and I realised I was doing this to be a role model for other women in tech – showing them that it was possible to step up and share their perspective on tech, and that they didn’t need to be an expert to do so. This helped me become more comfortable speaking about AI, and sharing my ideas without feeling I had to know it all.
  • we were introduced to the strict TEDx requirements over the content of our talks, including that any facts shared were backed up with research, we had to share a core idea and not “just” our story and that talks shouldn’t include any self-promotion or business promotion. If we didn’t meet these requirements, TEDx wouldn’t allow our talk to go up on their site.

I came away more confident in myself and my topic, but with an overwhelming amount to do.

I now had 2 weeks to create the next draft, and realised I needed to get clearer on the message of my talk. I decided to immerse myself in AI books and films and enlist the help of my techie friends to help me get clear on my core idea.

I continued to steer away from creating a script, evolving my talk by presenting it to camera, using mindmaps to structure the ideas, and while it meant I sometimes lost track of what I’d said when, it felt more natural and authentic as I let it flow.

As the weeks flew by I found myself grabbing moments to run through the talk, bombarding friends with videos and asking for feedback, as well as watching and feeding back to the other speakers on their talks too.

Before I knew it, it was the 21st October, and I was at the dress rehearsal, running through my talk at the dress rehearsal, and somehow it all seemed to hang together.

3. Standing On the red TEDx spot

The day arrived, and I was the first speaker. I was pleased to be getting it out of the way, and of course,  I was nervous.

The thing I wasn’t prepared for was the TEDx video that kicked the event off. As it played, it hit me that this talk made me a part of a huge initiative that was known across the world. I was hit by a wave of emotion and tears came to my eyes right before I stepped up on stage. I didn’t have time or space to wipe them away, so if you look carefully at the close-ups in the early parts of the video, you’ll see the glint of tears on my face!

And the thing everyone really wants to know – what did it feel like to actually be up there?

I’ll be honest, most of the time I was focused on trying to remember my talk. I knew from the presentations I’ve done in the past that I perform at my best when I stop thinking too hard and let things flow. So I switched off my thinking and just talked. 

However, there is a moment in the middle of my talk that I can take myself back to. 

I remember looking out into the crowd and getting a sense of the 80+ faces beyond the lightslistening to me with focused attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the carpet of the red spot, and I had the sense of the “TEDx Holgate Women” sign behind me.

It was overwhelming and impressive at the same time. I felt a part of something and I couldn’t quite believe how things had all fallen into place to get me there. This all hit me in one instant, as I was talking, I felt it and then let it go, allowing the talk to flow through me. 

I gave myself permission to relax, enjoy the moment and feel the pride I felt for becoming a part of something so huge.

4. Getting published on the TEDx Platform

As soon as people knew I’d done the talk they wanted to see it! My network were asking me where they could watch it.

But the talks aren’t streamed live, they are recorded and then edited together afterwards and with 8 talks at the event, and the editors giving their time voluntarily, it takes time!

Combine this with the risk that TEDx might not even accept the talk (if it doesn’t meet their requirements), and who knew if it would actually get published?

So I just had to wait. 

In early January (2 1/2 months after the event) we were told that the videos had been uploaded. I waited nervously while they went through the TEDx approvals… and in mid-January I found out it had been approved! 🥳

I logged on and watched it through. By now I could barely remember what I said – would it hang together? Did I actually say what I wanted to say?

In the first few minutes, my heart sank. I knew there had been sound issues on the day with my necklace banging against the microphone, but I hadn’t thought it would be that bad. The sound was muffled, I could only just hear what I was saying at full volume, and there was a background whine that meant I couldn’t listen to it for more than a few minutes at a time. 😭

I really didn’t want to share this with anyone. 

Then I noticed that it had the wrong title. Instead of “Wouldn’t it be easier if I were an AI”, the title (and description) that had been uploaded was the first one I had proposed before the speakers’ workshop took place.

The old talk title “Developing Compassionate AI” didn’t describe my talk at all, and so I was even more ashamed of sharing it. I didn’t want people to listen in thinking I was going to talk about developing AI when it was nothing to do with that at all. 

I was gutted. I felt like I’d lose all my credibility if I shared it as it was. I’d put so much into it.

After a good cry, I reached out and spoke to the lead organiser, who wasn’t sure if we’d be allowed to change it. Thankfully TEDx came back to her and we could delete it and upload it. I reached out to the videographer to find out if there was anything we could do to improve the sound. After playing with some editing tools I managed to filter out the background noise and adjust the levels. 

It looked like I would be able to share it after all! 

Finally, on the 7th February, my TEDx talk, “Wouldn’t it be easier if I were an AI” was published on the TEDx platform, with all the right info, and it sounded good too!!’

What's It Like being a TEDx Speaker?

As I look back now and reflect on the experience, the main things that come out to me are: 

  • It was an amazing thing to do. It was such an emotional rollercoaster and an intense experience. I’d not appreciated how quickly I would have to create a talk to such a high standard and how much I would need to immerse myself in the topic. And it was still amazing!
  • I learned a lot about my own fears and doubts and my ability to keep on showing up despite being completely overwhelmed at times.
  • I discovered that I can do a talk that requires a lot of structure without ever writing a script, and I felt much more natural and authentic delivering it that way too.
  • met some brilliant people who provided fantastic support – the other speakers and all the organisers who put the event together. I’d not previously realised how much of this was done by volunteers, all providing their time to spread ideas that matter! 
  • I’ve had some lovely feedback, including how I’d brought together two quite different topics – AI and emotion – in a way they’d never considered before. I didn’t need to be an expert. All I needed was to be willing to share my perspective on the world. 
  • Despite not feeling like any sort of expert I realised that I actually know a lot more about AI than others. Until I started to research and talk about it, I assumed everyone around me knew more. It turned out that I have absorbed much more than I thought I had over the years and have more than I thought I had to contribute! 
  • And, with the theme of my talk in mind – while it might have been easier to write and deliver it if I’d been an AI, it’s the richness and emotion of the whole experience that made it for me. 

My big reason for doing this talk was to inspire other women working in tech to step up and be confident in sharing their ideas without needing to be the expert. 

I have already had women in my network, telling me that they hope they might do a TEDx themselves one day. 

My response has been to tell them to just do it. 

You don’t need to wait until you feel ready or credible enough. 

You could do it at any time. 

Grab the opportunity when you see it, throw yourself in and give it a go!

I am extremely proud of my talk, the idea and the way it came together. I hope that it encourages people to think differently about AI, and inspires other women in tech to get out there and speak out about the way they see the world.

My TEDx Talk: "Wouldn't It Be Easier If I were An AI?"

“Sometimes it feels like it would be so much easier if we didn’t have to feel our emotions. What if we could switch them off just be rational and logical, and avoid the hurt and pain that they bring.

What if we could be more like an Artificial Intelligence, able to just absorb information and know exactly what’s needed in every situation? It could be a much easier way to live. 

But emotions bring value to our lives that we don’t always recognise, helping us survive and giving us meaning. Our empathy and compassion help us connect with others and share our understanding helping us to learn and grow.

Would life really be easier without our emotions? Do we really want to get rid of them and become more like an AI?”

The underpinning ideas which helped me to step up, speak out and go for it with my TEDx are ones which I share with my clients through one-to-one coaching and my mentorship programme. If you want to step up and speak out more, whether in meetings, presentations or your own TEDx and would like some support, please get in touch and we can talk about how I can help. 

I also regularly speak at events, and design and run interactive workshops and am always happy to discuss ideas.