And so the day has come that I gathered all my courage and gave it my best shot!
The whole journey started almost 10 months ago, when I got an invitation to come and discuss the possibility for a TEDx Delft Salon talk on concrete. I expected that somewhere along the way I’d be kicked out for not being good enough (imposter alert!), but that never happened and I ended up taking my concrete story to the stage…
To start preparing for the performance, I wanted to wipe out all my previous conference presentations, and go back to the roots of my interest in concrete. I reframed the main question: Why is concrete an interesting and versatile building material?
When I started preparing my TEDx talk, I received great guidelines written by Rob Speekenbrink (TEDx Delft founder) and while initially I wondered if all of that is necessary, I learned along the way how important these bits and pieces of advice are.
Now let me go into detail on some of the points that are entirely different from giving a research lecture at a conference:
1. You’re a performer
You’re in there as a performer, with an audience that wants to learn from you but also wants to be entertained. Initially, I thought if I’d just talk a bit about concrete, that would do. But then I realized I needed to try and make a more lively story, by adding personal anecdotes and using analogies (I used cake throughout my talk).
Initially, I found this idea terrifying. But then, I thought that, if I could climb the stage of a local theater at the age of 17 with a saxophone and a few poems by Pablo Neruda in my head to give an entire performance, speaking about my material of choice for 15 minutes wouldn’t be too hard…
2. Listen and learn
This advice does count for conferences as well – but here I mean it even more literally: what kind of story structure do you like best? How do others use slides as a simple visual support? Our focus here is on the techniques others use to convey their message. I’ve been watching so many TED(x) talks over the past months to learn from others how to deliver a great talk.
3. Write it out
Usually I improvise on the spot and use my slides as a starting point. For this talk, I was asked to write out my story verbatim. I wrote, and rewrote and wrote the last version 10 days ago. Leaving blanks in the text also helped me to define resting points in the story.
4. Have yourself recorded
Although I’ve been recorded for conferences, lecturing from a lectern, being out there on a stage feels very different. I was recorded on my 3rd trial, and I hated everything about myself in there: my constant blabbering, my gestures and how I pull up my eyebrows. Being aware of these stress-induced actions helped me to focus on my gestures.
5. It takes time
A minute of public speaking takes an hour of preparation. My 15 minutes of TEDx Delft Salon took 55 hours of preparation, just to give you an idea.
6. Don’t forget to enjoy
Right before delivering my talk, I looked at the room and told myself: “Well, all these people have come here because they’re interesting in the free lunch and your story. Isn’t that really cool?” So instead of holding my breath and trying to get it over with, I tried to enjoy the experience (can’t say I really succeeded, but at least I tried to enjoy it)