Speaking with TED
Giving a TED talk for TEDxTrousdale 2014 was one of the most satisfying experiences I had in a year full of truly humbling opportunities. The premise of TED talks is simple: in under 18 minutes, give the talk of your life. I presented When Peanut Butter is Scarce, an idea whose seed was first planted on this very blog almost three years prior.
The first time I heard about TED talks, I knew that I wanted to give one some day, and by the end of the first TEDx event I attended, it had become a life goal. One afternoon in early April, I was catching up on my email and opened an exciting looking message. While speed-reading its body, my mind tripped and took a sprawling tumble over the following words:
“I’m emailing you because you have been nominated by Michael Zyda to give a TEDx Talk at TEDxTrousdale.”
I literally did a double-take and reread them. This was a dream come true. Following that was a link to an application that would allow me to be considered as a speaker, and a more detailed description of the heavy commitment involved with presenting. During the busiest time of the busiest year I had ever lived, when I was otherwise not even accepting lunch plans, I didn’t consider turning this chance down for a second. Even as just an event independently run by students, the power of the principles of TED make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, anywhere and everywhere these gatherings occur.
I spent the next five days before the application’s due-date in brainstorming mode. I could not submit anything less than a home run of an idea for a talk. The competition at USC was simply too steep when it came to interesting work, interesting ideas, and principles worth hearing about. It had to be something the judges would read and say “This must be heard,” and it had to be something I could flesh out into a concept I really wanted to share with the world.
I knew what I wanted to share with the world, what I wanted to accomplish. I want to do away with fear. It has no place in our world, and it is the single greatest opressor of greatness I see around me. That is all well and good, but the overarching generality of a statement like that simply would not compel a definitive, unopposed Yes from any panel of judges I knew. So with hours to go on the application, I was still looking for inspiration. I surfed the web, I spoke passionately into empty rooms about whatever came to mind, I wandered campus aimlessly, and eventually, I settled into the dimly lit courtyard of a closed-up college cafe. While listening to water splash and drain in a fountain on the wall, I pulled up this (my) blog in search of inspiration.
I didn’t even have to open the post. The picture on When Peanut Butter is Scarce was all I had to see to know it was the one. The title alone had all the power and quirky intrigue I was looking for in a topic. What’s more, I gave it a read and found all the passion and introspection characteristic of great and valuable life lessons. This was something that would get past any judge, and something I could mold into an idea worth spreading.
I immediately went back to lab and wrote a topic summary that grafted my aforementioned life goal into the poignant realizations I had while staring at a pitiably sparse peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t concise, it wasn’t clear or focused, but it had the winning sauce in it (which apparently was just peanut butter), and about a week later, When Peanut Butter is Scarce and I got accepted into TEDxTrousdale.
That was really the start of my journey because let me tell you, writing a TED talk is hard. It turns out, some of my ideas of how to convey my lofty goals were just bad. Even one of the ideas itself, attacking fear, turned out to be a bad one. That problem revealed itself to be much bigger than 22 year old Dru Erridge and three weeks locked in a green house.
Oh yeah. I also spent most of the next couple weeks in much the same state I had been in that night. Namely, talking to walls, looking for inspiration in cafes, and avoiding contact with real human beings. As such a technically minded person, I catch a fair bit of flak from my peers for my methods when it comes to more creative endeavors. Perhaps I am a bit of a diva about having my own space and not being interupted with work like this, but when trying to really make a statement to people, I think it’s important that your confidence and understanding in your own work is absolutely complete. Interuptions waste time and disrupt a train of thought. Getting outside opinions before you have fleshed out the space in your own mind can cause you to course-correct into something you don’t believe in as much. Essentially, you need to get to the point where you’re not only drinking your own Kool-aid, but can read the ingredients list backwards with a spoonful of peanut butter in your mouth. If you’re not the number one fan of the ideas you’re selling, why do you expect other people to buy?
After some time and several rounds of very direct feedback from the excellent organizing staff, I excised my attack of fear almost entirely from the talk. Some day I will broach this topic when I have the time to do it justice. Maybe my next TED talk ; ) What I was left with was a lot more concise, a lot more digestable, and a lot more relatable for an audience that I think genuinely appreciated what I had to say that day.