In November I gave my first TEDx Talk.
It happened at Princeton University. My talk was about embodied cognition, the new branch of psychology that examines how our bodies are a part of our mental lives. A few dozen bright young students made up the audience.
You can watch it below.
I walked in with some confidence: My slides were great and the research was super compelling. Embodied cognition has surfaced some surprising insights, like that tired people perceive hills to be taller than they really are, and stock traders in far-north countries become increasingly risk averse as the days get shorter.
Still, I was slightly freaked out about giving the presentation.
I had spent about a year working on a book proposal exploring embodied cognition, and this would be the first time that I offered a lot of that material to an audience.
Not only an audience, but a bunch of Ivy Leaguers.
I was worried that they were all going to be brighter than me, so what could I say that would teach them something new?
Luckily, I’ve written quite a few articles about public speaking, so I understood what I needed to do — at least on a conceptual level. The best TED Talks, for instance, rely on telling stories instead of just hitting people with data. They connect with people at an emotional level.
Here’s what I learned from giving the talk:
You can play yoga teacher.
When I asked my Facebook friends how I could give a great TEDx Talk, one suggestion was to engage the audience physically. For example, I could ask them to raise their hands or to move their bodies to get them engaged.
Since this was in line with my talk, I started by asking the room to take a deep, yoga-style breath with me. It was a zany, empowering feeling for a presenter: Suddenly, the whole room was moving together, with their eyes and ears open.
You can go personal.
If you want to make an emotional connection, the standard presentation advice goes, then tell a personal story. So I went a step further: baby pictures.
I talked about how as I grew up, I lived less and less in my body — which lead directly into my talk.
You can play it cool when things get messy.
Even though I looked through my slides before giving my presentation, a few images didn’t show up when presentation time came.
Instead of panicking — as I was wont to do in middle school — I laughed it off and trucked through with what I wanted to say. I think that comfort sprang from knowing the material so well.
But I still have lots of room to grow as a presenter.
I’m super proud to have done my first TEDx and present at such a prestigious place, plus I think I did an admirable job of connecting with the audience. Next time, I’ll be saying fewer things with more detail — as a famous TED speaker once told me. And I’ll make sure all my slides are fully prepped before I present.
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