If you want to give a TEDx or TED Talk – this is the episode for you. Speechless co-host and TEDxLondon Director Maryam Pasha shares the key elements to consider about the TEDx Talk format and experience, in conversation with Simon Bucknall. If you’ve got no ego, are willing to ruthlessly self-edit, and you’ve got an idea that could change the world – listen in.
Maryam Pasha 0:03
You're listening to speechless the new podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. here for an hour to learn how to tell stories that change the world.
Simon Bucknall 0:18
The phrase doing a TED talk has somehow entered the lexicon in the last few years has it not yet, have you done a TED talk or that sounds a bit like a TED talk, or I want to do an academic presentation, not a TED Talk. It's amazing how the phrase Ted and or TEDx and we'll talk about the distinction between the two in a moment has has become so widely spread and widely understood. And Marianne, you of course, more than anyone I know, live and breathe and exude expertise in this realm as originally the curator and founder of TEDx East End. And then in more recent years, curator of TEDx London, and of course, TEDx London women, and now has been confirmed as a four main Ted for the climate conference supporting and helping with some of the Creation around speakers for that conference. So who better than Maryam to help demystify this world and, and what it is as a curator that, that, that she looks for in speakers and perhaps also some insights around what can make for the most compelling speakers from a storytelling perspective and or other. So Marian, first of all, a many people listening to this may well have a pretty good idea of what TED is about. But in case for the uninitiated, how do you describe to someone who is new to it? Or what TED is in represents? What's the what's the nutshell summary?
Maryam Pasha 1:45
Yeah, first of all, my favourite pop culture phrase is thank you for coming to my TED Talk. That's my favourite one. I see that. But what is it? So you know, I think most people are going to interact with Ted in a couple of ways. But you're going to the thing you're going to be familiar with the thing you may have seen in passing, or are these your standalone three to 18 minute videos of someone standing on a red carpet on a stage delivering a talk about a specific idea, and it can be super varied. So you could be talking about giant squid, you could be talking about healthcare career, that poverty, you could be talking about climate change. And so is this really interdisciplinary model. And Ted started out at his conference in California that was really focused on technology. And then in the last 30 years, it's really developed to become really a media brand that has talks and podcasts, and it has events. And I think, for a lot of people, though, all of that stuff is kind of knew the thing that they know, the thing that maybe you've been sent to watch over lunchtime at work is, is a TED talk. And, and, and then about 1213 years ago, Ted did something I mean, revolutionary in the sense that there were articles written about how this would be the end of the TED brand, is they decided to just give their brand way, you know, they created this programme called the TED X programme. And it was meant for people anywhere in the world to take the brand and the format, and create local versions of TED conferences, highlighting ideas that were really from that region from that area from that locality. And it exploded, you know, they talk about it originally as being something they thought like maybe 100 150 people would do now there are like, three and a half 1000 active licences everywhere in the world. Wow, you know, it's in for some people, what's happened is that the way that they understand TED is through TEDx, that's actually their way into the brand. It's a nonprofit model. No one pays for anything here. But you have to abide by a series of rules and, and formats and structures that help us make sure that there's a consistency and people know that they're coming to you. And then you and your local Organising Committee, who you kind of made up of about 99% of the time, our volunteers come together, and they create these TEDx experiences. And you know, they vary. I've, I've met TEDx organisers who run, TEDx is of 20 people in their living room every other week. I've been met TEDx organisers who've done things at Burning Man, or on the top of Everest, or in a plane flying from one side of Australia to another side of Australia, you know, and then there's the more traditional ones, like big auditoriums full of people, you've got universities, it is so diverse.
Simon Bucknall 4:29
And it's clear that the the interest in TED and in the engagement in TED Talks has exploded over over recent years. And I remember my very first heard about in, I think, 2006, when they first started to stream publicly some of the talks from what was until that point, a very exclusive event in California, which
Maryam Pasha 4:48
was really focused on industry, it was focused on technology insiders. They launched the CD ROM at one of their conferences. I mean, like at least 60% people have never used the CD ROM listening to this but those of you know I like that was what it was, you know, really about?
Simon Bucknall 5:02
Yeah. And so what from your perspective? What would you say accounts for the the success of it, you know, the engagement in TED Talks is and both to intentions and or TEDx talks, through YouTube and so on is the preparation is extraordinary. What what in the end, do you think accounts for its success and, and its reach?
Maryam Pasha 5:22
I have to really, you know, give credit to Chris Anderson, who really took this brand and took it from that kind of niche conference and had this vision way before other people, you know, was the head of Ted for many, many years still, I think is one of their senior leaders. The idea of giving away content for free online, no paywall no restriction. That was, you know, I think about 30 years ago, that was not what what people thought the future was going to be right. Everything was protected behind something, you weren't giving away your content. And I think to have that vision, is part of it is, is if understood where the future is going. But I think the other thing is, is that it brought back storytelling, it brought back communication in a format that was accessible to everyone. You know, this is the criticism of TED and TEDx talks, I always think is so elitist, where people are like, Oh, can I just have like a 12 minute talks about astrophysics? Or how on earth could you learn about, like, I don't know, climate change in 10 minutes? And I think, why gatekeeping? That information? No one has says that you listen to one TED Talk. And now you're like a bloody brain surgeon. Right. But if you are interested in something, what better way then to engage with a world expert on that subject to help you into it? Right. And whether that is a subject matter, like, you know, these things I've talked about whether it's insights into the self, whether it's about business, whether it's about global issues. For me, it is Ted, and TEDx talks, create lightbulb moments in people's brains, they open the door to things that have been locked off from loads millions of people worldwide. You know, I think it's an incredible platform
Simon Bucknall 7:11
that says something about the accessibility of the expertise because part of the the cultural expectation around a TED talk is that the content in there no matter how seemingly complex will be so Tarik, it may be be meaningful and engaging for for a lay listener?
Maryam Pasha 7:28
Absolutely. I think it changed the way we communicate, quite frankly, I think it took academics and it challenged them to not just create research that sits on a shelf that no one reads. But you know, where just think about it. We create a world where like, neuroscientists, and mathematicians, and economists, and biologists have become superstars. You know, amazing. I love that, like, let's have more of that.
Simon Bucknall 7:58
Yes, that was it. Brene Brown was a professor of social work, has become a global figure of relationships. And,
Maryam Pasha 8:07
you know, Professor of Psychology, Dan Ariely like we can keep going on, you know, there are so many people that that brands created, but also locally, the idea that there are amazing people, this is what motivates us here, that there are amazing people doing incredible work that you just haven't heard of. Yes, yeah. So you know, ideas that the world needs, that we desperately, yeah, that we can go and find and put on the stage and amplify, so that it's not just the people who are the best at like marketing and PR are the people who have the best like, you don't have make the Instagram algorithm work for them that get the profile. But there are people doing great work. And this allows it, everyone to know it. And I love that
Simon Bucknall 8:48
Well, that leads very neatly on then to the next era, I'd love to explore a bit more, which is from a creators point of view. And of course, you have seen and assessed and supported the development of countless speakers for the TEDx London platform. And of course, before that TEDx East End, and as well as TEDx London women, and I've seen a number of those speakers on stage and so on. And of course, I have also benefited from that, yeah, that that journey and experience working with you in preparation for the conference in 2018. If there's someone listening to this thinking, Oh, maybe I want to I want to put something together for something like a TEDx conference, but I'm not quite sure. Really what it's about or how to go about it. What was your best advice be for somebody who thinks it's something they might want to do? Probably has an idea of the kind of area or the topic they might want to speak on but but not much more than that. What would be your best advice?
Maryam Pasha 9:40
I get asked this question all the time, by people who say I really really my life, my my who come up to me and genuinely say, you know, my professional goal is to be up on that stage. And part of me thinks that's awesome. You know, that feels like you've created a really accessible stage one that isn't gate kept and it feels Like, like you said, you know, in a, in an in another episode, we'll be talking to Simon about the World Championship of public speaking and you talked about how it was, you know, everyday people not just like the person who scaled Mount Everest or gone to the moon or whatever. Speaking, I think the idea that people feel like this, a sense of ownership, and in a positive sense like that they're part of the TED journey is really positive. I say this, because I think that the goal of being a TED or TEDx speaker, isn't the goal is is kind of misguided. I think the goal should be, what I really want is to get my idea, my work, the thing that I care about out to as many people as
Simon Bucknall 10:43
possible, you said, and I'm firing upon part of your, your mission. Yeah. And
Maryam Pasha 10:47
so I always think, if you want to be on that stage, you're going to do really great work. And you just think about ideas, that bet are generous, that benefit the world that are worth spreading, and commit yourself to that work. You know, the best speakers are not on stage, because they love speaking for in this context, they're on stage, because their idea is more important than any fear or self consciousness or nervousness they may have, they're in service to the thing that they're trying to share and change in the world. So I think shifting your focus from the goal, to actually the purpose of why you want to do that creates the kinds of speakers that I see doing best on that stage.
Simon Bucknall 11:38
Now, of course, there's some there are many people who will be working in areas that are really quite specific, right, and really quite niche, whether it's working with a particular profile of individual or in a particular area of functional expertise, or whatever. So, so my question then is, what would your advice be for somebody who says, Well, yeah, I, you know, I've got expertise. I know about this, this and this, and this is the work that I do and have a view about the quality of that work. But how can I possibly make that relevant and meaningful to a much wider audience? People who may not be directly interested in or affected by that work? What what's your experience of working with speakers who may have been in that position where they've got something very, very specific, which they've had to find a way to, to it to expand out somehow?
Maryam Pasha 12:27
It's so interesting, you ask that question. So a number of years ago, one of the TED curators did a little q&a. And there's things things she said, that just really stuck with me, which was that what surprised them the most, when they started to put some of their talks online, was that the more specific the talk, the better it did, the more views it got, the more people engaged with it. And it really made me think about how there, there is this dual tension as a speaker that you need to hold, you need to be relevant enough to your audience, that they can engage with the topic. But you need to be specific enough that it feels tangible. And the mistake that people make is they just go too broad, in trying to make something relevant. They just go that, you know, they pull the lens back, they go bigger and broader and more abstract and more abstract and more abstract. And then I'm talking about nothing. So I think that if you're someone who works in a specific field, you've got to think to yourself, like, what is the change I'm making here? What is the thing I'm doing here? What is the thing I want to share here? And yeah, maybe it's really specific to my field, but I need to talk about that. And then I need to do the work to think about whether that is relevant to the wider world, and how that's relevant to the wider world. I do believe deeply that anyone has the ability to give an incredible TED and TEDx talk. But I've come to realise now over a decade of doing this, that not every idea suits this format. And that has been a really hard realisation for me to come to not every idea suits, you know, a maximum of 18 minutes on a red circle carpet in a monologue format. And so you just have to ask yourself as a speaker, and this is where I think, Chris talks about, like, you know, are you being generous? As a speaker? I mean, that where that comes in, where you genuinely ask yourself, Am I giving something of value to my audience? And if the answer is like, no, then maybe this is not the idea that brings you to the stage.
Simon Bucknall 14:36
And so in terms of the specifics, then and that, and that resonates so strongly that that need to be concrete somehow with what one's talking about. So people can actually really get a grip of something, and then see the deeper truth or wider relevance of that particular idea. And I still remember that talk given by the geologist who had worked on the mission to Mercury Yeah, I still remember that it was it was exposed that sense of wonder that he clearly still has room To me, it's contagious, right? Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So, so therefore, in terms of the actual process by which you assess who's right for the stage for a conference, and then the actual journey of preparation to start off with in terms of your assessment of how do you gauge whether or not a particular individual is the right fit for a conference? What are the considerations that play in your mind as a creator?
Maryam Pasha 15:22
This is so hard, right? Because people feel like if they're not selected, some kind of projection of them. And the idea and I just want to say at the top, that that's not what it is, right? These things are so limited, you know, I've got 10 spots every year, let's say for TEDx London women, and I have to curate 10 ideas around gender and sexuality. There were like 1000, worthy, important ideas. So there's loads of things that come into play, and you have to keep this in mind. You know, what is? What is in the zeitgeist? Like? What are people talking about? What will people be talking about? What is in the news headlines? What are the conversations that are being had there? So there's that moment, then there's the things of like, what is novel? What is innovative? What are people maybe not heard before, not heard applied in a certain way, then you've got this idea of like, is this just a highly engaging person, like where the person has so much credibility, and so much authority, that you that you could take any of maybe 10 ideas that they have, and, and people will want to listen to it, because every single one is valuable. And so we look at these like different vectors, we like to think about it as like, all of our talks are programmed on, fitting into one or more of the following categories. They either shift people's knowledge, their attitudes, or their practice. So either they help the audience understand or learn something they didn't know, before. They help move the audience in terms of their attitude about something that maybe they had some thoughts about before, but now they're, they've kind of changed their mind. Or it compels people to do something in their lives in the lives of others more widely, etc. A good talk can be one, it can be all, but it when we're curating we're looking at her, like her making sure that there is a good mix. So it's not all just knowledge, knowledge, knowledge.
Simon Bucknall 17:18
And it's not all action, action. Action. Exactly. Yeah. Interesting variants. Yeah. And so and so therefore, in terms of the actual journey itself, for speakers, and I imagine it's very different. Obviously, for different speakers, some have to go on a very significant development journey for preparing a talk and others maybe not so much. But what would you say are the what sorts of things stand out in your mind? As a checkpoint? So or write lines in the sand if you'd like, when going through the development of a talk from first inception through to delivery day?
Maryam Pasha 17:53
Yeah. And you know, there's actually a really good TED talk on this by Chris Anderson. And I think Simon, you've mentioned this before, as well, is clarity. Right? It's ideas worth spreading, what is your idea worth spreading? Like the one idea, keeping it specific? I like to think of it in one of two ways. I like to think, you know, what is that? That through line, that thing that ties everything together? So those is useful to think about? What is the what is the thing, the message, the idea that you want someone walking away with remembering, like, you know, when they show up at work the next day, and they say, you know, Simon, I heard this incredible talk, and they said, you have to narrow that down, you have to get specific on that. And this is a very difficult process, I can spend month with the speaker, we can go round in circles on this. But if you do that, that's the foundation.
Simon Bucknall 18:51
That seems to that point about going round in circles, right? Because that's not necessarily a sign of ongoing failure. Somebody gets it right. Right. That mean that that's part of the journey, it's
Maryam Pasha 18:59
kind of like, I always like to say that it's like peeling an onion, as if there was an imaginary something in the middle of an onion. It's like peeling an onion, sometimes you have to get through it, you have to go through the different layers before you can get to the thing, you couldn't have just gotten to the inside of it without that journey. But what it is, is challenging yourself to refine that and be clear on it. I think there's something else here that I actually first heard about when it came to writing. So Roxane Gay talks about writing articles and opinion pieces, and she says to do something, well, you have to believe that you will write again, that you will write something an article, whatever it might be, in the future. This isn't just your only opportunity. And I believe the same thing is true for speaking, you have to believe that you will speak again so that you feel comfortable cutting things out. So the clarity, the one singular idea is one. I think another thing that's really important is to understand what you're bringing to the table. What you're bringing in terms of your perspective in terms of expertise in terms Your background, but also in terms of your unique personality, you know, I could get anyone to talk about genetics, why have I picked you? I can have anyone talk about business leadership, why are you? So just making sure that I think what you want to avoid is creating a talk that anyone else could pick up and deliver, and it will still work,
Simon Bucknall 20:19
which is where the power of personal narrative can come in and guide your references, I think to avoid being too generic and so on. So we've talked quite a bit about the do's and the dues, dues, dues. What about the don'ts? What are the what are the things that people should steer? Well, clear off classic,
Maryam Pasha 20:35
classic elephant traps? Yeah, you know, this is a big one. I think there's a couple of things here. One is, I mean, it's a hard thing to not do, but I'm just gonna say it. The speakers who I think people often assume that the worst speakers are the ones who are super nervous, or maybe get very emotional. Now, those people are great. It's the ones with the big ego. That really don't resonate. So know how you can stop having a big ego as a don't. That's why I say the best speakers are the ones who speak despite their fear. Not because they love being onstage. Like I love being on stage. There's nothing wrong with it. But it's about the generosity. Yes. might
Simon Bucknall 21:20
know that the speaker being on a giant ego trip
Maryam Pasha 21:22
Exactly. On the red carpet. Yeah, there's one of them is that the second is to understand that, that giving a TED or TEDx Talk is an artificial experience. You are when you stand on stage unchallenged for 14 minutes and are circled carbon or film by five cameras, right. So which means the usual will not work. You might have to script this, you might have to practice this relentlessly. Like this is not your usual way of speaking. So if you're going to do something like this, the commitment is serious. And I think finally, the thing that really surprises people, and I think this is really I don't expect it, there's definitely a don't and this is not when it comes to what not to do. If you want to give a TED or TEDx talk, this is a what not to do in terms of applying what you might see on stage to your own life. What you see in the videos, let's say of TED or TEDx speakers is perfection. What people don't see is that I have a whole editing team, right? We do post production, a TED does post production, those talks are edited, you cannot hold yourself up to that kind of impossible, robotic standard, what you produce to work online, because we will have short attention spans, because it does have to be perfect is not the same thing that will resonate with someone in the room necessarily, you know, we work on how to bring those two things to life at the same time. But like people say time and time again, oh, I always felt so intimidated by these talks, because they seemed perfect.
Simon Bucknall 22:55
They're so good. It's so amazing. The actual speakers themselves with that with that. That's the finished product of the speech that's been in development for a long time as well, alongside the post production. Yes, it's a it's a speech has gone through those ragged Spaghetti Junction phases where it feels like a bit of a mess, before eventually getting to a position of with elite sports people as well. You see the finish before Yeah, why they're just, they're just so she's such a great runner. Really hard, amazing attitude, just like naturally just pop up and just run a marathon that fast just for the other thing
Maryam Pasha 23:32
I would say. And this is applicable to both if you're doing a TED or TEDx talk, or whether you're like, doing something else, is about how to use feedback effectively. The singular most destructive thing that I've seen happen when I'm working with speakers is where they have too much feedback from others. It's it's distracting. It's pulls you off course. So you have to learn. Your feedback is extremely useful. It's invaluable, in fact, but you have to use it effectively. Right? I've seen speakers where we have a great like fourth draft, and then they send it to like their dad, or someone and it comes back and it's a different talk. I'm like, Is your dad an expert on this subject? Are they you? Why have you, you know, and it happens. I've seen it with in very professional context. I've seen, you know, colleagues where they've sent a talk to another colleague, and that colleague has stripped all of this like amazing storytelling personality out of the talk. Because that person is like, I don't know, a dry accountant or a lawyer or whatever it might be. So look, the feedback is extremely valuable, but at the right point, and I always tell people, we're both bad at giving it and asking for it. To get great, useful feedback. You have to ask for it. Specifically, you have to ask things like where did I lose you in this talk? Were there too many examples? Was there enough? Do I make leaps in my logic? Those kinds of things as a speaker will give you insight into creating a great tool
Simon Bucknall 25:00
Was it any good? Oh, yeah.
Maryam Pasha 25:01
How's the janitor? I improve? Yeah, for sure. And also because we give feedback for people to people and we, but also because when we give feedback to people, people to feel like they have to find something wrong with it. So you're asking for so these are these are some common mistakes that I think apply both to the TED stage but also more widely.
Simon Bucknall 25:19
That's so so valuable that and the importance of having that filter right with the feedback so that it's gonna be sooner or later, there's going to be feedback that contradicts. Yeah, another piece of feedback, right?
Maryam Pasha 25:29
I mean, that's, that's the real Yeah, that's the real tough situation that speakers get themselves into.
Simon Bucknall 25:34
Maryam thank you so much for sharing insights, experiences and advice from a TEDx curator perspective. And I I also know that the the experience of helping to support speakers for the TED climate conference also sounds like quite a remarkable journey. So really, really great tips for us to consider take on board here in the in the development clarity of an idea, the development of that being cautious about how you actually process feedback, and, and more so thanks so much, Mary is indulgence for me as well to ask all those various questions about it, about Ted, and we'll speak soon. You've been listening to speechless the podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. Hit follow now to keep learning how to tell stories that change the world and if you enjoyed it, please leave us a rating and review. Until next time, speak less, say more.