Saturday, August 11, 2012

My TED talk! On Bill Finger!

Sometimes a career highlight can be summed up in only three letters.

When I heard that TED, the prestigious conference devoted to “ideas worth spreading” in the areas of technology, entertainment, and design, was holding its first-ever talent search across the globe, I hastily submitted my one-minute video pitch on Bill Finger and the tragedy of superhero creators. (It ran a bit over, which would be the beginning of a pattern with me.)

That was in April. In late May, long past the time I thought decisions had been made, I got a surprising email. Of the hundreds who nominated themselves, I was one of 30 chosen to give a short TED talk in New York on June 7.

I travel the country (and, of late, the world) speaking to audiences of all kinds. I love doing it and I rarely get the jitters beforehand.

This was not the case with TED.

Perhaps only TED can make someone nervous about telling a story he has lived and breathed—and shaped and spoken on—for five years.

Part of the reason TED amplifies anxiety is obvious: it is on a world stage. But the biggest part of the reason is that the talks are timed…and you will be cut off.

Speakers could choose a talk length between two and six minutes, but TED said the shorter the better. I went with three minutes.

If there was no fixed time, and instead they’d simply said “Just give a short talk,” I would have been much more comfortable. But it was the fear of being cut short that threw me. So I prepared a talk that could be delivered in just under three minutes…if I didn’t screw up.

At rehearsal I screwed up.

But after, TED curator Chris Anderson and Director of Content Kelly Stoetzel graciously said that it would be okay if I ran a bit over now that they’d heard my approach. In other words, since they knew I would not run, say, three minutes over, I had the leeway to run 30 seconds over.

As for my screwing up, I am not making excuses…except for these two:

1) My afternoon rehearsal took place in the middle of Joe’s Pub in New York while what felt like 50 crew moved equipment around us frantically trying to get everything set up for the live event that evening.

2) I thought that the talk we prepared should be just a teaser since most TED talks I’ve seen are close to 20 minutes. I didn’t realize till the day of that we were expected to present a full, if succinct, talk. That last-minute recalibration also threw me a bit.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I knew one of the other speakers: writer Joshua Prager, who entered my field of vision with his riveting Wall Street Journal piece on what happened to the royalties for the classic picture book Goodnight Moon. (Go read it.) Josh was one of the evening’s highlights and I am going on record to say he will get invited to TED 2013.

Because that’s what this salon was about: finding new blood for the next Big One. A follow-up email from TED explained that fewer than 10% of TED speakers from this talent search would be so honored.

three photos above © TED; used under Creative Commons license

A TED tenet that I didn’t realize existed: ties are taboo for TED talks. Not outright banned but discouraged. At least two speakers who arrived in ties did not go on stage in them. TED = Ties Equal Dry.

My TED talk (which ended up running nearly a minute over):

Comments are being collected under the video of my talk on the TED (not YouTube) page, but only until 8/31/12, so please don’t delay in going there and letting them know if you think I would add something worthwhile to TED 2013 (with a more polished delivery, of course)!

I won’t screw up twice.

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