#BTS of Doing a TED Talk

That stands for behind the scenes. And it was a TEDx for the particularly particular.


Nevertheless, …


Back in the springtime, a real-life teaching colleague and also Twitter friend, Will Gourley, tagged me in a tweet and suggested that I apply for the TEDx event that was coming to Kitchener in the fall. It was around the time of year that most teachers are thinking about two things: making sure they cover enough of the curriculum to feel satisfied with their year and report cards. Needless to say, although I was a huge fan of Ted Talks and had hoped to be on that circular red rug at some point in my career, doing a TED talk wasn’t on my list of most pressing obligations. So when I had the time and mental energy, I put together and submitted a proposal for a talk and went back to my daily preoccupations with finishing out a strong sixth year as a teacher. I had almost forgotten about my application until I got an email on a warm June day stating that I had been accepted. What followed was a list of dates and deadlines that concerned how the process of preparing a talk would ensue and final congratulations. I was geeked! Now, I had to actually think about what I was going to say.


The school year ended and the summer started. I had done a few speeches, seminars, panels, and even a keynote before, but the gravity of knowing that I would be on the TED stage forced me to alter my habitually-procrastinating self into some type of action. In early June, I opened my Mac and started on my talk from the very beginning. The directions from the organizers were necessarily well-articulated; they told us not to come unprepared and insisted on dates for outlines, drafts, and videos of rehearsals. In essence, they acted like that one teacher you always hated because he was so demanding but secretly you were delighted that you had him because you knew he would not let you slack. I hammered out my first draft and sent it off. The feedback: too long, too all over the place, and just what exactly are you talking about?


To be honest, I haven’t gotten much feedback as a writer aside from most of my friends and work colleagues acknowledging that they actually read my stuff and liked it. Even the few articles that I’ve written for magazines, or outlines for keynotes that I was asked to do, came back with only minimal changes from those people in charge. With the feedback that I got from the TED organizers, I went back to the drawing board and cut, changed, altered, and even re-wrote portions of my talk until I felt that both they and I would be happy with it. It took five drafts but I had it under ten minutes, a mark that I wanted to attain and I felt like it had just enough meaning and just enough engagement to keep an audience wrapped. Yeah, five drafts. I am a one-take kind of guy, so five drafts from me must have indicated that I was taking this thing very, very seriously. But, I was off for the summer and I like to spend my time writing, so that was the easy part. Now, I had to master my written word into a spoken one.


I don’t think I had ever consciously memorized anything in my life. I mean, I can recite at least 100 rap songs word for word, but my automaticity of them came from listening to them over and over and over and not necessarily trying to learn them. I thought this tactic would work so I recorded my talk and listened to it every day. The 10 seconds short of ten minutes monologue was replayed into my ears through my headphones every time I went to the gym, went for a jog, washed the dishes, or mowed the lawn. I tried listening to it when I went to sleep and while I was brushing my teeth in the morning. After a few days of this, I had just about the first two lines memorized. This was August. School was about to start and I knew that my time spent on this project would soon become limited as the school year quickly approached. I needed a new tactic.


I decided to fall back upon the strategy I used to get me through high school and much of university. My greatly astigmatic photographic memory. I would read a paragraph off of my computer, go to another room in my house, and recite it until I messed up. I repeated this over again until I could spit out the paragraph that I blurredly saw in my head, without any mistakes, at least 5 times. And then it was on to the next paragraph, all starting from the very beginning. It took me about ten odd days to memorize the entire ten-minute talk and as I finally got my brain wrapped around it, I began to rehearse in front of friends. They would offer advice and I would change little things here and there. By the time September rolled around, I was back preparing for year seven as a teacher. I spent an hour or so each evening working on my talk and getting it into the deep crevasses of my brain where the “Happy Birthday Song” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” hook resided (you see what I did there…). Of course, September flew by and I was with three friends driving out to Kitchener to deliver my speech. Thankfully, I don’t have any overt markers of anxiety, like sweating or a dry mouth. Rather, when I get nervous, I yawn. I had a great sleep the night before I was set to give my talk but I was yawning the whole dang drive from Toronto to Kitchener…


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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