My school’s first-ever TED Talk event was held this week, setting an incredibly high standard for future guest speaker events on our campus. Organized by tireless librarian Erik S., the event combined video and live performances to welcome the members of the freshman class and inspire them to view school and their lives through a different lens.
Erik’s TEDx team spent eight months organizing the day-long event, which was built on the theme of “Embracing Obstacles.” As an audience member, I was struck by the scope and professionalism of the event. For each of our six class periods, a different set of video and live performers held our freshmen rapt. (You know it’s good when not one cell phone glows in the audience.)
From a rabbi to a teen magician to a lesbian Naval officer who helped usher in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to a snowboarder who lost both her legs to bacterial meningitis, the room pulsed with energy and examples of how problems can become our greatest strengths.
As my students returned to our classroom for debriefing after each hour’s program, students were electrified. We talked about what they liked and what messages were most memorable; they also spoke about the specific public speaking skills they saw on display and how they can apply those techniques to their own presentations. They offered these observations:
• The best presentations began and ended with a story. Listeners liked the use of a narrative line to deliver a message rather than traditional academic lecturing. (I really hope they remember this for their own speeches later in the term.)
• They preferred a conversational style to flat memorization. One of the student emcees struggled in an early session, losing track of her memorized lines; she started repeating previous lines as she tried to regain her spot. “I felt a wall immediately pop up when she did that,” one of my freshmen commented afterward. Better to have talking points you want to hit instead of full sentence-by-sentence scripting, they agreed.
• Great visuals matter. In just one session, a student spun a thumpin’ mix with a DJ Launchpad, but we couldn’t see what he was doing because of the elevation of the stage. “I’d have put that box thing he had under a camera and projected it huge so everyone could see him go at it,” said one of my boys. Other speakers used a variety of compelling graphics and students appreciated the difference.
Personally, I was impressed by several small touches, including those famous TED letters on the stage, the red carpet that greeted students as they entered, the full-color brochure of speaker profiles, and the low, nearly dark lighting that gave the multipurpose room an artsy, theater-like vibe. The featured speakers were incredibly passionate and on-point, and I loved that Erik was able to bring such a diverse collection of people from around the Bay Area to connect with our kids.
The day after the event I found Erik and congratulated him on pulling off one of the most impressive events I’ve seen in my 18 years on our campus. He smiled, said thanks, and then added, “Great, now I want you to ask your kids what they think our theme should be next year?” The man is phenomenal.
Interesting in building your own TEDx event? Check out the requirements here.
Teach on, everyone!