In the beginning of 2016, I was invited to a meeting of the organising team for TEDx Leuven. I thought this was a worthy project to get involved in, so I accepted. It turned out to be a fruitful and pleasant cooperation. After a few meetings, I was asked to be one of the two masters of ceremony for the event. I happily accepted. It was a challenge for me. Here’s what I found challenging:
- Remembering information about 6 speakers
- Striking a good balance between informative and light-hearted
- Preparing enough but not too much
- Keeping calm
The audience was 550 people but that turned out not to be any different from a smaller audience for me. In fact, it’s probably easier. With so many people in the room, you automatically have more distance and thus are less easily distracted by the audience’s response. Also, it motivates you to prepare well.
I originally made contact with TEDx through the Toastmasters club in Leuven, of which I’m a member. There were several of my colleague-Toastmasters in the audience and they asked me to answer the questions below, in order to publish the interview on their website. I owe a debt of gratitude to Toastmasters Fonske Leuven for everything I’ve learned there over the years, specifically to Joan Ceuterick for putting me in touch with TEDx. I’m including the relevant parts of the interview below.
Q1: What exactly was your role at TEDx ?
I announced TEDx speakers, together with my colleague Vanessa Palsenbarg. In a discussion with the TEDx team, we decided that having 2 dedicated announcers would provide the smoothest and most professional transitions from one speaker to the next.
Q2: How did you prepare for this?
Quite a lengthy process! Vanessa and I got together a first time to plan our approach. Then we collected information about the speakers from the various TEDx team members. We wrote our intros and shared them with each other. We met again and gave each other feedback. We presented the intros to the TEDx team and collected their feedback. We made corrections and added information that had been missing before. Finally, about a week before the event, we recorded test videos of our performances. With the additional challenge of having the evil eye looking at us (the camera), we found out where our memory lapses were and which parts of the announcements needed a bit more work. Finally, on the day, we went to see the sound people backstage and rehearsed a few announcements with our headsets on.
Q3: Did you do something like this for TEDx before?
Not really. Until now my connection with TEDx was that I was part of the team that coached speakers. Again this time, we coached 2. Alexander Van Steenberge, Frank Turley and Joan Ceuterick were also involved. It was my first time for an audience of 550. Announcing speakers, of course, was not new to me after so many years in the speaking club.
Q4: What things went wrong and how did you deal with this?
There were some last-minute changes in the speaking order and in the opening sequence. Bruno Delepierre, the founder of TEDx Leuven, informed us early enough in the morning. Vanessa, Bruno and I talked it through and made sure that each of us knew how it was going to work. With good communication and professional people, these things are not a problem.
Then there were 2 occasions when the speaker had already been on stage for more than a minute and still there was no sound. I went on stage and brought them the hand-held microphone. This required some initiative on our part because at such moments, final authority or responsibility is not always clear. Bruno would normally have the final say but we didn’t know where he was. He may have been in the control booth, or dealing with some other issue. We decided that the audience had already seen us on stage as the announcers and therefore as people with a certain responsibility, and so that it was up to us to take action.
Q5: What would you do different next time?
It would be wonderful if I could be a little bit more relaxed about it, particularly in the hours leading up to the event. I repeated my intros over and over again and I got quite excited / nervous. I think that’s good because it gives you energy, but a little bit less would have been even better.
Also, I would create and implement a few additional procedures, including for example the testing of all microphones before the event, rather than just the ones that we were wearing.
Other than that, the event was very well organised and I was happy to participate.
Q6: What are your top tips for giving a TEDx talk?
First of all, if you have the possibility and you’re still hesitating… do it! If you were asked, then that means that you have a story worth telling. You can help people by going for it.
Apart from that, it’s the same thing again: get feedback! If not from Toastmasters or a professional coach, then at least from colleagues. The important thing is to create one or two challenging moments before the actual TEDx performance. At those times, you will find the weaker points in your talk so that you can improve them. You also gain so much confidence if you’ve already gone through the challenge once.