Becoming A TED Speaker - Part I

I went to the SHOW, to the BIGS, UPTOWN or whatever destination you call achievement.

I had the opportunity to fulfill a spectacular, gigantic, hairy life goal. 

I got to give a TED™ talk.

I’m such an avid admirer of the TED™ format and concept. When I first discovered TED™ talks several years ago, I vowed to myself that one day I would stand on the red dot and posit an idea worth spreading. Of course, at the time, I had little idea of what exactly I’d talk about. Or maybe I had too many ideas. Either way, it took time and timing and hard damn work to get to the TED stage and the red dot. 

I had submitted three or four times to become a speaker. Each year I was turned down via a friendly and antiseptic email encouraging me to apply next year. One time I made it through the initial selection and had a phone interview before being emailed. The disappointment was real and it was hard. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.

I’m a soft skills trainer. I’m used to speaking to people - engaging them and teaching them to reshape their thinking. Didn’t the TED™ people know how awesome I’d be? Weren’t they aware I was born to stand on a stage and teach!? I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t give me the opportunity. It was a random conversation with a friend that gave me the answer and completely shifted my perspective. 

After I received my last polite denial, I told her about being turned down - again. We talked about my topic, which she agreed, was stellar. She then asked me about my submission itself - was I telling my story, or was I just “teaching?” I realized she was exactly correct. For years I had been submitting ideas that I could teach or lecture on without including how or why these ideas were important to me, or had impacted me personally. It was a palm slap to the forehead moment. I finally realized that in all my submissions, in all my hard-thought words, I had left me out of my story. 

So, in 2018, when the call for speakers went out, I labored over my submission in a way that I hadn’t before. My topic was the same, but my approach was vastly different. I wrote about myself, how words had shaped me and continue to do so. I wrote about the women in so many of the workshops and events I’ve taught who purposefully make themselves small. I wrote about how, with changes in the words we use and how we use them, we can re-craft our own narrative and have a positive impact on the world. 

I made it through the initial round. I went through the rigorous vetting process with the anxiety of a middle school girl who really, really wanted the popular girls to like her. There were multiple telephone interviews and a couple of in-person interviews and then the dreaded, “Okay, I think that’s all we need. You’ll receive an email in a few weeks with the decision.”

No one in history has checked their email more frequently…

Then, on an early afternoon in December, I received a message with the reference line: “2019 TEDxCharleston.” I took a deep breath and with my heart pounding out of my chest, I hit the open button. “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to speak…”


LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  Her company provides spectacular training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans. To find out more about training services, please reach out to us at 843-771-0753.