Talking TED

I gave a TED talk.  Okay, it was really a TEDx talk, done right here in Augusta, GA (the garden city…which sounds good until you realize New Jersey is the garden state) on February 3.  The talk was entitled \”Hi, I\’m Rob and I\’m a Recovering Doctor,\” and it focused on how two basic changes in how doctors are paid can totally change the patient experience.

Here it is:

So, as I\’ve been asked since this experience, what was the process of doing a TED talk like?  Here is my take on the process from start to finish.

Getting Started

Augusta holds TEDx talks every 2 years, and I actually applied to do one 2 years ago but got turned down.  The reason I was turned down was not because the idea was bad (otherwise I wouldn\’t have given it this year), but that I didn\’t know what they wanted.  Here is my take on what\’s most important in making the pitch for a TED talk:

  1. Have a fairly narrow focus.  I was too broad with my initial presentation, just talking about how great direct primary care is and not distilling it down to basic ideas.  When I presented my topic this year (which I did in November), my focus was clear: two changes (not accepting insurance payments and charging by the month) together can radically change the doctor/patient experience for the better.  This. resonated well with the TEDx committee.
  2. Understand that they want \”bigger picture\” ideas, not sales pitches.  It\’s the transformation of healthcare and the hope that innovation brings that made them excited.  It\’s not the success of my personal business that interested them.  The concepts I highlighted were applicable to all innovation.  Root problems within any system may only be fixable by changing the basic reward/payment structure.  It\’s the concept of, \”your system is perfectly designed to yield the outcomes you are currently getting.\”  Changing outcomes requires system redesign.
  3. Come from your passion.  One of the big selling points for my talk was my passion for it.  I clearly love what I do and that\’s not common in the healthcare space in our country.  Good ideas are fine, but good ideas backed with passion are transformative.

The Process

Once accepted, I was given a schedule to build my talk and distill my ideas to a concise talk.  There were three \”coaching\” meetings (in November, December, and January) set up with the leadership of our TEDx experience, with each one requiring more and more polish.  I went to the first coaching session with an outline and many questions.  By the second session I was developing my script, but still had many questions.  The final session (about 2 weeks before the big day) was supposed to be a reading of the near-final script.  I will discuss what really happened in a bit.

These sessions were very helpful, as the criticism (which there was plenty of) was aimed entirely at making my talk as successful as possible.  I not only welcomed criticism, I would\’ve been disappointed if there wasn\’t any, as I knew my level of inexperience.  Between the sessions I developed my concepts, cut out the unnecessary fluff (lots of that), and rewrote my script repeatedly.  Fortunately, they realized my topic required more time and I was given a 15 minute time slot (which is the longest).  

The Home Stretch

Before the last coaching session I totally changed the structure of my talk, taking out a ton of fluff and writing what I thought was concise and clear.  When I presented it, though, I was hit with the terrifying label of \”infomercial.\”  My talk was much too focused on my own practice and not the ideas the practice is built on.  To have such a horrible monicker attached to my talk was highly motivating, and I quickly cleaned things up and made the ideas the center of the talk, not my own practice.

After that, it just came down to repetition.  I gave my talk repeatedly to friends, to families, to employees, to my plants, to household appliances, to anything that would tolerate my chatter.  This was huge, as the feedback I got (especially from my microwave) was key in adding focus and polish to the talk.

The Big Day

The hard thing about a TED talk (for me at least) is that it is scripted.  I do well when chatting off the cuff about things I know and understand, but a TED talk requires far more clarity of ideas.  The script is very important, and the slides are much less so.  I made my slides to only be supportive of my very key ideas, with most of the ideas coming from me, not a Power Point.  

The script was in a teleprompter, which took a bit to get used to.  The day before the talk was the dress-rehearsal, where I finally got a shot with the teleprompter, and I found it very distracting.  By the end, however, I got the hang of it and that comfort helped a lot on the day of the talk.

The TEDx event itself was amazing.  Talks started at 10 AM and went until 4 PM.  My talk was right around the middle.  The organization of the talks with the breaks for snacks, lunch, and performances by poets and musicians was very well-done.  You\’d expect the audience to get bored sitting for that long, but it really was engaging and enjoyable (even for this distractible brain).

Yeah, I was nervous (terrified) when I got up there, but the hours of repetition, coaching, and practice paid off and things went pretty well.  I really am glad I did the start of the talk as I did, as it got the audience engaged and made me feel connected to them.  It\’s much easier to give a talk to a smiling audience. 

The Bottom Line

I\’m really glad I did the TEDx talk, and I\’d do another without hesitation.  But I\’d only do it if I had another subject I was equally passionate about.  I truly am more interested in the idea of direct primary care spreading than my fame for a talk.  That doesn\’t mean I don\’t want some fame, but the passion that has driven me over the past 5 years is what fueled the effort to do this.  

If you get a chance to attend a TED or TEDx event, do so.  It\’s absolutely worth the time and money.  And if you are eloquent, passionate, and have lots of time (and appliances), consider adding this to your bucket list.


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