Ray shares what he learned at TEDx SoCal

July 23, 2011

Whenever we get to go out and speak on behalf of Roadtrip Nation at schools and events, the most comforting part about it is that I get to share my personal story. I don’t have to memorize and recite. I have the opportunity to recall, feel, and relive some of the most important events of my life.


Speaking at TEDxSoCal last week, the ballgame changed a bit. It was still an opportunity to share my story, but the stage changed, and the format changed. Being at a TEDx, I knew there were going to be speakers who I looked up to, world changers, and people sharing ideas that were definitely over my head. Also, I had a time limit of seven minutes. So here I was—facing the fact that I needed to hold my own with folks I looked up to—but also boiling down my story to seven minutes. My palms started sweating and I’d get butterflies just thinking about what lay ahead of me.


Faced with this I knew I had to take a page out of the Roadtrip Nation book to help me with this huge and daunting task. So, I reached out to Mark Bezos, a volunteer firefighter who had given one of my favorite TED Talks of all time. I wrote to him not holding out too much hope that he would actually get back to me and offer advice. But, just like his TED Talk, where he speaks about the importance of being able to help anyone, even in the smallest of instances, he answered my call for help the next day with a few pointers for my Talk:


1)      Remember that you’re telling a story, not giving a “TED Talk”. When I gave my “talk” the first few times, it was tragic. Really, really bad. Boring as all get-out. It turns out I was thinking of it as a TED Talk rather than as a story I’ve told a million times. TED Talks are big deals; better suited for Nobel Laureates and world-renowned physicists. They weigh too much for a rookie like me to carry off. But I CAN tell a helluva story and spin a good yarn. I just can NOT give a TED Talk. (Even though, in the end, it appears as though I did.)


2)      Video tape yourself. Set up a video camera and tape yourself telling your story. You will see things you don’t know you’re doing— pacing, fidgeting, being “flat”. It was an admittedly weird experience, but truly valuable. Do it multiple times until you like what you see. (You don’t have to show it to anyone!)


3)      Stand still. This was a good piece of advice I got early on—and I still didn’t quite nail it. Try to stand still. Feet firmly planted, knees slightly bent, arms at your side—except when making a point. It seems like a small thing, but that sort of stance, gives you instant credibility and authority.


4)      Make sure you look at the whole room, actually make eye contact with a couple of people in the front rows—it draws everyone else in.


5)      Pause—make sure you take a second to let key moments sink in. It may feel forced at first, but it helps get a point across. Don’t fear a moment or two of silence.


6)      Practice, practice, practice. By the time I went to TED, my wife and four kids could have given my TED Talk because they had heard me give it so many times. I told it in the shower. In the car by myself. Anywhere and everywhere. I knew I’d be nervous, so I wanted to know it so well, I could deliver it from muscle memory.



I took Mark’s advice to heart and used all of his tips. And without a doubt, I can say it went down as well as I could have imagined, considering how big of a nervous wreck I was before my Talk. So huuuuuuge thanks to Mr. Mark Bezos for the kind words and tips. So watch his Talk, and see a master at work!



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