Monday, September 13, 2010


I promised a few words about the TEDx experience at Fullerton College last Friday. Hosted by the Fine Arts Division at the college, which offered its Campus Theater as a fine venue, it was organized by Susan L. Petrella and Pamela Hughes of ArtspaceOC, described by its two sponsors as "a playful collision of spaces + a serious think tank." The TEDx event joyfully lived up to that description--a day of fine "TED talks" and musical performances enlivened by a well-informed and engaged audience.

I'm not going to attempt to precis of each of the talks. They will, I'm sure, be available online in due course, and I'll write myself a note to post a link when it becomes available. They covered a wide variety of topics around the central theme of "Creativity in Orange County," and together formed an informative and entertaining tapestry of "ideas worth spreading," as the TED motto goes.

The Buddha Diaries, though, is a place to explore my own actions and reactions in the world, so my interest here is in thinking back about my personal experience. Despite the fact that I was well-prepared--I spent more time on this one 18-minute talk than on any other I have given this year--I arrived with some trepidation for several reasons. First, there was that 18-minute time limit--more about that in a moment. Then there was the knowledge that the audience would likely consist of people who had knowledge of TED and would bring high expectations. Not least, I have to say, was the prospect of a TED-quality video as a distinct asset as I look around for speaking opportunities elsewhere. It was important, then, to do as good a job as I knew how.

I was scheduled for late in the program--second to last, in fact--which gave me the opportunity to make needless and invidious comparisons between the excellent line-up of my fellow speakers and what I had myself prepared. When my turn came, I took the stage with my small stack of cue cards in hand, having promised myself that I would discipline myself to follow their outline strictly. I know how my mind works. It sidetracks. When I have forty-five to fifty minutes ahead of me, I have discovered, I feel comfortable with the knowledge that I can wander off on these sidetracks in a leisurely way, and return to my theme in good time to get it all said. But those eighteen minutes...!

But then, once engaged, I recklessly abandoned the cue cards. Having rehearsed pretty thoroughly however, I did not get too far off track. And yet... with a big count-down digital timer placed prominently in view and the minutes ticking down with amazing and inexorable speed from eighteen to zero, the talk I had prepared so carefully to fit into my time limit seemed inexplicably to expand and I realized, by the time the two-minute mark clicked past, that I would have to make a serious adjustment if I wanted to wrap things up with a last, and hopefully memorable thought. Luckily, I had inserted one disposable piece--a stanza from a Baudelaire poem that aptly illustrated my penultimate point--which would have taken up those two remaining minutes. Once that was jettisoned, with some regret, I was able to perorate and finish up with thirteen seconds to spare. (For those who might be interested, I plan to post a fairly complete version of my talk on Persist: The Blog in the next couple of days.)

The real measure of success, I have discovered, is the response that follows, and I was gratified by the number of people who came up to me at the reception at the end of the day with questions and comments. It's the best thing in the world for me to know that I have been able to reach someone with my words.

And the learning piece for the day? That preparation does pay off, even if it gets discarded along the way. That if I speak with conviction out of personally gained knowledge and experience, I can't go wrong. That if I speak from my own human heart, the words I find will infallibly reach through the ether into another human heart. My thanks to Susan and Pamela for offering me this opportunity.


Vyvyan said...

I would love to read the blog post of your TED talk. Please let us know when it's ready. New quilt project almost finished, I'll send you a picture in a few days when it's done. Thanks, Peter, I really enjoy reading your posts with my tea in the morning!

CHI SPHERE said...

I know that your contribution to the TEDx history of enlightened talks by the insightful minds of our time will remain a living resource for humankind. My boys, Cole 14 and Skyler 12, used to be required to select one or two a week to listen to. Now they share their interest in the talks with their friends with as much passion as they have for YouTube!

I write this at 4;00 AM as I'm up with Cole who is doing his biology homework after our traditional tea and oatmeal breakfast. It is for him I get up at 3:30 AM to insure that he has time to run 5 miles while I hobble along behind him with our dog Juno. The future is as secure as it can be with Cole who wishes to be an engineer or oceanographer and plays high school football.

The TEDx series have shown both my boys that great minds are made by "persistence", passion and inspired research. Something your book has reinforced in him Peter. We both look forward to watching your lecture.

gregg chadwick said...

Congrats Peter!
Looking forward to reading your full talk next week.