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At the end of last year, I made the goal to speak more. I declared that I wanted to do one talk at a conference locally, one talk at an international conference, and one reach goal of speaking at TEDx or TED.

Aspirations of getting on the TED or TEDx stage was an obvious stretch. At the time, I had never spoken at any conferences. However, after applying to more than 20 conferences including TEDx San Antonio, I hit all of my goals.

Each experience has taught me lessons about the community and how I connect with it. The TEDx opportunity by far was the most challenging. Here are four lessons that I have helped me grow as a speaker.

Speaking at TEDx and meeting with participants

Me on stage and connecting with participants at TEDx San Antonio

Read more about my talks at UX Australia: Managing Design and Big Design.

1. Crafting the message for TEDx

My proposal for TEDx San Antonio started with an idea. The feedback I got from presenting about teams and creativity in previous conferences gave me the idea that we overlook crucial human elements when building teams. So in the beginning, I had a collection of experiences that lead to a vague focus.

TEDx San Antonio paired me with a former speaker, who then helped me explore this idea and direct me towards what I truly wanted to communicate. In the past, this step usually started with creating a presentation deck and then practicing in my head. However, the nature of a TEDx talk meant that I had to really consider the end first. How clear can I get my message across on stage within the allotted time?

2. Showing visuals that matter

Presentations at conferences are notorious for being heavily reliant on keynote or powerpoint decks. I was guilty of using slides to help me remember the point I wanted to make but not consider how it helped the audience connect with the message. Admittedly, I relied on decks to mold the presentation. Over time, I began to grasp how important it was to shift my focus to the story first.

Once I solidified the foundation of my message, I then could invest in visuals that helped bring out ideas that supported the main idea. I started with 15 slides and eventually whittled it down to six.

3. Learning the performance

The opportunity to speak on the TEDx stage came with conflicting emotions. It fulfilled a dream I had. On the other hand, I immediately realized the stakes that were attached. To present an idea that moves an audience in person and on video requires a type of delivery I had never done.

As a teacher and later a presenter at smaller design conferences, I could find ways to quickly connect with my audience and put them at ease. Most of my presentation and facilitation techniques shifted the focus from me to the participants.The TEDx format left no room for any significant interplay with the audience. I had to just deliver my talk.

After I memorizing my lines, the next step was to internalize them. This gave me the ability to go beyond just remembering words but apply emotion to them. During the final weeks of practice, I was able to find places in the talk that allowed me to experiment with pauses, inflection, and volume to help highlight the more powerful moments.

TEDx San Antonio - Class of 2017

TEDx San Antonio – Class of 2017

Doing talks at conferences can propel a designer’s growth. I have experienced this with how I could formulate my thoughts before this year and how I articulate concepts now. Preparing for TEDx has introduced me to a new level of performance that emphasized how to connect and leave the right impact for a bigger audience.

Read more about my past conference talks here.

Find out how I can help you with your next conference or other speaking needs here.

Read more about why designers should to more talks.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.