Thursday, January 29, 2015

Talk About the Talk: Resa Lewiss, MD, at TEDMED

(Editor's note: Talk About the Talk is our new series in which I ask speakers I've worked with to share their perspective on giving big or important talks. Resa Lewiss, MD, and I worked together at TEDMED 2014 on her talk about delivering ultrasound at the point of care, in the middle of an emergency situation--a new application of an old technology. Lewiss is an associate professor of both emergency medicine and radiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Backstage at TEDMED, speakers are told that coaching is available and they choose whether to avail themselves of it. Some can't line up fast enough, while others--as Lewiss notes--wonder what can be done just hours or days before a talk. But after coaching nearly 100 speakers for TEDMED and TEDx talks, some well in advance and others backstage, I know much can be done in a short amount of time, if we're focused. I've already used her talk as an example of what you can do when you slow down your speaking speed. And if you're a medical or science professional, take note of what Lewiss says about losing her clinician's distance while telling these stories, and the positive impact it had on others understanding her work. I think you'll find all of her observations useful as you prepare for your next big talk.)

How did you prepare? Who helped you and how?

I realized the potential personal and professional impact and visibility of the talk--for me, for women, for emergency physicians, for point-of-care ultrasound specialists. I wanted to do anything and everything on my end to ensure success. Despite my experience with giving talks and lectures, I took to heart the advice that this was not like any talk I had ever delivered.

I read all suggested articles and blog pieces on preparing and giving a TED talk. I worked closely with Nassim Assefi, Director of Stage Content, and Marcus Webb, Chief Storytelling Officer for TEDMED2014, to fine-tune the story and the message. Truth be told, this was the first time I wrote a speech out as literally word for word as the task required. Memorizing my talk wasn’t difficult; however moving beyond memorization was the most significant challenge. I also prepared by making sure I exercised and slept with as much regularity as possible. This allowed the preparation to digest.

I decided to buy myself a new outfit. Something very me. Something that would be stylish, professional, comfortable. Something that would attract but not detract. Never underestimate the power of the outfit and one’s appearance as an important supporting actor to the talk.

What challenges did you face in preparing, and how did you handle them?

The people who know me best could tell that I wasn’t me when I would practice for them. I sounded memorized and I struggled with moving beyond this--with not sounding rehearsed. Because the reality is that I practiced nonstop--at home, in person, on Google Hangout and facetime with friends, on the sidewalks of New York City and in the subway. I practiced for everyone and with anyone--my childhood friend since age 5 and her mother, my 10- and 12-year old nieces, my residents, my work colleagues, my confidante friends, my parents, my first cousin and his wife, my friends in business, my friends in journalism, my friends with international and high visibility roles in their companies. I appreciated the honesty people provided and was moved with how seriously people took their roles as listeners. One friend, who is as close as a brother, had me practice the choreography--my walk on stage and off stage, and my steps to the red circle, my hands at beginning, middle and end, and my overall gestures. I practiced smiling as I spoke. Something happened with all of that repetition.

At the event, we had the opportunity to sign up to work with you. I heard many people say that it was too late and what could you help with at this stage in the preparations. However, I live life avoiding major regrets. I signed up and the work we did together less than 24 hours before my go live was transformative. You offered content to cut, pace to slow and pointed directions for my walk. That evening, I practiced more with a few TEDMED attendee friends. They made me slow down e-v-e-n more than was comfortable for me. When I was at my slowest in speed, they said it was the best take I had done. You had told me – s-l-o-w down.

What kinds of reactions have you had?

A few people remarked that they finally understand my career work despite my previously detailed explanations. Two of my more amusing experiences: Day One of an ultrasound in medical education conference in Portland Oregon. I was sitting on a lobby chair. A woman rushed up to me, smiling and cheered my name “Resa !!!” Her arms wide with a warm embrace. I did not know this woman. I did not recognize this woman. She explained “Resa, we all watched you in Brazil. We watched your TEDMED talk.” So, she did not know me and I did not know her, but in that moment, she felt like she knew me and I just received it. I attended a professional meeting in Chicago recently. The executive director of the organization and meeting director walked in to the room of 8 attendants. We all expected formal introductions and greetings; however, she immediately directed her attention to me and remarked “You look exactly like you do on your TEDMED talk.” How funny.

What else should we know that we haven't asked about?

The TEDMED experience as attendant and speaker is truly unique. The conference inspires. The TEDMED staff, the speakers , the attendants and the HIVE innovators are inspiring. The food and drink are inspiring. The space is inspiring. The integration of art with technology and medicine is inspiring. Creativity and innovation come from places such as these.


Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!