What is it really like to be a TEDx speaker?

Ramblings of a Confused Climber: TEDxayana

I remember I was walking around aimlessly, probably scouting for some tree to climb, when I saw the UnrestricTED poster. The TEDx team on campus was calling out for essays themed around The Changing Faces of Taboo. This instantly intrigued me. If not anything else, it would hopefully shepherd my embarrassingly sporadic writing habits into action.

My wonderfully talented roommate and best friend, Samruddhi Marathe, (bane of lizards throughout the planet), was the TEDx theme ideation manager of that year. She offered her full enthusiastic support. “If you win, you’ll get to give a TEDx talk!”

Uh oh. I hadn’t realized that was part of the deal. Tripping and falling in front of everyone on stage was not my idea of fun. But hey, I convinced myself, chances of it actually coming to that are slim. I’ll just write for the heck of it.

And so I did. The writing part came pretty much spontaneously. I wrote for myself, to attempt to come to terms with some knots in my head. It was a rambling exploration of the mess memory makes by refusing to forget. Snap judgements, attachment to identity, rigid mental images. How meta-level societal taboos, like almost everything, come from within — and therefore, how any sustainable “liberation” needs to start with finding that quiet inside. And of course, I used my (ever-suffering ever-tolerant ultra-sweet) brother Abhay Ramjee’s antics for examples to thread the flow together.

There was an informal interview with a few senior members of the TEDx team. I remember being asked “But Pragnya, what’s the point of your essay? What are you trying to say?”

I made some wisecrack. I still have no real answer. It was just a drifting collection of thoughts to attempt at some form of catharsis.

A couple of days later, I got a congratulatory phone call. Samruddhi bounced around in excitement while I spun off into panic as usual. I was completely stunned.

Then followed a whirl of preparation. The TEDx team was remarkably supportive and ever-patient. During the speaker photoshoot, my picture had to be retaken no less than thrice, because I had the strong urge to blink at the wrong moment. My speech was trimmed, fatty conjunctival clauses removed (many thanks to Paridhi Kothari). Samruddhi helped me mug it up. She heard me reciting it zillions of times, and ended up learning it by heart before I did. There was a morning of rigorous on-site rehearsals with Louis Parkinson (TED speaker trainer, inspiring and insightful) to figure out body language and pace.

The day of the talk dawned cold and sunny. The Senate Hall was packed. My friends were there. I was close to combustion point with panic. The (awesome) convenor of the time, Sangeet Chandaliya, very kindly offered to tickle me to death if I didn’t stop freaking out.

It was finally time. I was escorted on stage, weak at the knees. The camera light was blinding, but that worked in my favour as I could pretend the room was empty. I delivered the speech on autopilot. I paced myself. My arms, for once, did not feel like limp awkward random appendages. And miracle of miracles, I did not trip and fall.

After my speech was over, the event was just pure fun. I got to meet a childhood favourite author, Arup Kumar Dutta. The other speeches were lovely, and so was Light After Dark — a band of five visually impaired musicians from Shillong. Talking with the other speakers over a delicious lunch was an illuminating experience. And to top it off, I got a few cute TEDx freebies.

A couple of weeks later, the video was out on YouTube. My normally sober parents went wild and broadcasted the news to only around 2,000 relatives and friends. RIP data privacy. My recognizable face was out in public. Ah, well.

Looking back, UnrestricTED was rewarding and meaningful on many levels. My writing skills were fine honed. I got some valuable input and specific, actionable pointers that made me more comfortable with public speaking. I got to meet some amazing new people. Most crucially though, I made some progress with understanding and detaching from those scattered thoughts and knots that whirl inside.

— Pragnya Ramjee |Winner, UnrestricTED, 2019

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