As the crowd settled into their seats for the TED@Tunis event—part of TED’s worldwide talent search—and the lights went down, the recognizable intro for Eminem’s Lose Yourself came up. An appropriate intro for speakers about to take to a TED stage for the first time to give a talk.
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
I was in my usual position at the edge of the stage. One camera in hand and another at my side, but there was more on my mind than usual. The words to the song hit home.
*He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
but he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down*
You see, I wasn’t just photographing the event. I was also a speaker at it. I’ve spoken on many a stage before, but this was different. I’ve never spoken in front of Chris Anderson, TED’s curator, or Kelly Stoetzel, TED’s program director—both of whom I admire greatly.
One speaker went up and spoke. Then another. Then another. Photographing the other speakers before I spoke was both a blessing and a curse. It kept me from thinking too much about my talk, but trying to multitask making photos and keeping tabs on when I should get ready to go on stage was a bit stressful.
Feet fail me not, this may be the only opportunity that I got
As they mic’d me up, I handed my camera off to Houssem—the organizer of the event—and took a minute to stop thinking about making photographs and refocus myself. Closing my eyes, breathing deeply, I cleared my mind. I was sure that the stage crew thought I was totally freaking out, but I didn’t have time to worry about that much. I was busy finding that peculiar calm that you only know of if you’ve been about to step out on a stage. I heard Chris introduce me as TED’s longtime photographer who had made an interesting observation and wanted to share it. It was time. I walked out into the lights.
Leyla’s photo—made in Doha last month—came up behind me on screen. For just a moment, my mind was too blank. And then, the intro I’d rehearsed came out:“Here’s a photo I made of a friend of mine recently. She’s beautiful in it, but as soon as she saw it, she disliked it even though everyone else in the room loved it…” Knowing how you’re going to start is simply the best insurance you can have as a speaker. It leads you to the rest of your talk.
I continued on: “She’s not the only one that’s had this kind of reaction. It’s actually quite common and I’ve long wondered why. Now, I’m not a scientist, but one of the perks of being a photographer at TED is that I’ve had access to talk about this with lots of really smart scientists.”
It was a short talk—I’m personally a fan of the quick small talk and I had edited this content down to its bare essentials. I’ll leave the rest of it a mystery until it comes out online later this summer when the worldwide talent search wraps up. Three minutes and change after taking the stage, I was done and greeted by generous applause from the audience. What a rush. It was easily the best time I’ve had on stage in a long time. Of course that’s so very easy to say in retrospect.
Achievement unlocked: TED Audition Speaker.