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TED Talks - Lessons I Learned

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

05.28.2020. The fifth year anniversary of my TED Talk at TEDWomen in Monterey, CA.

As I think back on my TED experience, I can’t help but feel extremely blessed beyond measure. I had NO idea what impact my Talk would have on entrepreneurs, teachers, facilitators, coaches, students, parishioners, the young and the old etc from telling the story of my sojourn as a transformer of invasive aquatic weeds and builder of livelihoods. Over the years, I have received numerous complimentary messages about the Talk. The biggest compliment I could have received was from my husband who first saw me when he watched the TED Talk.

People often ask how my TED Talk came about in the first place and the answer is “I received an email from a member of the TED staff, out of the blue”. The typical reaction is “just like that?”. Yes, just like that and here are some of the lessons I learned as an entrepreneur through the process. 1. Be Reachable. It was one of the things Henry Bonsu said during the Cartier Women’s Initiative Finals week when teaching us on Media engagement. The email I received from TED was via the ‘Contact Us’ form on my website. This was in November 2014. If my website were a non-functional site, I would have missed that opportunity and email. How many opportunities have been missed by several entrepreneurs because they put non-functional websites on their business cards or non-functional email addresses or they failed to check their websites to make sure they were up and running?

2. Be timely in responding to requests. To be very honest, when I received the email message indicating that they would love to talk with me about giving a TED Talk on the main TEDWomen stage, I was a bit skeptical 🤨. But I responded promptly nonetheless. Another thing the Cartier Women’s Initiative Fellows were taught during the Finals week. So here I was with this email that gave me the opportunity to put what I had learned into practice. I responded in 24 hours with a “sure, would love to talk about this opportunity”. I eventually got to speak with Betsy mid-December and one week later I had been confirmed as a speaker. If I had dilly dallied and not responded until weeks after receiving the initial contact email, I doubt if I would have ended up having the opportunity to actually step out onto the TED stage.

3. Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation. It is often said that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. The TED team is interested in speakers communicating and spreading their ideas successfully and that requires adequate preparation for the speaking engagement. The TED Team wasn’t going leave my success to chance or my past presentation skills. My 7 minute talk took 5 months of preparation. You read that right!

4. Commitment and Diligence payoff. Those 5 months were no joke having meetings across an 8 hour time zone . But I looked forward to the meetings to review the progress with my script. My meetings with my Coach typically occurred in the hot afternoons when I was exhausted and “on edge” from the challenges of the typical day in Nigeria but I had to remain focused and committed to the process. It all paid off in the end.

5. Be open and willing to receive feedback. This applies to everything in life even if you are the subject matter expert! I kept in mind that my Coach providing feedback was very experienced and had seen and listened to several TED presentations. She knew what made a good presentation and what made a bad presentation! Remember, not all feedback will be glowing but think through what has been provided and weigh it in the scales objectively. If changes were suggested, I made them as long as the essence of my story remained intact. 6. Focus on the Purpose. The purpose of my being on the TED stage was to share my idea and to highlight the effect it had for change across communities in Nigeria. For that to happen effectively, I had to be authentic to myself and authentic to the cause I was pursuing. How did my name even come up at TED in the first place? I asked my Coach that on one or two occasions. I eventually gathered that it was through the recommendation of Pat Mitchell, the founder and curator of TEDWomen . I was floored! I had not met Pat before so you can imagine my surprise when I heard that it was through her. She is such a BIG supporter of initiatives driven by women and somehow, somewhere I caught her attention. This recommendation by Pat taught me the importance of celebrating and supporting others who are pursuing causes that you believe in whether or not you have a personal connection with them. I owe her a lot of gratitude . Thank you Pat from the bottom of my heart. I look back on 5 years ago on the TED stage in Monterey, California with very fond memories and sometimes this sense of disbelief that it actually happened. My vision of the possibilities has expanded exponentially as a result of TED finding my idea worth sharing. The positive feedback from across the globe has been overwhelming. I have heard from communities across Africa, Latin America etc who are faced with the invasion and infestation of water hyacinth who have wanted me to come and show them how to go about transformation process. Most recently from an interested party in Ethiopia highlighting the water hyacinth problems in Lake Tana. We all have stories to tell and we all have the opportunity to tell them someway everyday. Life is a culmination of stories and so are our ideas. We may not all make it to the main TED stage to speak but it is my hope that you find the above lessons helpful for your presentation on whatever stage you find yourself.

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