On November 4th, 2017, AKA President Nic O’Neill took to the TEDx Stage to discuss the transformative power of kites. We sat down with her afterwards to ask a few questions about it. But first, a bit more on what exactly a TED talk is.
“TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.
TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. On TED.com, we’re building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers — and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other, both online and at TED and TEDx events around the world, all year long.”
You can find out more about the organization at: www.ted.com
For more about this event in particular: https://www.sno-isle.org/tedx/speakers/2017
Why did you decide to give a TED talk on kites?
Well, honestly, I have always admired the TED stage and the speakers that have stepped up to stand on it. At some point throughout the years I had hoped to one day also be a TED speaker as well. The opportunity arose recently to throw my name in the selection process for a local TEDx event, one of the smaller satellite TED events, and it seemed like good timing. As for talking about kites, well, honestly I did that because of the kite community. The kite community has really changed my life and I wanted to share that transformative power with others. I know it seems like a silly thing to say, but this talk was both an achievement for myself and a way to give back to the community.
Are there some TED talks you would recommend and why?
For kite flying, or just in general? Honestly you can’t go wrong with most TED talks. There are hundreds that I have listened to, some so many times I could probably recite them as well. I do like a recent one by comedian JP Sears that reminds us all to not take everything so seriously. There is another one, among countless ones that I love, and that is ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She talks about how the stories we surround ourselves with can shape how we see the world, but it is very easy to change the story, and thus change how we view everything including ourselves.
As for kite flying specifically, well, truth be told I was surprised to discover that there really wasn’t any talks about kite flying. There is one about kites being used for renewable energy and power generation by Saul Griffith, and it was informative and a good talk. But, it hardly scratched the surface of what those in the kite community know is the full potential of kite flying. Seemed to make sense that I should talk about it, and bring some light to this thing that all of us kiters know about.
What was the process like?
A LOT of fun. Haha, well it was a very interesting journey. The folks leading the event went above and beyond to make sure we were well taken care of. We had speaker coaches that were well suited to us and our topics, and my fellow speakers are truly awe inspiring.
Now, for the nitty gritty. I had a very full plate. Between complications at work and preparing for the AKA Annual Convention, I found myself trying to make time for the speech. I keep a journal with me at all times to keep track of little notes, to-do’s, and daily rituals. On a side note, I fully recommend keeping one of these journals to everyone. They are called Bullet Journals, and they have really saved my buns on more than one occasion. But, I am sidetracked. Ha, I guess that is exactly what it was like while I was trying to write the speech!
Folks that attended the convention might have seen me dragging around a few notebooks. One of those notebooks was my bullet journal where I was keeping notes of all of the potential things I might want to have in my speech. Before the convention I had what I thought was going to be my final draft, however was not surprised that the text changed quite a bit in the wee hours of the morning convention week. A small peek into my world during that week would have seen me awake around 5:30 am sipping hotel coffee after falling asleep sometime around midnight. Scouring over notes and trying to write down all of the amazing things I had seen the day before. Making somewhat unintelligible scribbles on my TED talk page in my journal. On Wednesday of the Convention I read my final draft to my speaker coach over Skype, and she said I had it!
From there it was just memorizing and practicing it. The next few weeks were a bit rough trying to make sure that I had it down right. I practiced it all of the time. I practiced it in the shower, at the gym on the treadmill, at work with my headphones in, walking through the woods near our home, pretty much everywhere. My speaker coach had suggested to me that I make an audio recording of the speech the way that I would like it to sound. This proved to be a life saver later on.
I don’t have a problem with public speaking, or even coming up with stuff to say if I am put on the spot in front of a large group, but I really wanted to make sure I did this right since it was for more than just me. Listening to that audio recording whenever I had a chance made the words feel like I intended. They felt like my words when I wrote them, but there was a time about 3 weeks before I was set to go on stage when they didn’t. For some reason now my speech felt hollow and shallow, and I was worried that doing this would not accurately convey what I wanted. The words became alien to me. Listening to the recording helped remind me that those words were still mine, and the emotion was still real.
As for the rest of it, well, it was exceptional. I guess I was more nervous at the dress rehearsal than at the actual night of. More on that later tho I guess.
How many times did you rehearse before you took to the stage?
Aw man, probably 100 times. One of the great TED speakers said that he rehearsed something like 500 times and thought of it much like dancing. You ultimately feel the movement and the dance steps in you and they are familiar, but there is nothing wrong going through all of the motions before you have to do it in front of the world. This helped remind me that just because my speech was rehearsed, didn’t make it any less genuine.
So, the day of, what was it like?
Guess you are expecting to hear that I was nervous and anxious, but I wasn’t. As all of the speakers were in the green room waiting for the event to start, knowing I wasn’t on till the end, I pulled out my kite and flew. Big surprise that kite flying calms me down. My fellow kite fliers won’t be surprised to hear that the others in the green room all ended up flying the kite as well! I watched as it calmed them too both before and after their talks.
I knew there was a good amount of people in the audience and tuning in on the live feed, and that didn’t really make me anxious. What did get my nerves a bit worked up was knowing that my partner Paul de Bakker was in the audience, and that I was doing this to represent the kite community. I wanted to do them justice, wanted to make sure that they didn’t feel that I fall short. So, perhaps I was a bit nervous before I went on. Nervous that it would miss the mark, that the stories would ring false, and that the whole thing would fall flat. It is the same fears that anyone has in a way. Jokingly I told my speaker coach and some of the staff that if things went wrong, at least I would have my kite and would just fly it until my time was up.
I listened to my audio recording a few more times before my cue to head backstage. Double checked the kite, and stood there waiting for the host to introduce me. Deep breath, “Please welcome Nic O’Neill to the stage”. Walk on, stand on the red circle, wait for the applause to die down, breathe again, and…. Ten minutes later I was smiling and taking in the applause as I walked off stage. It is what, two days later, and I am still trying to wrap my head around those ten minutes.
I took some black and white photos along the way documenting the day of the talk, and now I keep flipping back through it trying to remember what happened. It feels so surreal and so familiar at the same time.
It was livestreamed the day of, but how can someone see it now?
The folks running the event said that it may take a little bit for them to finish editing the final videos that will be uploaded to the TEDx Youtube channel. As soon as that is complete I will share it with everyone. What was really cool this time is they used an app called Glisser that actually encouraged people in the audience and on the livestream to submit questions on their smartphones. Some of those questions we answered in the Q&A with all of the speakers after the event was over, others we will be answering over the next month on the TEDx Sno-Isle Website. I am not sure how many questions I have waiting for me, but I know that there was a lot of people in the audience with questions about kite flying, and they are very excited to connect with experienced kite fliers.
Do you think you had an impact?
First let me say that on the drive home I saw countless messages from friends that had tuned in. I am still trying to process all of it. Completely blown away by the response. As for making an impact, well, I hope so. I honestly won’t know the full impact till later. Part of our speaker coaching included what happens after the talk. I have been told to ‘be prepared’. Honestly, that has me more nervous than anything. That has me anxious. I can only hope that this somehow has a positive impact on the kite community that has literally given me so much.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely, and I will be looking for opportunities to do just that!
The Black and White Photos from the talk that she took