By Mike Vardy
I’ve given several talks over the years, including a three day workshop for creativeLIVE and many extended workshops that lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours. So when I decided to put together a talk forTEDxVictoria, I decided to craft something decidedly different.
I decided to put together a talk that was only three minutes long.
I’m not the first to do this – not by a long shot. Derek Sivers has done this on a couple of occasions, and Arianna Huffington has delivered one as well. But no one to my knowledge had done this for the event I was going to speak at in its short history.
So I went for it.
I knew that by submitting a proposal for a three minute talk that the timing of the talk would stand out from the pack because most people want to give themselves the maximum time on stage at a TEDx event. I also knew that the title of my talk, How to Stop Time, would make the length of the talk all the more compelling…and perhaps even a little ironic at first blush.
However, I didn’t know if those two factors, coupled with a decent synopsis of my talk submitted through video (a video that would be half the length of the actual talk) would get me in.
But I did get in.
And I’m pretty sure it was all of those factors that did the trick.
Planning The Talk
I tend to do what my favourite basketball player of all time, Hall of Famer David Robinson, does when preparing his talks:
“I’ve started using iThoughts to write speeches. You put something as the most central point, and from there you branch off. It’s not like sitting down and writing a bunch of pages—I just put down my triggers, and it helps organize them.” — viaFast Company
I’ve done this with most of my talks, most notably with my creativeLIVE workshop on time management and for the panel I moderated at SXSW on mindful productivity. But for a three minute talk, this wouldn’t work. I needed to actually script the talk out in order to make sure that I hit my timeline accurately.
I also had two other speaking engagements leading up to TEDxVictoria, which meant I needed to plan accordingly. My creativeLIVE workshop took place over the end of October until early November, and then I was giving a talk in New York the week prior to the TEDx event in my hometown. The creativeLIVE talk was going to be my longest one to date – over twelve hours of content spanning three days – and the talk for the private event in New York was to be one hour in length. These talks didn’t require the depth of memorization that my TEDx talk did, but they did have the chance to steal focus away from my ability to really hone my short talk to TEDx standards.
I had to map out a schedule of sorts that would allow me to shift focus easily from one talk to the next, so I crafted a framework that would support this.
Rehearsing The Talk
The framework I built consisted of breaking my workdays up into dedicated chunks for each talk. I gave each talk equal time to start, and I eventually removed the hour-long New York talk after feeling that it was ready. As you can see in the image above, I worked on my TEDx talk every workday, whereas I worked on the other talks less frequently. (Once I removed the new york talk from the framework, my creativeLIVE talk took its place.)
I’m a big fan of using a slidedeck to act as a trigger for my talking points as opposed to it being a necessity to illustrate the talking points. That methodology allowed me to get more comfortable with the mid-length talk I was working on much faster. My creativeLIVE talk was very heavy with slides due to the nature of the workshop (delivered live to a small group of people in the studio audience as well as to thousands on the internet), but the slides also acted as triggers more than anything else.
My three minute TEDx talk, however, was a different beast.
The event organizers and I went back and forth about this for a bit, but in the end I went with no slides at all. I figured that they would actually distract from the talk due to the short time I’d be up there giving it. That was the last thing I wanted. But removing the slides from the equation also meant I’d have no triggers to look to during the talk, which meant that I’d have to rely more on memory than with any other talk I’d given before.
The rehearsal process was key for me because I wouldn’t be able to rely on my improv and sketch comedy performing background nearly as much to move the talk forward. Instead, I had to rely on the skills I’d fostered back when I performed fully scripted theatre in order to get the talk down cold. Essentially, I had to take on the role of a character and “act out” the talk. Once I got the script and the timing down by acting it out, I was then able to add the nuances and subtleties needed to convey the authenticity that the entire talk was conceived from in the first place. I basically had to rehearse the talk so I could simply get the timing down and then try to naturalize it as much as possible. This was very tough to do, but I believe I did pretty well with that.
Looking Back At The Talk
Looking back at my talk now I am still quite happy with it. It was hard to put together, and there are some things I’d definitely improve if I was to do deliver that length of talk again. I love the fact that the talk acts as a “trailer” of sorts to my overarching work, and I’ve expanded upon both the theme of the talk and the talk itself since I delivered it in late 2013.
“Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want — that just kills creativity.” — Jack White (via Austin Kleon)
I firmly believe that by applying constraints to my TEDx talk I didn’t just create a more impactful talk, but created a new wellspring for my work in the productivity space. So much of my work has been born from that talk, and I continue to analyze and draw inspiration from various parts of this short talk every day. It turns out that my most challenging talk has been my most rewarding. It’s astounding to me that a speech that was so limited in time has led to a seemingly limitless narrative in scope.
I’m definitely enjoying where the narrative has taken me so far and can’t wait to see where it leads me to in the future.