The 1st June 2018 was one of the most important nights of my life (so far). I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to deliver a TEDx talk in none other than my favourite city, Bristol. Although this may not have been the biggest event in the world, it felt to me like all the work I’d been doing over the last few years in filmmaking and activism, right from Sleeping Rough in Bristol, the 5 minute documentary I made almost on a whim one Saturday, had been leading up to this point.
One thing I learnt through the process of preparing the talk was that TEDx talks mean different things to different people. For some people, it’s the opportunity to share an innovative idea or invention. For some, it’s a career opportunity, the springboard off which they’ll catapult all their future projects. For some, it’s the chance to tell their own personal story. For me, it was the opportunity to share a simple message, the message I’d been working to spread for most of my short career.
I would find it difficult to recall more than a handful of experiences in my life that were scarier to me than going into that talk. I’ve performed in front of larger audiences, I’ve been in much more dangerous situations, but stepping out on that stage still brought with it that deep knot of excitement mixed with utter terror deep in the diaphragm that only a few experiences in life can incite. I’ve delivered a number of talks, Q&As and panels on homelessness, filmmaking, and my experiences making Sleeping Rough, but these have always been very different. In these circumstances, I always felt more casual, more at ease; my words would be much more improvised and spontaneous, and the topics covered would adapt to the audience and the atmosphere. I always felt comfortable in these situations because I had the experience and depth of knowledge to be able to talk legitimately and coherently about those topics. But such was not the case on the 1st of June.
Preparing a TEDx talk, I came to realise, is much more like preparing for a theatre performance, but one in which you’re the playwright, the director and the actor. You prepare your ‘script’ well in advance, going through multiple drafts before you end up with one you feel vaguely comfortable with. You rehearse, in small groups, getting feedback on your ‘performance’ and the script itself. Finally, you go out onstage in front of the blinding lights and you have one shot to make a lasting impact in the minds and hearts of your audience. Going through the process, I felt that constant anxiety and trepidation that I used to feel when performing in the theatre as an actor, but there was something altogether more terrifying about this experience. As an actor, when you appear in front of an audience, you’re playing a character and channelling all your emotion through the mask of this fictional persona. Delivering a TEDx talk, rather than baring a character to the world, you’re baring yourself.
I have to say, I doubt that I would have even been able to turn up on the day had it not been for the supportive community that the TEDx team created. The speakers, organisers and mentors were some of the most fascinating, friendly, reassuring people I’ve ever met, and I feel privileged to have been a part of the whole event. I don’t want to say too much about the content of the talk itself, for fear of taking away from the video once it’s published, but in the meantime I’d just like to share a very short clip from Sleeping Rough that formed the core of the message I endeavoured to deliver. Until the next time.