The torment of preparing for a TED talk

I am a TEDx organiser. A veteran in this community of sorts. But I am struggling.

I am going to be speaking at TED 2014 in Vancouver about the Burqa. I still remember receiving the e-mail from Chris inviting me to speak. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I don’t know when it will sink; hopefully not when I am backstage, waiting for my turn.

I have re-written my talk more than ten times, out of which, I had to completely re-write it seven times. I still have less than two weeks for the conference and there will be numerous edits I am sure of.

One of the toughest points for me was I felt this immense pressure to speak for everyone. When everyone got to know about my talk, many suggestions poured in. Some said I should tell people how horrible the Burqa is, some said I need to tell people to leave the veiled women alone, some wanted me to give a religious lecture, others wanted me to share expert feminist opinions. In the middle of all of this, I forgot what I had really wanted to say. While writing it, I felt deeply unhappy. I felt that I was trying to be someone else.

And then while speaking to the incredible speaker coaches Michael and Abigail from Virtuozo, they reminded me that nobody can negate or discredit my story. It was my experience and it is a true story so who could deny it?

Each time I feel that I have given it my best and when I have to rework on the talk, I feel that I have hit a wall. Desperate measures to deal with this block makes me feel like Virginia Woolf (portrayed in The Hours). I sit quietly in my room, shutting myself from everyone. The phone rings. I do not answer. I stop listening to music. Then one day, I wore these beautiful heavy earrings I bought recently and started listening to ‘Happy’ (P Williams) and I rewrote the talk in one go. Then there have been days of staring at the screen, then breaking away to read like I am possessed. I read a lot, I spoke to many people. I spoke to women who veil/who do not veil/who hate the veil/who have never heard of the veil. Crises was averted many days because of a pizza or fried chicken whose calories I will take months to recover from.

At one point, I felt that I had to return to incidents which I had never spoken of for a long time. But that version was shelved (phew!).

We watch TED talks so effortlessly but the incredible pressure we set ourselves to–being judged on such a large scale, really gets to you. Being amidst celebrities and best brains of our times simply adds to it.

So, I shut myself from the notion of how big a deal all this is. All I want to do is to get on that stage and do justice to the time I have there. It is MY opportunity and moment to share what I think and I am not going to change or camouflage that for anyone else. Everyone has their own times/opportunities to tell their stories.

This is mine.

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5 comments
  1. Rick said:

    You ARE ONE of the best BRAINS of our times. !!!! don’t sell yourself short !!!!

  2. Rick said:

    You ARE THE VOICE of the rural spirit…..say want needs to be said ……

  3. Michael and Abigail are right. Tell your story, my friend. We spoke about this many months ago when you first couched this idea.

    It is only in telling your story, your relationship with the veil, that those of us who do not truly understand will take some small step towards that much-needed understanding.

    And, even though I will not be there in the audience, wanting to embrace you when you come off stage, know I will be listening intently, just up the mountain in Whistler, at TEDActive.

  4. baa said:

    Re-writing even blog comments again and again, I can only imagine your torment of preparing a whole TED talk 🙂

    I just found it curious that the talk is going to be about the hijab … not the 8 Day Academy (which idea I LOVE, by the way :), not the TedX’s you organised, but the hijab. What will the idea worth spreading be, I wonder. Can’t wait.

    Best of luck!

  5. You will rock. Full stop. Enjoy every second you are up there. Be there. XOX

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