My Meetup with Little TED: How I prepared for a TEDx Talk

DSC08886I have a date with TEDx. Nov. 8 at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. Our meetup was arranged by TEDx Chemung RiverTED (Technology, Education, and Design) is a global nonprofit committed to the power of shared ideas, and TEDx is an independently organized TED event.

I just call him Little TED. My TED has a wide square jaw and blue penetrating eyes. Clean shaven with a military cut. Muscular and lean in a well-tailored suit. He could be Arnold’s cousin. TED works out.

Arnold Schwarzenegger 2012 (wikipedia)

Arnold Schwarzenegger reminds me of my TED (wikipedia)

I have sixteen minutes to sway this guy. I know how to give a reading, but can’t hide behind my book. I have to know what matters to me. I have to speak from the heart.

I applied six months ago. Give a talk in under 18 minutes? I can do that. About something significant to me? OK. Significant to the world? Maybe. Give with conviction and passion without notes? Daunting.

In late May, a package arrived at my door with a TEDx water bottle, party favors, and treats. The note said “We can’t wait to see your idea come to life.”


My idea? What had I done?

I wanted to pull into my shell. The meetup was months away, but organizers needed outlines and abstracts, titles and Power Point slides. They meant business.

I went to TEDx Chemung River salons and watched TED talks at home. I read blogs about creating TED talks and read a book called Talk Like TED. By midsummer, I settled down and wrote. TED demanded creativity. He craved new ideas or a unique expression of old ideas. He didn’t care if I was busy with my book launch. He demanded action.

I named my talk “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss.” Our culture hides from grief, but I pushed ahead. I wrote a script. I rewrote it and read it to friends. I edited and read and edited more. How could I convince TED that grief can be a sacred teacher? Since we can’t escape sorrow, how can I help people deal with it better?

DSC08927I have one shot to give the talk of my life to this TED dude—and the 200 plus people in the audience. I hope my ideas will join the growing discussion about creating a conscious relationship with grief and death.

I met with my TEDx coach and asked for help from many experts. I worked each week with a generous theater director and friend. I practiced when I woke up and at the end of each day. I spoke the words in the car and on the trail.

Corning Museum of Glass (wikimedia)

Corning Museum of Glass (wikimedia)

“I can’t remember this. It’s too hard,” I moaned months ago.

“You’re 20% there,” Coach Dennis said with a smile. “Now learn the next section.”

“No more revisions,” I told myself last month, but the words insist on their own flow.

First time I gave the talk to the TEDx Chemung River coaches, I was nervous and unprepared. The second time was better, but not good enough. I had time.

I only have days now. I’m still practicing.

DSCN0503-001  But just to make sure TED pays attention, I’ll wear my red shoes.


  Talks will be livestreamed from Corning Museum of Glass on Nov. 8. I should be on between 1:45 and 3:00 pm. In December, the video will be posted at TEDx Chemung River and on my media page. Thanks to Colleen Parsons, Meghan Parsons, Dennis Dore, Lauren Chamblis, Regi Carpenter, and many others who patiently listened and gave me feedback. Thanks to all the dedicated organizers of TEDx Chemung River. It takes a village!


  1. Wow, Elaine!!! Good luck, break a leg (as they say)!!!!

    I like the upside-down turtle. You’ve practically got to stand yourself on your head to PERFORM grief in a real way. I won’t be able to listen in real-time, but I so look forward to hearing you rock Ted after the fact.

    Love & Best of Luck,


    • Myra, how sweet to hear from you. Turtle isn’t upside down–firmly on her belly in the grass after I moved her out of the middle of the road.

      I won’t perform grief, but I’ll tell stories about my experiences with my father’s death as a child and then with Vic’s death. Those stories are embedded with grief, but also with what helps us handle our inevitable losses. I’ll express what I learned from loss and about life. I’m sure grief will show up for me. How could it not? But six years later, there has been so much digestion.

      Thanks for your good wishes. I hope the Muse is with me.
      Love, Elaine

  2. All best wishes Elaine, on your talk! It sounds like you’ve really put in the self-effort, and I’m sure the grace will be there to provide the other wing so you can fly!


    • Thank you, Laz. It’s so kind of you to send good wishes. Yes, I’ve worked hard for this. I can’t say exactly why it became so important. It’s something about standing on my feet, trusting myself, articulating what I believe. It’s the sort of thing I used to help Vic pull off. Many friends have come through to support this adventure. I’m so grateful for my community of old friends and the TEDx community of hard-working idealistic organizers I’m just getting to know.
      Wishing you peace,

  3. OMG Elaine. How on Earth are you managing to sleep at night? This is so exciting, nerve-wracking, and downright gutsy. I’m hoping to be there but not sure yet if the woman I’m helping out after her Friday surgery will be needing me or not on Saturday. I could tell, at your launch-party, that you’ve been practicing and getting really polished at speaking in public. How great that you got Regi’s help especially. You looked and sounded so confident that night. I know you’ll do well. And red shoes always makes things better. Cheers!

    • Hi Robin,
      If I go through the talk three or four times in a day (giving it to the walls or the trees) and then give it to a person (grateful for neighbors), I can’t do more. So far, I’m sleeping. The TEDx event is sold out, so you get that day off. Be with your friend and send good wishes across the hills to Corning. If you’re curious, tune in to the live stream around 1:45 and I should be on soon. I got help from so many, but Dennis Dore has been a tireless and steady coach for months. He’ll be in Corning along with Jill Swenson and a few other friends. It’s happening soon! I hope I can keep sleeping.

  4. This post held me in rapt attention. I LOVE TED. Near the end of this month, I will be featuring an excerpt from the NPR Ted Talks entitled “Wearable Sensor Turns Color-Blind Man into Cyborg.” The working title for the blog post? What Color Makes you Sing?

    About the upcoming interview. You already have the message stored in your heart, and in your bones even. You are slated to be a sensation. It is not possible to fail wearing those cute red shoes. Ha!

    • Hi Marian,
      I love the title of your upcoming blog. Sounds interesting. I love TED talks, too, and I’ve watched so many more than before. One of my favorites from years ago was by a deaf drummer Evelyn Glennie ( called “How to Truly Listen.” Wonderful ideas about listening with the whole body–and I need to do that since my hearing is severely compromised.
      I agree that I’m well prepared–and those red shoes will see me through most anything.
      Warmly, Elaine

  5. You are one brave lady, dear Elaine, and such an inspiration to so many. I look forward to your big date with TED, and I just know it will be spectacular! ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. I have been frightened through much of the preparation with my “I can’t do it” protective crouch. I used to play it safe and let Vic take the risks, so someone has to do it. Practice has made me more confident now, so I’m less afraid. I will do it and hope to enjoy it.
      With love,

  6. How exciting Elaine. Click your heels and you will be absolutely great! 🙂

    • Gonna click those heels, Debby. I don’t know if I’ll be great, but I will have done the best I can. I’m trying to learn to be satisfied with that.
      Best to you,

  7. I can’t wait to watch your special magic happen. No one has worked harder. Much luck and many blessings, my friend. May we all be inspired.


    • Thank you, Colleen. Yes, may we all be inspired by each other. I’m already inspired by the dedicated organizers and coaches who make TEDx Chemung River happen–and by everyone such has you who has dared to give a TED or TEDx talk. I didn’t have a clue about how much was involved. I’ve learned a lot and I’m grateful for the education.
      See you Friday–with my red shoes on,

  8. I can hardly wait for this Saturday and TEDxChemungRiver. Looking forward to your performance. Glad you’ll be sharing your stories with TED.

    • Thank you, Jill. And thanks for suggesting I apply to speak at TEDxChemungRiver. You trust me more than I trust myself. See you Saturday.

  9. You will shine! That’s what real stars do. As I said in a email, you have been an extraordinarily good soldier. I can’t recall ever seeing someone involved in a project work so diligently, so steadily. It has been a giddy pleasure and a deep honor to have been your sergeant at arms. I’ll be wanting to stand up in the middle and cheer. They’ll have to hold me down. Bless you sister!

    • Thanks Dennis. You’re a wonderful coach and teacher. I hope I give you something to cheer about, but I don’t want to hang myself with high expectations. I’ll do the best I can to stay calm. And I’ll hope TED likes red shoes.

  10. You’ll be you and that is sufficient to the task. You possess all that you need. Just breathe, relax and enjoy!

  11. You’re going to knock their socks off! xoxo

  12. I will be cheering you on from afar on Saturday! Do you know the acronym QED meaning “and the rest follows” (used in mathematical proofs)? Your heart has a wonderful story to tell. Just take a deep breath and tell it. QED… Big hug to you.

    • Thank you, Pauline. I hope I’ll remember to take a deep breath and let the rest follow. And now I remember what QED stands for. It’s wonderful feeling your support behind me.

  13. Elaine, you are so brave! My stomach started to turn just thinking about you doing this!

    I hide inside my shell and am content to stay there, but I’m proud of you going forth into the world. I know you’ll be great!


    • Hi Lynne,
      Your paintings don’t look like hiding to me, but I know what you mean. This is my most daring venture out of my shell and writing seems tame by comparison. I’ve practiced all I can, so now it’s time to hand it over to whoever is in charge of these things.
      Warmly, Elaine

  14. Go get ’em! You’ve got this!


    • Thank you, Margaret. So how do we express these tender feelings and describe these experiences without weeping? I guess we don’t.
      I appreciate your vote of confidence.

  15. You’ll be fine – click your ruby red heels together, center on ‘home’, that place within where your powerful creative energy springs.

    TED works out all day
    He is impressed with your soul
    Is one date enough?

    • Laughing, Ellen. I’ll remember to take a deep breath and click my heels before walking out on that stage.
      Not sure I want another date with this TED guy. He’s more demanding that any human I’ve ever known.
      I’ll imagine your beaming smile.
      Love, E

  16. I wish I could be there, and I look forward to seeing it next month. Thank you for being a light in my own journey through grief to that thing called “life.” 🙂

    • Thanks for your good wishes, Karal. The important thing is whether or not what I say helps other people deal with grief, not how well I “perform.” You make me feel on the right track. I’m grateful. Yes, this thing, that confusing thing called “life.”

  17. Elaine,
    I am so proud of you, for the process and for your presence in all things since your loss. It is strange how I feel like I know you, and your deceased husband although we have never met. I am sure of one thing – Vic would be so proud of you! Positive thoughts and energy surround you as you present with little Ted!! Can’t wait to hear it.

    • Thank so much. Dress rehearsal went well. If having friends cheering me on from wherever they are is enough, I’m going to be fine. I’ve done my part and even slept well last night, so now I light a candle, think of Vic, and let the day unfold. Yes, Vic would be proud of me–proud that I’m on my feet, moving into a new life, and still loving him as much as ever. Grateful for your positive thoughts and energy. With love, Elaine

  18. Elaine, the simple thought of having to give a talk in front of people petrifies me, so I admire your courage! I imagine you’ll probably have done the talk by the time you read this, so I hope it went well! I’m sure that Vic was there right by your side the entire time. I look forward to listening to your talk, too! You truly are an inspiration and should be very proud of yourself! (((hugs))) 🙂

    • What a loving note, Gisele. I did it! It was a good experience and response was excellent. I’ll be glad to watch the video myself in a month because it’s hard to tell from a subjective perspective. I prepared and gave it all I could and that’s all that’s asked. It as a confidence builder, for sure, and part of this whole journey I seem to be taking to find who I am on my own. I always feel Vic within my heart, so he was right there more strongly than usual. Thank you.

  19. Elaine, what a helpful post full of links to guide other audacious souls. I’ve wondered what this experience is like and have enjoyed so many TED talks. I even met Chris Anderson himself several times. But I’ve never tried to do what you have just done!

    I love the character of TED you created. Shows your sense of humor, a necessary ingredient in a good talk!

    I can’t wait to watch the video.

    And you can be sure I’ll share it.

    • Hi Shirley,
      I hardly recognize myself in the raw footage I’ve seen. Someone/something new in me showed up–not my cheery persona who does readings and interviews, but a serious and vulnerable reflective side. I like her, but was amazed to see myself in a new guise. I’ve been too busy (will slow down before Thanksgiving and stay slow through December) to watch a second time, so I’m sure my thoughts about this will evolve. It went well and the ideas came through to an attentive audience. Many conversations I gave the talk as people told me their stories as I’d just told mine.
      Thank you.

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