MY TEDxNHS experience

Anonymous 23 August 2018

It’s funny how sometimes two unrelated opportunities come together at the same time to produce a lovely serendipity.

A few weeks after being asked to do a TEDxNHS talk at the BFI IMAX, I made a welcome address at the LPFF Sports Quiz at The Oval. In the audience was Cat Winter, a personal effectiveness coach. Following my speech, she whispered, “I liked how you sounded but I think I could help how you looked”. I interpreted this as my eye contact was terrible and my body language rubbish. “Why not give me a call?” she said. So I did.

Meanwhile, as part of the TEDxNHS process, I was allocated a coach, Ayse Gungor, a Project Manager at Moorfields Eye Hospital to help me compose, refine and perfect an inspirational 12 minute TED Talk. We hit it off straightaway and embarked on an eight-week journey moving from a blank sheet of paper to a captivating and compelling description of the Coping Through Football project.

Delivering a talk in the conversational TED style with no PowerPoint slides to punctuate and support my words was something new for me but I knew that if I was to convey the key message that playing fields and the sports played on them could transform and even save lives, the effort to learn a different way of presenting would be worth it. With a live audience of 500 NHS employees and the prospect of thousands more via live streaming, I wanted to do justice to the TED tradition and to Coping Through Football’s lasting impact on one of society’s most marginalised groups.

My first session with Cat turned out to be crushingly revelatory as my usual style looked terrible on camera. Cat taught me to plant my feet, exude more energy, communicate with my eyes and use my arms to accentuate the message. I left the studio with evangelical zeal desperate to try my newly learned communication skills on anyone who was unfortunate enough to be within range.

Meanwhile, being a person who likes to leave nothing to chance, I was getting slightly nervous that with a week to go I still did not have the final version of my speech in the bag. Ayse was more relaxed and felt there was still more to come. Reassuringly I had met other speakers who were in the same boat.

Four days before the big day we had a rehearsal at BFI IMAX and, with Cat, Ayse and other coaches watching, I recited my talk, all 16 minutes 35 seconds of it!!! “This needs radical surgery”, advised Cat sagely. So over coffee we lopped a whopping four minutes off what was the eleventh iteration.

The day before the event was consumed by the dress rehearsal where I had the privilege of observing the other speakers practise. I don’t mind admitting that some of the stories moved me to tears and we all felt a sense of kinship like a football team going out to play in the Cup Final.

The big day arrived and after the sound check, I spent an hour walking along the Southbank perfecting my speech with The Thames as my audience. I was to be the second speaker on. Back in the IMAX I saw my wife, Maria arrive early to support me. After a few words of encouragement, she took her seat just beyond my eye-line. 

Finally, my moment arrived and I stepped on to the stage with the reassuring presence of Ayse in front of me, ready to prompt if I lost my place. Cat’s words came back to me. Plant your feet, lift up your chin, pause, breathe, smile and speak. ”What if I were to tell you that sport was a magic pill that could save lives………”