Speaking when your medium isn’t language.

On the TEDxColumbus stage over the last three years, we’ve had a variety of performance artists: musicians, poets and such.  This post is not about them.

It is about those individuals who have a medium other than their own voice, movement or acting to express their artistry (design, painting).  I turned to wikipedia for a definition: An artist also may be defined unofficially as “a person who expresses him- or herself through a medium.”

But what happens when you ask an artist to communicate their thoughts in another manner – most commonly, language (written or spoken) – that also has critiques, deadlines, a huge audience and permenant record through video?

My hypotheses is that when an artist whose medium is not language is forced to communicate his/her work through language (spoken or written) the process is troubling.

So something oddly coincidental happened within the 12 hours before our TEDxColumbus 2011 event. Of the 18 speakers and performers, 3 of them attempted to impose changes to their slides within 12 hours before the program began. And by all accounts, they were the three artists of the group who were going to speak.

They otherwise distinguished themselves by a few screaming characteristics. And the fact is, I’ve had several other clients and TEDx speakers who have exhibited the same behavior. But it wasn’t until I saw them side by side within 24 hours did I finally get it.

The characteristics were:

– The process of preparing a talk was torturous. Having to meet any deadline, having to go through any edit or review, having to had the talk DONE before the talk itself was simply a life-altering experience. And not always a good one.

– Their topics kept evolving. Sure, they were generally in the same realm of the idea they originally proposed discussing, but the end result was fairly far distant from where we started. Imagine someone saying to you: “I’m going to be a devil for Halloween” and they turn up on stage looking like an angel. That might be great for Halloween but not a TEDx talk.

– To the aforementioned point, they never finished their talk so therefore they didn’t really practice it. And when they showed up to rehearsal, they were still in an edit mode. And the next day, another edit. And really, through their sleep the night before the event, another.

– In hindsight, they wanted to talk about a different topic altogether. Everyone wants to give a different talk after they’ve given one, that’s pretty common. But these folks wanted to pick a different topic.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with another local artist in preparing for a book tour. When we were done working on her talk, she said she thought she needed a second talk. The creative genius in her didn’t want to be done.

I am placing no judgment on the way these colleagues of mine navigate the pathway of getting on the stage to make remarks.  I’m simply suggesting, if you are one of these people, please remember that the best talks benefit from rehearsals and practice. And if you are in a constant state of revision, then the talk never quite is done and well, probably is never really practiced.

Be okay with a moment, just a moment, of ‘done.’ There will be plenty more revisions to make to artwork, drawings, concepts and plans that don’t involve an audience trying to follow – or subsequently share –  your ideas.