TEDx Philadelphia 2014

In late January I received an email inviting me to speak at TEDx Philadelphia, the local version of the famous TED talks. At first I mistook it for spam, but quickly realized its authenticity. I said yes, and spoke in late March. They finally got the video online in mid November. Now everyone can enjoy it!

Initially I felt nervous. I had no idea what I would talk about. Reading the TED commandments didn’t help. The conference had the theme of Philadelphia, the New Workshop of the World. I knew my talk would have something to do with accessibility and Philadelphia, and began to put things together. After a few meetings with the organizers I began to get an idea of what I wanted to say and started to feel better… sort of. They had a press lunch where I got to meet some of the other speakers and members of the press. The day before the event they had a dress rehearsal which helped a lot. Finally the day had come.

The conference took place at the Temple Center for the Performing Arts, with a crowd of around 1200. Hearing the size of the crowd kind of freaked me out. Thankfully I had brought my friends Sonia and Liz to keep me company. Sonia and I do Braille Street Art together, which I would mention in my talk. I met Liz at Indy Hall. She writes strange novels, does political fundraising, and makes yummy peanut butter treats, one of which she gave to me when I arrived.

We had fun listening to a few talks, then made our way to the green room. If you ever get accepted to speak at a TED talk, go to the green room! They had expensive herbal water and snacks which we enjoyed. They also gave out expensive printed programs, which seemed to impress Liz. Everything felt expensive.

The fatal hour approached, and my friends walked me upstairs. It felt like going to the execution chamber. The staff wired me up with microphones. I had gone through this before, but this time it felt different, like getting strapped into the electric chair. I heard them introduce me and my friends walked me on stage. I could not go back now.

As it turns out, I gave a wonderful speech. My worries melted away as I began. I used the Loci technique to build a mental model to keep me on track, since TED has a commandment that thou shalt not read thy speech. Rather than summarize it here, you can see it for yourself. Interestingly, they asked me to say at the beginning that I don’t work for Apple and didn’t know Steve Jobs, but they edited this from the video.

I came to the end of my script and the crowd applauded. I had done it! They took the microphones off me and I went outside to smoke a pipe. My family had all come to see me speak and ran out. Trish Maunder, the head of the touch tours program at Penn, came as well. Everyone congratulated me. Since I spoke near the end of the day we just hung around and mingled after the conference ended. After that a few of us wanted food so ended up at a Vietnamese place. I came home and rested.

The next morning at 09:00 my cell phone rang. People rarely call y cell that early especially on a Saturday so it seemed suspicious. I answered, and heard someone from Uber on the other end. Apparently my talk caused some exquisite controversy, another TED commandment. I explained the problem and feel delighted to report they have mostly improved things, and the lines of communication remain open. Uber has since introduced wheelchair accessible vehicles as well, so they clearly have begun considering accessibility.

I have never had so much attention after an event. I appeared in several radio and newspaper articles about TEDx Philadelphia. These include philly.com, the South Philly Review,bizjournals.com, Technically Philly, the Knight Foundation, Geekadelphia, PhillyMag.com, NBC 10, Parents United Phila, Flying Kite Media, and Keystone Edge. Wow! Some other good things have also happened as a result. Most recently I spoke to a class of Temple students because the professor saw my talk. A lot of people have begun identifying me as a “TED talker.”

TED tells its speakers to “bask in the glory.” I began to understand, but for a long time my talk did not go online. One day in the middle of the summer I received a printed letter in the mail explaining that they would have a new web site online shortly. The irony did not escape me, and it gave me a good laugh at least. Finally the talk went on their YouTube channel and I feel glad that I can share it with everyone who did not see it back in March. I worried that I wouldn’t like it, but it stands well, and other than Uber becoming more accessible little has changed.

Thank you TEDx Philadelphia for this opportunity to change the world, starting right here in Philadelphia, the new workshop of the world. We did it once, we can do it again. We just have to JFDI! They have already begun planning TEDx Philadelphia 2015, and I look forward to an even better conference.