Wendy Wilson’s TEDxBoise 2015 talk on the link between water and energy use came at just the right time, given the ongoing concerns about both issues in the West. Her whole career has been with environmental nonprofit groups focused in water protection and climate issues. At the time of her talk, she was Executive Director of Advocates for the West.
Why’d you apply to do a TEDxBoise talk?
I’d been working on integrating water and energy into one presentation for a couple years. I was having a hard time getting it down to a simple idea, but I had something to say. I wanted to address the concern about climate change affecting the availability of resources, and to raise our own understanding of what we can do. This topic is near and dear to me, since I really struggle with the question of “so what do we do to take this to the next generation?” This is something people really need to talk about, but there aren’t many TED Talks on it.
How’d you react when you found out you were accepted?
A little daunted. I knew I could do it, but I wanted to do a good job and not waste the opportunity–working on environmental issues really take up all your available time. But when it comes down to it, I want to be an advocate. And to do that, you have to communicate. I was also willing to do it because of the coaching support.
How’d you get ready?
Well, I had a false sense of security because I started six weeks before the event. I floundered around a lot, trying to come up with the slides before I worked on the actual talk. I wasted a lot of time doing stuff that just moved the slides around. I wish I’d had another week—I would have stopped changing the talk up until the last minute. Seeing the other speakers at rehearsal kicked my butt! The talk I gave was the first time I’d done it well. I could have done so much better with even two more days.
Give yourself some credit, though! This year we were on a much tighter timeline than most TED events. For 2016 the speakers will have six months to get ready, which is what it really takes. What was it like for you, the night of the event?
It was really stressful waiting. I didn’t have my speech completely nailed. I used the time to go over my presentation a couple more times. Once I was onstage, things were great—I felt fine. Having the live audience was really helpful. When it’s right—they’re laughing. I didn’t want to get to the end!
What feedback did you get after the event?
Several people wanted to talk to me. I met with a kid yesterday about a career in environmental issues because he’d seen my talk. And it seems like people got the message—a few people have come up and said, “You’re the 400-gallon-water shower lady!” I also got feedback about being brave enough to do it. I did something really hard. It wasn’t just a talk about bluebirds—the whole point was about math.
That’s awesome. I’m not a math person, but your math really stuck with me. I think of you every time I take a shower, and every day when I make sure to turn my porch light off when I leave the house! What did you learn from doing this TEDx Talk that you can pass on?
I would have focused on looking at TED Talks more—I didn’t do that until about a month before the event. I also tried to do too much—my talk could have been four different TED Talks with all the material I prepared, and then cut. Keep it simple, pare down your expectations about what you can cover, and don’t try to fill the whole 18 minutes. When I watch TED Talks I never actually watch the whole thing!
Any best practices to share?
Work on your script first, THEN your slides. I was working on slides at 2 am two days before my talk.
I have a new phrase: “I do hard things.” Cut yourself some slack!
That’s a bumper sticker right there!
Wendy Wilson, “Burning Water“