When three of my students approached me a couple of months ago to participate in a TEDx event, I balked. The students sent me a very well-organized folder with information about TED, some of the speakers already lined up, links to their favorite TED talks and then they set up a meeting with me. The event was in the middle of April. As many academics know, April is not a good month for us. The semester, at least for me, picks up like a roller coaster and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down for the end.
I had so much to do in April. I had taken on an extra course in April (part of a gateway course for another program), so I was teaching four courses. That means I was grading for four courses. I had over 65 proposals to review for my new volume, and I needed to put together a proposal for the (possible) editor. All of this would be happening the week of the event itself. There’s no way I can or should take this TEDx event on, I thought. I decided I’d meet with the students, but that my response would probably be a “thanks for thinking of me, but I really am very busy and I just can’t fit this in to my schedule”.
But then I had the meeting with the three students. They were so excited and working so hard to pull off an event of this magnitude all on their own! They had put their hearts and souls into trying to organize this event and now they wanted to line-up speakers. I was torn. I told them I’d think about it over the weekend and let them know. “Of course I know I should say no”, I kept saying to myself. “But if I were to do this, I would probably go with this topic” would be the next thought. And so back and forth I went.
When I finally sat down to talk to my husband about why I was so torn, I realized that part of it had to do with my schedule. The other part had to do with the fact that this was completely new territory for me. This was no academic talk at a conference. Far from it: I would actually need to be concise (what academic knows how to get their point across in under 18 minutes?), entertaining, and intellectually stimulating at the same time! I had never spoken in front of such a large audience before, and then the thought of being video-taped… to be honest, that was intimidating. This will be around forever! What if I screw up? I feared the exposure: my thoughts will be out there in the form of a video, I won’t have control over this “product” once I put it out there.
Not so different from blogging after all is it?
By the end of the weekend I decided I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. TEDxConnecticutCollege took place on April 14, 2012. The theme was “Rethinking Progress” and I spoke on “Women’s Bodies”. So, what do I have to share with my fellow academics and bloggers about the experience? You know the thrill that you get when your blog post is about to go live? Now multiply that by about a hundred and you’ll get a good idea of what this kind of public speaking is like. It was an exhilarating experience. It gave me the same sense of freedom that blogging does. You can be funny, even if you’re discussing something serious; you don’t have to worry about quoting important scholars endlessly to prove to everybody that you know what you’re talking about; and you can (and should) leave the audience thinking instead of providing them with neat little conclusions that they must accept because you bombarded them with data and evidence.
Perhaps most importantly, it taught me that just as we, as academics, feminists, thinkers, have turned to blogging because “we have something to say”, we should also consider using public speaking opportunities to say what we want to or need to say. It’ll help us reach a wider audience than any academic conference we’ve attended, especially, as in the case of TED/TEDx when those talks are made available to anyone with a computer connection.
What are you waiting for? The world is waiting to hear what you have to say . . .
New London, Connecticut in the US.
Afshan Jafar is a member of the editorial collective at University of  Venus  and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. She can be reached at afshan . jafar @ conncoll . edu .