NSights Blog

Speaking at TEDxUniversityofNevada

The multimedia production specialist for University Libraries talks about her journey to the TEDxUniversityofNevada stage

The lights. The cameras. The inspiration. The CROWD.

These are all aspects of TED talks that people are familiar with. TED and the independently organized TEDx events are venues for sharing innovation that are compacted into digestible formats. They spark creative ways of thinking. They give us chills. They bring us to tears. Once a person expresses that “big idea” to the world, the video lives as a time capsule – an inspirational message for generations to come. No pressure, right?

The prospect of sharing my own “big idea” was exciting, but my process before getting onto the stage isn’t wasn’t at all glamorous. The journey to TEDx comes with a lot of recollection, self-growth, and especially self-doubt.

It had always been a personal goal of mine to deliver a TEDx talk. Seven years ago, I had gotten into a car accident that left me temporarily with no means of transportation and a boot cast for eight weeks. During this time, I was unable to work and had set up a fairly permanent position on my couch. I mended my broken spirit with all the TED talks I could find, and the positivity helped alleviate my sofa residency. The talks I watched were filled with beautiful messages and struggles that were way beyond my own. I thought to myself, “I would love to do that one day.” I grew an aspiration to share a message that may inspire someone else to think outside of the realms of possibility. But that aspiration seemed reserved for some time down the road. I never would have imagined that I would be on the TEDxUniversityofNevada stage only a few years later.

It’s been an incredible couple of years since then. The short documentary I directed, “Walking With Reality,” not only created a forever friendship between Evan Gadda and myself, but as a result of the film’s reach it also sparked true empathy throughout the world. We have been contacted by people from Hungary, Indiana, New York, Florida, etc. who have wanted to create virtual reality spaces for others with disabilities. The response has truly been remarkable and life changing. I am so grateful.

In June of 2018, I was approached by Bret Simmons and Nicole Shearer, the main organizers of the University of Nevada talks, who had seen the film. They urged me to apply as a speaker for 2019. Originally, I thought that I might as well give it a shot, but I didn’t expect to actually be selected. To my shock a few weeks later, I received the confirmation that TEDx was on my horizon. It was an email that changed my life.

The months that followed are what I would like to call a rollercoaster of emotions. It was first led with excitement, then uneasiness, which eventually turned into dread. Don’t get me wrong, I was very honored, and still am, to have been considered worthy enough to take the stage. I just had no idea what I was going to share in front of people. And the thought of that very same speech going online for everyone to see was really weighing in on my writer's block. How was I going to get onto the stage if I didn’t have anything to say?

Luckily, Bret, Nicole and everyone involved with the TEDxUniversityofNevada process have created an environment for the speaker's success. Monthly meetings and check points were focused on idea creation, script writing, and presentation skills. I presented my materials at every meeting and receive fantastic constructive feedback from a variety of critical thinkers. This process helped me mentally and emotionally prepare for taking the stage, but it wasn’t easy.

During one particular meeting we analyzed a draft of my script. It was my fifth script at the time (the other 4 drafts aren’t worth mentioning). Even though I knew there still needed to be changes, I felt confident in the content. Within the five pages of this draft it covered how other entities were using VR/AR to preserve historical locations around the world and how we used VR to preserve Reno’s ephemeral street art. Later in the draft it briefly covered my involvement with the technology, and there was a small section about Evan’s experience. We went around the room and everyone gave great feedback on what should be added or changed.

And then it was Bret’s turn. He leaned back and looked over his glasses, like he’s known to do. Then he ripped the first four pages from their staple and said, “all of this is great, but it sounds more like a blog post than a TED talk.” He proceeded to throw them over his shoulder.

Although he thought I was upset with him after that brash honesty, I was not at all. I was upset with myself. Here I was putting myself into a vulnerable situation of prepping for the biggest public speech of my life, and I still wasn’t comfortable talking about myself or my experiences.

After that meeting, I didn’t completely start over with my script. I just reframed everything. I kept the parts about myself, Evan, and the Reno community while adding a better narrative of why this technology is important to not only my experiences, but why I think it should be important to others. Before this sixth and final draft, I doubted that I was a so called, “expert” in virtual reality technologies. I was hesitant to talk about the accomplishments of our department because I thought I was being too self-serving. I found out that I was wrong. Virtual & augmented realities have the possibility of changing our everyday lives for the better in ways we can’t even imagine yet. Every new project or new application, even the ones created in our local communities, can have real, positive impacts. I now know that it really is a “big idea” worth sharing.

Although my TEDx talk has now been posted on YouTube, my journey is still not over. I recently traveled to WSB University in Poland to deliver my "big idea” again. I’m still in shock. However, now I feel confident, which gives way to feeling extremely excited, too. This process has taught me many things along the way about myself and the wonderful, supportive people around me. Most importantly, though, it taught me that everyone has a big idea worth sharing. You just need some encouragement to find the confidence in yourself to share it!

Evan Gadda and Michelle Rebaleati in the Knowledge Center