Previous Entry | Next Entry

My TEDx talk at the Royal Society in London is online! Here's the blurb for it:

Do you have an epic project in mind that you never get around to doing? Do you wish you could draw, but never learn because you'd be embarrassed if people saw the results? Author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre says that sometime we need to give up our big plan and start with smaller, achievable tasks. She shows us how we can find the hope, energy and inspiration we need by connecting with other people.

Gosh, watching this makes me go nervous all over again! I'd never given a brand-new talk without notes before, and I have a terrible memory. But I was very grateful to the Royal Society for taking a risk with me and letting me find out if I could do it.

Photo by Debbie Rowe for Royal Society

Here's the full comic that I reference in the video, about having a sense of forgiveness about our work:

Originally published for my BookTrust Writer-Illustrator in Residence blog

You might ask, what goes into giving a TEDx talk? ('TED' stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design', and the 'x' stands for 'external'; individual people are licensed around the world to host and curate TEDx talks. You can see loads more on the TED and TEDx YouTube channels.)

It all began when my husband's former work colleague, Frances Downey, saw me doing a big book event at the Southbank Centre for Imagine Festival. She said she liked the way I broke down a drawing into simple shapes. When she started planning the #TEDxWhitehall conference at the Royal Society, she thought people from other professions might be able to relate to what I talk about, particularly scientists, who are pressured to publish all their scientific findings, but who are embarrassed when they keep having to publish negative results. (It's very glamourous to say you've found a cure for cancer, but not so hot to say you've found something that turns out not to be a cure for cancer, even though keeping a record of that work is vitally important, too.)

When I got the e-mail from Frances, asking if I'd like to give a talk at the conference, I was scared, but I didn't feel I could say no, particularly as they were going to throw a speech coach into the bargain. (I've never had a speech coach before! Illustrators don't normally get trained that way, even when we're often put on stage.) So in the autumn, I took along to the Royal Society some notes for a speech and had my first meeting with the team. That's Frances in the front, and the guy on the left is Marcus Besley, the TEDx licensed organiser, and my speech coach David Bliss is on the right:

They all seemed to like drawing Sea Monkeys (from Oliver and the Seawigs), so I thought I'd go with that. But what worried me was the fact that they didn't want me to use any notes, for a talk I'd never given in public before. Argh! After the meeting, David and I e-mailed the script I'd written back and forth a few times to tighten up a few of the things and try to make it more punchy. (I was kind of hoping he'd reshape the way I talk - turn me into a great orator like Obama, with great dramatic pauses and better comic timing - but he didn't focus on that side of things so much.) After that, it was just practice, practice, practice. I asked around to actors on Facebook if they had any good memorisation techniques, and tried a few of those. But it was still very tricky, my brain just doesn't hold on to stuff like that very well.

A couple months later I had my final meeting with Marcus, David and venue organiser Laurence Kanza. They had me give my speech to the three of them, but I couldn't remember it and had to use my notes. So after that, I kept practising, over and over, even quietly mouthing the words on the way to my studio and back. On the day of the conference, I listened to some of the first few speeches, but went to a quiet room half an hour before my talk to collect my thoughts. Here's a photo of Laurence and me just before I went on, but despite the face I'm pulling, I was feeling pretty calm and okay about it; I'd practised and I had my first line ready, so I'd remember where to start.

I calmly walked on stage, smiled, delivered my first line... then DREW A TOTAL BLANK. It felt like at least two minutes before I managed to pull myself back together, and my heart sank. But looking at the video, I see I just speak rather haltingly for the first 20 seconds or so; it wasn't quite as bad as I remembered. It helped to have David, the speech coach, sitting in the front row with an encouraging look on his face. But I didn't really feel comfortable until near the end, when I was talking about the sorts of things I always talk about in front of children: making books and drawing. When it finished, I was just SO GLAD it was over.

I'd been slightly nervous some of these science people would fold their arms and refuse to draw with me, but that was the part they all seemed to enjoy the best! Afterward, loads of enthusiastic people showed me their pictures and said how glad they were to learn how to draw something.

Photo by Debbie Rowe for Royal Society

It made me giggle, when I saw how the #TEDxWhitehall Twitter feed was being invaded by Sea Monkeys.

One person in the audience, Dr Andrea Siodmok, even drew me while I was talking!

My favourite talk, and the one that made me think the most, was by Jeremy Myerson, a Research Professor at the Royal College of Art.

He talked about design, and asked us to think about how we as a society want to view the place of older people in the world. It really made me think, Yeah, why does the future have to look so beige and medicalised? Why aren't more designers jumping on this challenge? You can watch his talk here:

One of the safety nets I built into my talk was making it about 'Connection, not Perfection'. That way, if I royally messed up, I could just say, 'Well, it's not about being perfect'. LOL. My husband, Stuart, liked it because I drew him into the graphic.

I was also rather pleased the picture of a bum I drew for him made it into the edited version.

Speaking of connection, Stuart and I both really enjoyed meeting people at the conference. As a civil servant, Stuart often meets people in these professions (here he's chatting with Lord Willetts). But I tend to mix either with children or people who make books for children, and it's awfully refreshing to hear from people who are incredibly thoughtful and hardworking in fields such as genetics, engineering and medicine.

Photo by Debbie Rowe for Royal Society

The Royal Society also published a blog about the conference, written by Abigail Harris, which you can read here.

A surprising number of people had children who'd read my books with Philip Reeve (particularly Pugs of the Frozen North), and it was fun getting to meet them and draw little things for them to take back to their kids.

Photo by Debbie Rowe for Royal Society

I create drawing tutorials for every book I have published, so if you came to the conference or watched the video and enjoyed drawing a Sea Monkey, there are lots more step-by-step guides on my website. (Click on each cover for book-related guides.)

Huge thanks to Frances, David, Laurence, Marcus and the TEDxWhitehall team, and everyone who came to the conference and who were so friendly and supportive! It was great to meet so many of the other speakers. Here's Olympic runner Dina Asher-Smith and musician Tom McRae:

I'll leave you with Dina's talk:


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2018 08:40 pm (UTC)
Proud of you!
Well done, Sarah! I love the part about how you need to make bad books to get to the good! Everybody needs that kind of permission
Feb. 25th, 2018 12:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Proud of you!
Thanks, Candy! Yes, it's funny how people won't assume they're bad at piano because they can't sit down and immediately play Rachmaninoff. But they assume people can either draw or not draw, and don't realise it's just about practice and making lots of bad drawings along the way.

The funny thing is, it's also about learning to see drawings; we start to find different reasons for why a picture is good as we learn more and more about pictures in general and spend more time drawing. Our tastes change and we admire different things about pictures; when I was five, I might have said that first horse drawing was the best, and tried to imitate that, but now I much prefer the scrappy one.
Feb. 24th, 2018 10:07 pm (UTC)
Sarah, thanks so much for posting this - just watched your talk, it was wonderful! you have always inspired me - i need to learn how to do small things consistently. 2018 is the year I will do Nanowrimo. I need to find a way to do small bits of writing consistently. I love the fact that the picture of me and the stripy mug of tea that you did for me back in 2005? still adorns my livejournal page! Helen aka nice-cup-of-tea!
Feb. 25th, 2018 12:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Awesome!
Hi, Helen! Thanks, and it's great to have a friend who's still on LiveJournal! Ha ha, I think we may be the only non-Russians left here. Good luck with the writing! x
Feb. 25th, 2018 09:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Awesome!
he he, yes, I think we are.I still blog here, but it's been a bit quiet the last 6 months or so. Have just been inspired to start blogging again daily - always admired your daily sketch idea. I quote you in my latest post!

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

Latest Month

March 2023


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner