On Sharing Developmental Research via TED

Developmental and legal psychologist, Lindsay C. Malloy, shares her experiences giving a TED talk on developmental issues in the legal system.

By Lindsay C. Malloy

In November 2016, I gave a talk on juvenile false confessions interrogations at the TEDxFIU event in Miami, Fl. At the time, I was an assistant professor at Florida International University (FIU). For those who don’t know, TEDx events are independently organized and affiliated with the main TED organization. Approximately one year later, I was contacted by an attorney at TED to prepare my talk for potential posting on the main TED website. The talk was going to the big stage. I was thrilled to have a platform that would allow me to get the research into thousands of people’s hands. The talk was posted on July 3 and has been viewed over 500,000 times as of this writing on July 17. The following are some musings on the experience and advice on sharing developmental research via TED or TEDx talks. It was a ton of work and highly time consuming but overall a fantastic experience that I would recommend.

  1. Apply. And apply again. And maybe again. As my former postdoc mentor once said to me, “The only way to be certain you won’t get something is by not applying for it.” My former postdoc mentor was Michael Lamb, so he probably said it much more eloquently than that (see his president’s column in this newsletter issue), but you get the gist. I was selected to be part of TEDxFIU upon my third application. On that third try, I used a new angle to pitch my talk (see my next point).

  2. Tell a good story. When I made my third pitch to do a TEDx talk, I discussed the case of Brendan Dassey, a juvenile whose interrogation and subsequent conviction had captured the attention of viewers of Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” around the world. I wove the research on juvenile confessions and interrogations into his story. I think this made it more relatable. It capitalized on the millions of people who were already invested in his case. And it certainly was timely. I can’t be certain, but I think this angle is what finally got me invited to be a TEDx speaker.

  3. Write out an actual script and get lots of feedback. This is not the kind of talk that you want to do “on the fly.” I had my 17-minute talk memorized word for word. While I don’t recommend that approach per se (I think I sound slightly unnatural at times), I would certainly treat it differently than a conference talk in terms of planning what will be said and soliciting feedback from as many people as you can. If your TED event involves working with any “speech coaches,” jump at this opportunity. They helped improve my talk significantly.

  4. Establish why you are the person to tell the audience about your topic. In the first draft of my talk, I had nothing about me. I didn’t think this was particularly important, as I was simply a sort of vessel of knowledge – sharing what I knew about the intersection of developmental psychology and the law with anyone willing to listen. But the TEDxFIU speech coaches who worked with me pointed out that I needed to establish myself as an authority on the subject. Why would someone listen to me on this particular topic?

  5. Practice, practice, practice. Although this piece of advice is rather obvious, here are a few suggestions that may not be. Record yourself giving the talk. Only audio is necessary for these purposes. It may not be relaxing or something you can sing along to, but this recording can become your commute companion. I know it’s rather cringe-worthy to listen to the sound of your own voice. I know this well, as I spent five years in professional radio and had to do air check critique sessions with my program director blasting the sound of my voice down the hallway as he gave me critical feedback. But it’s a nice way to memorize your talk in situations where you can’t read the words. Plus, it can highlight areas that just aren’t flowing very well.

  6. Wear something that is you and is comfortable. To be 100 percent honest, my biggest concerns about choosing what to wear were (1) not tripping and falling flat on my face on the stage and (2) hiding the fact that I was 12 weeks pregnant with my second child. But also know that you are not supposed to wear patterns, especially bold patterns, due to the lighting/recording. I did not learn this until the day before the event at the dress rehearsal. Hopefully, I have potentially saved you the last minute panicked shopping trip that I endured.

  7. Go with the flow. On the night of the performance in front of roughly 1,000 people, I knew that I was supposed to go third. One talk involved a keyboard. One involved a video presentation. (The main TED organization requires two of these at each TEDx event). Then me. During the video, staff would clear the keyboard off the stage. But, following the first talk, the emcee started introducing someone, and I quickly realized that it was me. I could see the panicked looks on the faces of people running around wearing headsets. They were trying to communicate with the emcee to stop introducing me and to do the video as planned. But it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. The next thing I knew, I was being pulled from my chair, the mic that I was wearing was turned on and I was pushed — okay, maybe gently nudged — onto the stage. I thought I had another 15 minutes or so to prepare myself mentally, but alas, that was not the case. I managed the unexpected change okay, but I did not manage to incorporate the keyboard into my talk, which was probably best for everyone involved.

  8. Get approval for any images/videos/other media you use. In my talk, I begin with several images of juveniles who had falsely confessed to murder. I downloaded these images from online news articles. I used snippets of Brendan Dassey’s interrogation videos that were posted on YouTube. I asked my local TEDx organizers whether I had to obtain any sort of permission to use these materials. I was concerned about copyright issues. I was told that I did not need to worry about it because the talk was for educational purposes only and not for profit. But as it turns out, I very much needed to worry about it. When the TED attorneys contacted me about posting my talk on the main TED website, I lost about a solid week tracking down the various licenses for the photos and other materials that I had used. Learn from my mistakes and only include free images or obtain the licenses in advance.

  9. Try to enjoy it. I had a hard time with this one. I was quite stressed about the talk. I was also quite stressed about whether my 17-month-old would go to sleep okay for the new babysitter (priorities). That night I just wanted it to be over. Once my talk was over, however, I did enjoy the night. From that perspective, try to avoid going last if you can.

  10. Share your talk widely. I know that self-promotion can be awkward, but after all the work you put into it, share your talk with the individuals and organizations who may be interested in it. Especially make sure to share it with Div. 7, including the Div. 7 Facebook page.