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Why Do a TED Talk, Anyway?

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The best part of a TED talk doesn't even happen at the conference. It isn't the time spent onstage, the connections you make at the event, or even the YouTube video of your talk. All that is just echo, a necessary wave that moves outward from the event, like a ripple on a pond. But what makes that initial splash?

It's all about what happens before you walk out onto the stage. In a way, the most important audience for my talk, the place where it had the most impact for change, wasn't out there in the crowded room. It was right here, in me.

In February 2013 I spoke at TEDxAustin. The title of my talk was "Fearing Your Gift." It was about my own twists and turns in a life based on music, and my own trajectory in coming to see that things are different from how I thought they'd be. Where I am now is different, and far better than I could've imagined. But it took a while to figure this out. Simple facts fall flat.

I approached the event more like an art project than a speech. I started by throwing all kinds of things at the canvas, going through the last 25 years of my work life, looking at the bizarre twists, examining why I made the choices I had, what kept me going, what keeps me moving today. After a few months of effort, a design emerged. I discovered the deeper motivations behind what I do. After the TED process I was able to point clearly to where I've been, where I am, and where I want to go with my music, my work, my life.

A TED talk is like no other presentation out there. The event gathers together people who have something to say, with a roomful of people ready to hear something transformative. It's the church of the hungry mind. And when a speaker really puts something good out there, pulls back the layers and exposes the core of his or her message and motivations, the immediate bounce-back from the audience is overwhelming. But in order to make that happen, to get that response, the speaker has to go to somewhere new. Move past the data, past the "what happened," the details, and speak to the heart, from the heart.

Whether that came through to the audience, I don't know. There was a standing ovation when I left the stage, but that may have been a performance thing (I practiced endlessly). I do know that when I walked off the stage I ran down a hallway, found a doorway and immediately broke down. The way I broke down, I knew that I'd seen a new thing -- something about myself that couldn't be ignored or denied -- and that I'd never be the same.

So, why do a TED talk in the first place? Yes, you might get calls to come speak to other groups, you could get a bunch of hits on YouTube. But I think the best and most important reason to do a TED talk is that you've got a vehicle to take yourself on an inward journey. In truth, we all own that vehicle. Write your own TED talk at home. Dig beneath the facts. Become your own best audience. When you look within and go to a new place, you take the world with you.

Watch Darden Smith's TEDxAustin talk here.