The TEDx TALK

344 Design

If the line about the drinks is confusing, mine was the final talk of the conference.

In the fall of 2011, my friends Kymberlee Weil and Mark Sylvester invited me to speak at their annual TEDx event in Santa Barbara. As with my talk at the AIGA National Conference, I created a musical introduction to set the tone, and to dispense with my résumé in less than two minutes.

Creating these animations tends to become all-consuming for me. It’s just too much fun pacing images to music. Selecting the piece is usually the biggest challenge. I go through a few hundred tracks each time. The mood has to fit. The piece has to have some variation, so I can build distinct sections. I prefer having either no vocals at all, or something that isn’t in English, so that the lyrics don’t distract from what’s on the screen.

The most important thing is that I have to love the track. It has to inspire visual ideas, and it has to get me as excited as it does the audience. Also, I have to be able to listen to the thing hundreds of times during editing without getting sick of it by the time of the event. In this case, I found a great Western theme in the APM Music library that fit the bill nicely, and also helped me find a title for the talk, Watch Your Head—Tales from the OCD Frontier.


Event organizers always ask for a snappy title and a synopsis of my talk, so they can use it as part of their promotional push. I understand the need for this, of course, but it drives me crazy. I won’t know exactly what my talks are about until I go on stage. Sometimes I won’t know until I’m done. Those are the best ones!

At the same time, I know how frustrating it can be for the audience to be lured in by a synopisis that bears no relation to the actual presentation. Because of this I go to great lengths to provide promotional text that sounds fun and interesting, but gives almost no concrete information. That way I can talk freely about what’s on my mind that day—ideas that are circulating in the room, the spirit of the event, some recent news item that sparked something for me.

Of course I plan ahead. I select particular projects to talk about. I have a general sense of what I’d like to get across, stories I’d like to tell. But the looser I can keep things, the better they turn out. It’s a little scary without a net, which keeps me sharp. It’s a performance instead of a recital. It’s something that lives in that particular room on that particular day. Maybe it’s a little rough around the edges now and again, but that’s what I like to watch when I go to a show, too. 

Here’s the entire talk. Watch for a new Daily Monster at the end.

Showing the video on the day of the event, there was a very slight lag between the projection and the audio, because of something mysterious happening in the sound board. Drove me nuts. There’s ultimately not a whole lot to this animation beyond the fact that it’s synched to the rhythm. When that’s off, it’s just not right. It doesn’t make it bad. The audience doesn’t know what it’s supposed to feel like, but when it’s perfect it’s magic.

Still, the crowd seemed to appreciate it, and the rest of the talk went well. (Even though I went three minutes past my allotted time. Very unprofessional. I’m sorry.) 

As a little bonus, here is the previous year’s teaser Monster.
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