I gave a TED talk. Here’s what I learned.
By Emily Gipple
As I stood at 4 a.m. in the stairwell of an apartment building in China trying to email a minute-long video via a horrendous WiFi connection, I thought, “This will never work.”
The video, taken in selfie mode on my cell phone, was of me attempting to compress five years of thought and research into one compelling minute. I had to email the piece as my application to speak at the upcoming TEDxNorthwesternU conference, which I had just heard of that day, and the directions stipulated that all applications had to be received the previous day.
My cover email vaguely blamed my late submission on time zones and begged that I still be considered, but after the organizers’ email systems wouldn’t accept the large file, I sent one more desperate email to a general NU email address, gave up, and went to bed.
A few weeks later, I was genuinely shocked when I found out that I had been selected to present. As you may know, TED conferences present “ideas worth spreading.” Like many of you, I have been edified and moved by TED talks. I’ve always loved the idea of giving a talk, and it just so happened that when I heard about the conference at Northwestern, I had something to say.
The idea I shared is the same one that compelled me to apply to business school and attend Kellogg: I propose that companies can improve their own operations by recognizing and leveraging expertise in the nonprofit sector. By this I mean that when businesses examine their needs — to manage risk, streamline operations, or grow their activities — instead of considering only the resources within the firm and traditional for-profit partners, they should also consider the potential in the nonprofit sector.
I have been thinking about this for a few years, and spent the winter quarter of my second Kellogg year studying abroad in Asia and pursuing research in that region. I’ve found many examples of companies actively engaged in these cutting-edge partnerships, and I mentioned several in the TED talk.
I applied to business school with the goal to develop this idea and make it my career, and Kellogg was an excellent place to make that happen. My classes showed me how I can weave impact into traditional business outcomes. I met amazing fellow students with similar passions. A Kellogg professor oversaw my independent research, and a grant through social impact funding covered partial costs of field research in Asia. The access to careers, a huge network, and companies where I can pursue my passion after graduation was also invaluable.
The prep for the talk itself was a lot of work. There is an unending supply of interesting and worthwhile things to do at Kellogg, and I had to literally shut myself in an attic for a week or so to streamline the message, make slides pretty enough for the TED standard, memorize the 15 minute speech, and practice delivery. I send unending thanks once again to the classmates who sat with me in the days leading up to the conference and offered advice and encouragement as I finalized the piece.
When the day arrived, I was definitely nervous, but advice from a Kellogg professor helped: Focus on what’s most important — getting your message to the audience — and any trepidations become secondary.
Like most overachievers in business school who tend to be overly self-critical, I think my delivery could have been better, but I’m pretty happy with how it all went over. I really believe in the core idea, and want it to be seen and shared. If you’re reading this blog, you probably have an interest or practice in the business sphere, so, enough about me — please go watch the talk (available above, or here)!
Emily Gipple graduated in June and took a position with Amazon. If you are interested in the idea of improving business outcomes by leveraging expertise in the nonprofit sector, feel free to reach out to her at email@example.com.