The Creationists

Creating a TEDx Talk with Greg Hemmings

September 02, 2020 Steve Waxman Episode 12
The Creationists
Creating a TEDx Talk with Greg Hemmings
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating a TEDx Talk with Greg Hemmings
Sep 02, 2020 Episode 12
Steve Waxman

One of the things I wanted to explore in this series of interviews was how to create a TEDx Talk.  Coincidently, one day I got an email pitch from Greg Hemmings, a filmmaker in Saint John New Brunswick. As I researched Greg I discovered that not only does he weave social consciousness into his work but he’s also created not one, but three TEDx Talks.

***

Greg Hemmings: It’s interesting because I never thought that I would become a public speaker.  You know, that’s just not something you grow up thinking that you’re going to do. But, as I was growing my business, Hemmings House PIctures, we started producing a lot of interesting documentaries that had a lot of social impact baked in to them. And, when you’re doing filmmaking that has some kind of impact on the community there’s a good chance that the community is going to pay attention and the media might cover you in a little different light. And I started to see a trend of the more interesting things we put out that had a positive impact on the community, the more attention we were given. It turned into one of those things where universities and community colleges would call me and ask me to speak to the classes about storytelling. And that gave me a good bit of confidence about, well, I see all of these other entrepreneurs doing TED Talks and sharing stages at large conferences and as long as I’m speaking about something I know and am passionate about I have no fear of getting on stage. As you know, I’m a musician and have spent many hours on stage playing music in front of people so there’s no issue there. But, after a couple of years of saying “yes” to whatever came my way, I started putting my eyes on the TEDx scene because I’m a huge fan of TED. And you realize that TEDx is a theater into the large TED Conference and most local communities have a TEDx experience.  So, when the University of New Brunswick had a TEDx I immediately jumped up and said ‘Hey, if you guys are ever looking for speakers I’d love to participate.  And they asked me to come do a little bit of a try-out and right after that they said ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ Since then I’ve done three TEDx’s as well as all of the public speaking I’ve had the privilege of doing at conferences and workshops.


Steve Waxman: So, you didn’t have to do any pitching initially?

To see the transcript of the full interview go to: imstevewaxman.com

If you’d like to find out more about Greg Hemmings and the work they do at his production company Hemmings House, go to hemmingshouse.com

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creationists podcast on Facebook. Let us know who you’d like to be featured on future episodes of The Creationists: [email protected] 

Show Notes Transcript

One of the things I wanted to explore in this series of interviews was how to create a TEDx Talk.  Coincidently, one day I got an email pitch from Greg Hemmings, a filmmaker in Saint John New Brunswick. As I researched Greg I discovered that not only does he weave social consciousness into his work but he’s also created not one, but three TEDx Talks.

***

Greg Hemmings: It’s interesting because I never thought that I would become a public speaker.  You know, that’s just not something you grow up thinking that you’re going to do. But, as I was growing my business, Hemmings House PIctures, we started producing a lot of interesting documentaries that had a lot of social impact baked in to them. And, when you’re doing filmmaking that has some kind of impact on the community there’s a good chance that the community is going to pay attention and the media might cover you in a little different light. And I started to see a trend of the more interesting things we put out that had a positive impact on the community, the more attention we were given. It turned into one of those things where universities and community colleges would call me and ask me to speak to the classes about storytelling. And that gave me a good bit of confidence about, well, I see all of these other entrepreneurs doing TED Talks and sharing stages at large conferences and as long as I’m speaking about something I know and am passionate about I have no fear of getting on stage. As you know, I’m a musician and have spent many hours on stage playing music in front of people so there’s no issue there. But, after a couple of years of saying “yes” to whatever came my way, I started putting my eyes on the TEDx scene because I’m a huge fan of TED. And you realize that TEDx is a theater into the large TED Conference and most local communities have a TEDx experience.  So, when the University of New Brunswick had a TEDx I immediately jumped up and said ‘Hey, if you guys are ever looking for speakers I’d love to participate.  And they asked me to come do a little bit of a try-out and right after that they said ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ Since then I’ve done three TEDx’s as well as all of the public speaking I’ve had the privilege of doing at conferences and workshops.


Steve Waxman: So, you didn’t have to do any pitching initially?

To see the transcript of the full interview go to: imstevewaxman.com

If you’d like to find out more about Greg Hemmings and the work they do at his production company Hemmings House, go to hemmingshouse.com

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creationists podcast on Facebook. Let us know who you’d like to be featured on future episodes of The Creationists: [email protected] 

One of the things I wanted to explore in this series of interviews was how to create a TED Talk.  Coincidently, one day I got an email pitch from Greg Hemmings, a filmmaker in Saint John New Brunswick. As I researched Greg I discovered that not only does he weave social consciousness into his work but he’s also created not one, but three TEDx Talks.


* * *


Greg Hemmings: It’s interesting because I never thought that I would become a public speaker.  You know, that’s just not something you grow up thinking that you’re going to do. But, as I was growing my business, Hemmings House PIctures, we started producing a lot of interesting documentaries that had a lot of social impact baked in to them. And, when you’re doing filmmaking that has some kind of impact on the community there’s a good chance that the community is going to pay attention and the media might cover you in a little different light. And I started to see a trend of the more interesting things we put out that had a positive impact on the community, the more attention we were given. It turned into one of those things where universities and community colleges would call me and ask me to speak to the classes about storytelling. And that gave me a good bit of confidence about, well, I see all of these other entrepreneurs doing TED Talks and sharing stages at large conferences and as long as I’m speaking about something I know and am passionate about I have no fear of getting on stage. As you know, I’m a musician and have spent many hours on stage playing music in front of people so there’s no issue there. But, after a couple of years of saying “yes” to whatever came my way, I started putting my eyes on the TEDx scene because I’m a huge fan of TED. And you realize that TEDx is a theater into the large TED Conference and most local communities have a TEDx experience.  So, when the University of New Brunswick had a TEDx I immediately jumped up and said ‘Hey, if you guys are ever looking for speakers I’d love to participate.  And they asked me to come do a little bit of a try-out and right after that they said ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ Since then I’ve done three TEDx’s as well as all of the public speaking I’ve had the privilege of doing at conferences and workshops.


Steve Waxman: So, you didn’t have to do any pitching initially? 


Greg Hemmings: No.  In fact, now that I’m remembering, that first one, they came to me. On the second TEDx that I did, it wasn’t so much of a pitch but a practise.  They wanted me to come in to hear, generally what the talk was going to be about. So, I had to run through a sort of rough scratch version of the talk in front of a room with 15 organizers.  They listened to it and said ‘Yeah, that sounds great.’ I think that that was a little bit of a tryout. I didn’t know one way or another but at the end of the day they still invited me up on stage. 


Now, if you are in larger markets it’s far more competence to get on to that stage. So, if you have the advantage of living in a smaller community, that might have more of a startup TEDx, it’s far easier to get on to the stage.  That’s just a little basic hack that anybody can look at.  In fact, some people will actually travel a far distance to get on to a smaller TEDx stage just to get the TEDx experience. You might be from Toronto, for example and this scenario actually happened at the last TEDx that I did. One of the speakers was from Toronto and flew up to Saint John, New Brunswick to do a talk.  What a great way to do it.  If he was waiting to get in line in Toronto, where there are many amazing speakers in markets like that, he might not have gotten a slot.  There are some advantages to living small.


Steve Waxman: So, that’s tip number one on how to get yourself in on a TED Talk. Are there any other tips you can give people either on pitching themselves or presenting?


Greg Hemmings: Yeah.  So, if you have the opportunity to get on a TEDx stage, it’s really important that you’re not doing a “talk.” It’s nothing to do with memorizing or getting a message out there.  It’s something that has to come deeply from your heart and your true experience. Your lived experience. They want authentic stories that are unique and original, absolutely your own. So many of us have gone to so many conferences and have heard so many keynotes that are just canned. They’re performed well but the TEDx organizers want to really open people’s minds and their hearts.  So pitch your concept in a way that the organizers can see that this is a true passion and that the passion is dripping off of you.


I’m not active right now but I’ve been involved with Toastmasters.  Ever since I decided I wanted to be on a TEDx stage, I’ve practised at Toastmasters. It’s a great experience.  Find a local Toastmasters and go once a week and have a coffee and test out your chops. That’s one the=ing.  And two, say “Yes” to as many opportunities to speak as you can. The more you can get comfortable in front of people, the better. That includes universities, community colleges, high schools, whatever. Talk to a tech teacher at a high school if you have something to offer there. I find that educators are always looking for interesting people to come in and support their curriculum. And what a great audience.  Oh my gosh.  If you really want to get a tough audience, go to a grade nine class because they’re just figuring themselves out and they’re all afraid of putting their hands up and engaging. If you can get through a grade nine class and do a half hour lecture, you’re going to do fine on TEDx. (laughs) 


Steve Waxman: That is a fantastic tip. And, I think of all of your tips, that’s the biggest keeper.


Greg Hemmings: yeah, it’s the grade nine strategy.


Steve Waxman: Okay, let’s go back.  What was your first TED Talk?


Greg Hemmings: My first TED Talk was about how we can use film to create positive social change in our community. In that particular case, I was referencing a really cool film project that we did for CBC eleven years ago called “Sistema Revolution.” In Venezuela the have had for 35 - 40 years this incredible life changing after school music program called El Sistema.  If you do a quick Google search you’ll see what it’s all about.  And maestro Jose Abreu was an economist / musician and he started with three kids in a parking garage and it grew into three-quarter of a million kids learning classical music every day after school. These are kids coming out of the barrios.  These are kids without much support economically and it gave them a sense of hope and meaning.  And these kids became internationally renowned for being excellent musicians. But outside of that, excellent citizens. So, the Canadian youth symphony scene had been trying to engage kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity because getting into a symphony is somewhat of a meritocracy. You have to be good if you’re going to get in. But how do you get good at six years old? You get good if your parents have enough money to get a coach or get you lessons.  And most kids coming from low economic backgrounds are not going to have viola coaching at younger ages.  So, there’s a massive portion of the population that will never enjoy performing in a youth orchestra. The New Brunswick Youth Orchestra wanted to fix that and they found out about the Venezuela program.  We went down and we captured just a little bit of film footage of thousands of kids learning classical music at a very high level. We brought that film back and after two years of the president of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra pitching this idea on paper with no success, we brought a little bit of film footage showing the emotion on the kids faces.  Letting people hear the skill level. And, within two months $150,000 came into the project and year one got started. And now, ten or eleven years later it’s a five million dollar project.  It’s going strong with over a thousand kids in New Brunswick who are learning classical music every single day mostly coming from disadvantaged neighbourhoods. So, I told that whole story in my first TEDx…


Steve Waxman: (laughing) Thank you for giving us your whole TEDx Talk.


Greg Hemmings: Yeah, I’m sorry, I just gave the whole thing away. I get so excited about that particular topic because it’s amazing that a developing country could have such an incredible model that the rest of the world has been trying to mimic. Anyhow, I was able to compress that down to saying the power of video, essentially, if you can bring home something from a far away land and show people so that they can hear it and feel it, it’s far more effective in creating positive change. That was what my first one was about.  And, because I had some film footage the TEDx team thought that was great because they were able to actually show some clips of the film in my talk which I don’t see a lot of happening on a TEDx stage but I thought that was another interesting layer as to why they chose me to come on stage.


Steve Waxman: So then you came back for your second talk.  What was that one?


Greg Hemmings: The second talk was about creating The Love Economy. My company is a B Corp and I’ve really been focusing on how do we use capitalism for true positive change. Capitalism does not have to be on a foundation of greed and fear and scarcity. Capitalism can be a platform for real positive things. When I was meditating on this and talking to some friends I asked ‘How do we bring love back into the centre of how we do business?’ You know, true fair value exchange.  How do we do business in ways that the supply chain is not abusing other people or the planet? And I kept coming back to the word “love.” My understanding of “love” is not the antithesis of “hate” but the antithesis is “fear.” So, if you have a fear-based culture, the opposite of that would be a love-based culture. If you have a fear-based economy, the opposite of that would be a love-based economy. You know, there’s nothing unique about my concept. I want to build my business in a loving economy. So, I did my second TED Talk kind of challenging the status quo about our motivations for doing business and making money.  And I use the example of that little block game, Jenga.  Jenga is all about building a very tall tower that eventually crumbles. I would invite everyone to watch that TEDx so that they can see what happens with the Jenga tower if built on the greed model (watch HERE). And I showed a little bit of a different way of doing things with a love economy.  So, that was a really fun talk.  And, for me, doing that one was a little scary because it’s a weird concept for a lot of people - speaking about business that way. I was quite proud of how that one went.


Steve Waxman: Can you talk a little bit about how you prepped for the TED Talk? Especially with regards to The Love Economy.


Greg Hemmings: When I started putting this together, I was just going to do a TED Talk on the B Corp movement. My friend Xav DuBois from California was visiting me and he’s also part of the B Corp movement and I was just sharing some ideas with him and he challenged me, “People have already done talks about what the B Corp movement is. You keep on talking about love and the economy and love in business.  Why don’t you do something about building a loving economy.” And I was, like, ‘Yeah, that’s so much more unique.  That’s what TEDx wants.’ They want unique ideas.  Original ideas. So, I started to bounce the speech back and forth with my buddy and then I shared it with my wife.  And straight up, it’s a written speech but it's all coming from the heart. My style of speaking is very off the cuff, very improvisational. And for TEDx, it’s really important to have your bullet points nailed. So, after I practiced reading it a number of times, I recorded my voice reading it on my iPhone and when I would drive in my car I would just press play and listen to it as much as I could.  And then I would start challenging myself to look at myself in the mirror.  This is a unique and challenging exercise but look in the mirror, directly at your own eyes, and deliver your speech. I do that over and over again. And every time I did my speech into the mirror, I recorded it on my phone. I knew that once I felt good about my delivery, then I knew that the new one would be the next one I would be listening to over and over again.  So, that was my process.  It’s interesting, I’m a drummer, not a singer and I have so much respect and am in awe of people that can remember lyrics.  It’s amazing to me how singer/songwriters can remember so many of their own lyrics. I’m not that person.  I don’t have the strength in remembering things line for line. But this approach helped me and I still have a lot of room to improvise in the moment - to feel the crowd and to see how they’re doing. I really did it in blocks. Every time I practised my speech, sure, the words were a little bit different but the bullets and the blocks were dead on. And that’s my style. I didn’t take any courses.  I just figured that that was something that worked for me.


Steve Waxman: Did the TEDx people give you and help in organizing your talk?


Greg Hemmings: No.  Every TEDx organizing committee does things differently. And, the two universities that I did the three TEDx’s at, over a period of three years, they knew me already.  They had seen me speak already. So, I was very privileged in that aspect. They would send me links but they were generalized TED Conference links and TEDx Conference links - ‘Hey, when preparing a TEDx do this’ and they would give us an email outline.  But, outside of that they pretty much trusted that you would show up and do the job that you said that you were going to do. Now, there are other TED communities where they work with you like coaches. They will work with you for weeks, helping you make sure that your speech just kicks ass. And that’s more of that mature market area that I was telling you about.  Friends of ours did a podcast on preparing for your TEDx speech and some of the people they were interviewing were saying that it was a very robust process working with the TEDx community head to make sure that you nailed it. I think that everyones a little bit different. Now, a TED Conference itself, that’s the upper, upper echelon and I suspect that that’s very structured and everyone knows what you’re going to say before you get on stage.


Steve Waxman: Well, talk about your onstage experience.


Greg Hemmings: In all cases I got to show up early, stand on the stage and do a practise run. This was with everybody else. And I found that very awkward because you have three or four people scattered in the seats, other speakers, the sound guys, the camera guys just fiddling around. Nobody is there meaning to be listening to you. So, you go through it as best that you can but you’re speaking to nobody. And, you’re speaking to other people that you’ll be sharing the stage with. It’s kind of weird. When I got on stage and the real audience was there, that loving energy that you get from a crowd, it just changes everything. You know, they want to hear from you. Every musician can relate to that feeling of ‘Okay, these people actually want to hear what I have to say.’ And, I got confidence with the full room. The only thing I memorize is my opening paragraph and my closer.  That;s it.  Word for word.  Once I get past that first memorized bit, I feel like I get into the flow. 


Interestingly, my last one that I did I felt like I messed up the flow. A number of people that watched it said it was great but what else do you say to your friends when they got off stage.  But I totally mixed up the order of my blocks and it was an absolute result of me not practising as much as I did for the first two. I was really disappointed in my third one which is a shame because it was a very important message. But going back to your question, on that third one, as soon as I realized that I missed a block I started to trip myself out a little bit and I had to reformat my speech in real time and still get back to that missing block otherwise the story wouldn’t have made sense. And I acknowledged it in my speech that this is not a linear presentation and I got through it.  Now, it was not the speech I wanted to give. It’s very possible that people watching thought ‘Yeah, that’s good’ or maybe they hated it.  I’m not sure. But, in response to your question, it’s neat to see when things are going well, the energy’s there and you’re in the flow and it’s still nerve wracking.  You get the butterflies the whole way through.  But, when you make a little mistake and you know why you made the mistake and that you should have done better in practising then you can trip yourself up.  Every single person who has spent time on stage in front of an audience can relate to that, I’m sure.


Steve Waxman: So, what was that third presentation?


Greg Hemmings: I started in the feature film industry, in the unionized camera department.  I was a trainee.  I was a clapper loader. I would hold $100,000 lenses and run them across the set to the first AC to put on to the camera. I would take the film out of the mags in a darkroom or a dark bag and in my hand I would have $25,000 or $40,000 worth of a half hours time on a movie set and if any light would get into it, the whole thing would be ruined and I’m the lowest paid guy on set with one of the highest responsibilities.  Just picture that environment. When you work in that environment, when you work with millions and millions of somebody else's dollars, it’s a very strict inefficient experience. You cannot mess up. But, the culture of cinema, the way movies are made, it’s that top down authority approach and if you don’t have respectful people in that pyramid, things could fall apart really quickly.  And, that’s what happened to me.  I spent a year-and-a-half working on those sets and it just felt so demeaning the way people treated you if you were lower on the ladder. I didn’t stick it out.  I said “Screw this. I want to do something that feeds my soul” which was to make my own films. There’s a big long story as to how I got to that point that involves living on a cargo sailing boat in the Caribbean and South America.  A ship of wood.  No drugs.  No weapons. I learned about the triple bottom line using business for a force for good.  You know, people planet and making a profit. It was the captain, myself and this other guy. That was the business. We were doing everything by wind. So, I went through that whole story about being bullied in a professional setting in the film industry and how I led myself to quit something for the first time in my life which was my career.  It freaked me out. But then, in my soul searching, I found this whole other idea, a way of doing business that led me back to the film industry but this time, with me as the boss and developing the context and the environment I want others to work in. So, that’s what that third speech was about.  It’s not a linear speech.  It should be linear but it was all over the place.  I’d love for you to watch it sometime and let me know what you think.


Steve Waxman: I’ll send you notes. So, you call yourself a musician.  You call yourself a creative.  You call yourself a filmmaker.  So, when people ask “Greg, what do you do for a living,” what do you tell them?


Greg Hemmings: I’m an entrepreneur. I own a business. And that’s it.  Straight up. I do so much more and I’ve always been careful with identities because I’m not a professional musician. I am a professional filmmaker in the sense that I own a film production company and that’s how I make my living. But it took me a long time to say that I’m a filmmaker. I don’t know why. It’s just one of those things. But that’s what I am.  If you want to ask me what I do for a living, I make videos and I make original content for documentaries and for CBC.  We’re doing a massive CBC show right now. We’ve got the cream of the crop Canadian reality TV teams here in New Brunswick right now shooting one of only two TV shows in Canada as we speak. It’s a partnership with Marble Media in Toronto. So, we do TV shows as well. And we work with companies and help them share their stories through commercial videos and social media videos and TV pre-roll.  That kind of thing. But, we’re story tellers at Hemmings House.


* * *


If you’d like to find out more about Greg Hemmings and the work they do at his production company Hemmings House, go to
hemmingshouse.com