Ten things I learnt about doing a TEDx talk (but first of all OMG I DID IT!)


It was a real privilege to be allowed to stand on that famed circle of red carpet last weekend as part of TedX Royal Tunbridge Wells. ‘One for the bucket list’, a friend commented and indeed it was. Friends who know me well will know that this was a BIG THING for me, getting up on a stage and talking (let alone to over 1,000 people). But if I did it, then so can you. So if you’re ever tempted to do something like this here are some of the things I learnt and that helped me prepare, and which might help you too …

1. Do have an idea that you really do want to share. I don’t think anyone should want just to do a public presentation, they should need to share something, and it can be anything – we heard about flesh eating parasites, the power of climbing trees, and the importance of bearing witness to grief. However each of the talks had a point to them, they weren’t just a meditation on a subject.  Thinking hard about the one thing I wanted people to do as a result of hearing me speak – to realise that the words we use everyday can have an impact – really helped me prepare. To be honest, my first draft was just a lecture about dictionaries.

2. Read a book. YAY! Who even needs an excuse?  The two how-to books I found particularly helpful were Viv Groskop’s book How to Own the Room and Caroline Goyder’s Gravitas. There’s also the ‘bible’ – Chris Anderson’s TED talks.

3. Do voice exercises as part of early preparation.  I’m used to reading my work on stage but even so, I always find that my breath goes higher and higher up my body when I get nervous so I end up squeaking even more than usual. What worked for me most was when my actor friend, Michael Shaeffer, suggested I concentrated on the consonants rather than the whole words. Amazingly something as simple as this helped stop my words running into each other AND made me feel more purposeful. It’s so strange how it works, almost as if Michael knows what he’s talking about. We also practiced reading in different accents, the more ridiculous the better. Laughing took away some (not all) of the panic because it felt playful, and this playfulness helped to give me back my voice.

4. Edit, edit, edit so your script is easy to understand. One of the useful points made in Gravitas is to make sure you know exactly how your points link to each other. I’m used to writing for the page so I found I twisted and turned all over the place in my first draft, coming back to certain points again, digressing into others. That’s OK on the page because people can refer back to the paragraph before, but not when it’s being spoken. And when I found myself freezing, it was always when there wasn’t that clear link between one point and the next. I also took away several of the million points I felt I absolutely had to make and guess what – I didn’t miss them.

5. Make the language fluid, and fluent. Reading it out aloud (not just in my head) was the best editor I could have had. I kept asking myself, could I make this easier for myself to read? And every time, I could. I wasn’t quite at ‘unaccustomed as I am to…’ levels but my early drafts did get perilously close to a sermon written by the most pompous vicar you’ve ever heard.

6. Use all the resources available. I was so lucky because the whole team behind Tedx RTW are AMAZING. Just knowing I could call on them was such a comfort, so if you’re doing a talk, then make the most of what the organisers of the event are offering. They are the professionals, they know exactly what they’re doing – and when to do it!


7. Respect your audience. Imagining the audience naked or on the loo doesn’t work for me BUT thinking that every seat was occupied by someone who wanted me to do well was a great help. I think there’s a temptation, especially when you’re nervous, to imagine you are about to enter a gladiator ring with the audience baying for blood (!) so instead I concentrated on how I might explain it to my mum instead, knowing she’d be interested and on my side but still needed to know what it was I was actually on about. She wouldn’t have let me get away with just mumbling, and  besides I wanted her to know what I was saying.

8. Rehearsals are for failing. During the proper technical rehearsals on Friday, I froze, couldn’t remember my words on my first attempt, and actually walked off stage during my second. Reassuringly we were all the same. However, on the actual day everyone was fluent and got through without stumbling – I’m sure there was some magic involved.

9. Practise, practise, practise. I’ve never learnt a script like this before, and for weeks I have been walking around mumbling to myself. I’ve woken up reciting it, recorded myself as I’ve run, performed it to friends via Skype. Only to find that half an hour before I went on stage I COULDN’T REMEMBER ONE WORD. Not one. I thought I might actually die. But muscle memory is a marvellous thing – as soon as I was on stage and I’d said my first sentence, the next came. And the next. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I do know it was as a result of all that mumbling. No amount of practising is ever too much.

10. Remember it’s you speaking, and that you’re enough. As I said, my first draft was a rather turgid lecture albeit filled with hundreds of ‘interesting’ facts other people had found out, and with very little of me in it. Thinking how I would say this to a friend I’d just met up with was helpful – did I really need to go through the whole history of every word ever spoken in order for her to believe me? So once I had my ‘bones’, I went back through and added as much of ‘me’ in it as I could, even if it meant giving up the ‘expert’ role. There is a terrific vulnerability in that. I went through hours of sweating over all that unhelpful ‘who am I to say this’ stuff that the inner critic loves so much. But, going back to point 1 here, ‘Do have an idea that you really do want to share’ made me see that just getting across why I loved and cared about words was enough.

And because of all this, to have people share their own words later made me cry because yes, let’s really make a better word for 2019 than last year’s toxic. We really do deserve better. And on that note, welcome to my TED talk…



Five reasons to go on an artist date

It was Julia Cameron who came up with the idea of making an official artist date in her book, The Artist’s Way. She calls it, ‘a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you.’

Looking all angles

I made a list last year (it’s at the bottom of this post) of more than 50 possible artist’s dates that I could do. I’m a big one for lists like this because I find the more I write possible activities down, the more ideas I have, whereas if I suddenly say, ‘it’s Tuesday, it’s been a week and I need to go on a date’, then I just freeze and can’t think of anything to do. And of course the key words in that quote above are ‘something that interests you.’ Not something I should be doing, or other people think I should be doing.


So how did it go? And what did I learn? Well, I didn’t get a tattoo. Not yet. But I did make a pinterest board of what I might be like when I’m 80, I went on a guided walk, sat in on a jury trial, planted seeds, learnt a poem by heart, enjoyed a (more than one) excellent breakfast, and many more things. I’ve picked out those above because I don’t think I would have consciously done them if it hadn’t been for my list.


Did it make me a better artist? Not sure, but here are five of the things I think it did give me. All of which are important, not just for an artist, or a writer, but being alive!

  1. It made me try something new and that was good for me. 
  2. I was aware more while I was doing it – I didn’t just go to a cafe for example, but chose the cafe carefully, chose what I was eating. I was generally more mindful.
  3. I travelled out of my comfort zone – which allowed me to realise I could do that and not actually die. Always a plus.
  4. Writing the list in advance and choosing what to do gave me have an element of control over what I did want to do, and what just felt like a nice idea.
  5. I could do these things on my own, and that gave an element of spontaneity which I liked.

Most of all though, it got me making things – wonky, odd, not perfect things (like my plates below) just for the joy of making. I must admit I was surprised to realise I hadn’t been letting myself do this for some time.

So dive in… the water’s lovely.


You can write your own list or copy mine, and I’ll be cheering you on. 

(These wonderful girls above are supporting their team at the Women’s Hockey – something that wasn’t on my list and I’d never have gone to if it hadn’t been for this idea! I’ve kept this video and imagine it’s me they’re shouting for whenever I’m starting something new! Let me know how you get on.)

Sarah’s list of Artist’s Dates for 2018… 

  1. Write a list of 100 things that would terrify me to do (eg do a stand up comedy act)
  2. Have a fancy cocktail in a bar on my own
  3. Pick a letter – any letter – and go for a walk to take photographs of things beginning with that letter.
  4. Bake bread
  5. Swim in a river
  6. Swim in a lido
  7. Make a herb garden
  8. Take my yoga mat to a park and practise under a tree
  9. Buy five books from a charity shop, write a note in each and leave them for others to find
  10. Go to a new café and enjoy an excellent breakfast
  11. Pack a yummy picnic and a good book to go to a new park, roll out a rug and enjoy
  12. Visit the RFL poetry library and choose five books at random to read
  13. Make a list of London libraries – go to one I’ve never visited
  14. Join in on a life-drawing class
  15. Make the kind of dressing up box I wanted as a child
  16. Take a selfie dressed as the main character of a book I’m reading
  17. Make biscuits and give to friends
  18. Go to a public lecture about a subject I know nothing about (not hard!)
  19. Visit a cemetery I haven’t been to before and make notes
  20. Write a fan letter. Send
  21. Enjoy an afternoon watching TED talks
  22. Go to a concert of a completely new music to me
  23. Take a boat trip
  24. Paint or draw a self portrait
  25. Write a letter to someone I haven’t seen for ten years
  26. Make a playlist of music I haven’t listened to for ten years
  27. Plan a road trip round childhood haunts
  28. Make a list of 100 things that make me happy
  29. Make a miniature garden
  30. Go to a candlelit concert at St Martins
  31. Learn a poem by heart
  32. Record myself reading poetry
  33. Go on a guided walk
  34. Go to a café and plot out a novel I’ll never write
  35. Dance
  36. Go foraging
  37. Make a list of at least five strangers I speak to today
  38. Plant seeds
  39. Buy seeds (or visit a seed swap) and make beautiful seed packets to send to friends
  40. Got to a chocolate shop and spend a long time choosing just five chocolates to buy
  41. Have my own indoor fireworks show
  42. Make a photo book of the photographs that make me happy
  43. Get a tattoo
  44. Go to a matinee
  45. Create a vision board on Pinterest for me when I’m 80
  46. Create a playlist to give to a friend
  47. Buy a second hand book and create a Blackout poem
  48. Go to 5 Rhythms dance
  49. Go to a park and identify five trees – make a zine
  50. Try on an outfit I’d never be able to afford
  51. Sit in on a jury trial
  52. Go to the opera – research fully beforehand
  53. Go to a lunchtime talk at the National Gallery
  54. Go to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
  55. Find the perfect red lipstick
  56. Go to Strawberry Hill
  57. Take note of, and research, the statues I walk past every day
  58. Go to a market – choose interesting looking items, make a still life. Photograph it.