11 April 2023

Are you Canberra's next TEDx speaker?

| Dione David
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Andrew Pfeiffer

Andrew Pfeiffer spoke at the TEDxCanberra event after wowing organisers at the TEDxCanberra 2022 Open Mic Night. Photo: TEDxCanberra.

In 2022, doors started opening up fast after Andrew Pfeiffer delivered a passionate and suitably logical TEDx talk at Canberra’s flagship event titled Neurodiversity: the untapped competitive advantage.

“Have you ever tackled a problem where the solution seems so close and yet just out of reach?” the talk started.

“… For me, that problem was my life.”

Andrew went on to share his discovery that he was autistic and explore the profound strengths of the neurodivergent while highlighting the inherent waste of talent and capacity in their unemployment levels.

He explained how “organisations that become employers of choice for neurodivergent staff would have a profound competitive advantage”.

The talk racked up thousands of views on YouTube and became a vital springboard for spreading the idea – and it all sprang from his participation in the TEDxCanberra Open Mic Night earlier that year.

READ ALSO Calls for greater APS acceptance of neurodivergent staff

While most TEDx presenters are invited to speak as established subject matter experts, the Open Mic Nights are one of the ways TEDxCanberra casts a wide net to haul in “ideas worth spreading”.

Community members from all walks of life apply online and, if selected to pitch, are given three minutes on the TEDx stage to share their idea with the audience, which includes TEDxCanberra speaking coaches.

Topics are evaluated for their ability to stimulate, provoke and inspire audiences to share ideas and generate discussion.

Those identified as the most interesting and relevant to the Canberra community, which “make the world a better place”, make the cut.

“I thought neurodiversity inclusion fit the bill,” Andrew says.

“It’s an important thing for people to know, understand and then take away and respond to in their organisations and their lives.”

TEDx Open Mic participation introduces speakers to Canberra’s TEDx community and often leads to opportunities for them to spread their ideas at TEDxCanberra events, as was the case for Andrew.

“I treated it as an audition for the flagship event,” he says.

Andrew Pfeiffer

Andrew spoke about the under-tapped advantages of neurodivergent staff in the workplace. Photo: TEDxCanberra.

After his participation in the flagship event, Andrew noticed an uptick in invitations to deliver his important message to other audiences.

As a data scientist, he cautions against confusing correlation and causation but says some of these invitations were definitely a direct result of his TEDx involvement.

That included a follow-up TEDxCanberra panel that Andrew helped organise as a platform for diverse neurodivergent Canberrans to share their perspectives on the topic.

More recently he received an invitation to speak at Autism Awareness Australia’s AUStism event, where he met former Olympian Jana Pittman and sociologist and author Judy Singer, who coined the term “neurodiversity”.

These days for Andrew, who has participated in Toastmasters International events and gave an internal TEDx presentation in 2017 for a former employer, public speaking provides an “adrenaline rush”. The nerves are there, but it’s worth it.

“Public speaking is a valuable skill, one that has leverage in so many contexts, whether it’s a job interview, workplace presentations or TED talks,” he says.

“Preparation helps.”

READ ALSO TEDxCanberra speaker reveals what we fail to learn in schools

Andrew recommends reading TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by the head of TED Chris Anderson.

“It encourages you to think about the ‘throughline’ – the main idea on which everything else hangs,” Andrew says.

“It also outlines strategies to speak without needing notes. The way I do it is to script my talk first, then rehearse it, then distil it into bullet points and rehearse it again and again, with fewer and fewer notes until I can do it without any notes at all.

“That’s kind of terrifying because if you have a mental blank, you have nothing to fall back on. But the advantage is your delivery becomes more candid, natural and engaging.”

But as important as preparation is backing yourself as the best conduit of your own idea.

“I do get imposter syndrome when it comes to speaking sometimes. Certainly I don’t want it to be about me; I want the focus to be on the idea,” Andrew says.

“But the thing about a new idea is, someone has to share it – so why not you?”

The TEDxCanberra 2023 Open Mic Night will take place on 4 May from 7 to 8:30 pm at Louie Louie, Verity Ln, Canberra.

The event is free for both speakers and audience members – register here. Applications for speakers close on 20 April.

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