How Dr Danish Kazmi made a geotechnical TEDx Talk accessible

Danish Kazmi standing in the red circle on stage delivering his TEDx Talk at TEDxBrisbane.

Crafting and delivering a top-quality TEDx Talk is hard work for anyone. There are challenges for every speaker that they need to navigate and hurdles to overcome. These can include a fear of public speaking, ‘imposter syndrome’ or its equally problematic opposite – charismatic overconfidence, physical challenges with being on stage including temperature regulation, breathing capacity and memory, challenges associated with being neuro distinct, or mental and emotional challenges – to name just a few.

There is one challenge that is significant but often underappreciated. It’s the challenge faced by experts in highly technical fields seeking to present their ideas to a general audience. They need to take a heavily technical subject that might have taken them decades to understand, often groaning under the weight of jargon and assumed knowledge, and make it relevant, accessible and engaging for a general audience. But, even more than that – if it’s a game-changing talk (the kind we love at TEDxBrisbane), they must also inspire the audience to take action. Otherwise, they’re just flapping their gums.

Some technical subject matter experts struggle to communicate their ideas well to an audience of regular humans. And that is entirely understandable. Professors, lecturers and researchers in technical fields have spent years delivering lectures to students, writing for peer-reviewed academic journals, and giving conference presentations to people in the same field, who speak the same industry language, and who don’t even realise they are using jargon.

Technical experts rise to the challenge of persuasive communication with varying degrees of success. Factors that influence the extent to which they succeed include their acceptance that a communication issue exists, their commitment to being (or becoming) strong communicators, and their willingness to accept advice and help from communications experts.

Danish Kazmi’s TEDx Talk from TEDxBrisbane is a fantastic example of a technical expert making the crossover to sharing his idea with a general, diverse audience and doing it well.

Danish Kazmi wearing a yellow polo short delivering his TEDx Talk with both hands raised in front of him emphasising a point.
Photo credit: Josh & Anna Photography

From Day 1 of speaker training, Danish was dedicated to ensuring his talk would inform and inspire the audience because he is passionate about making a difference for the environment, the planet and future generations. He embraced opportunities to eliminate jargon and to make the script more accessible and relatable with a combination of humour and human moments. Danish and I looked at the script through our distinct tech and non-tech lenses. But our shared goal for the talk meant we could collaborate, negotiate and lock the script in relatively quickly.

Understanding that the performance of the talk was a vital part of communicating his idea effectively, Danish threw himself into memorising it. He was the first in the 2022 speaker cohort to have his talk fully memorised, well ahead of time, which completely freaked out several of his fellow speakers who were still wrangling their scripts into place. At each speaker briefing, he would perform the talk for his fellow speakers, a fantastic pool of passionate, talented and inspiring individuals in their own right. And at each meeting, his delivery, including his pacing and tone, got better and better.

Danish was crushing it – including emphatically delivering the ‘Crush it’ line in his talk (about crushing waste glass), which led to him earning his new nickname of ‘Crusher’, which was lovingly and enthusiastically bestowed by Olympian Libby Trickett and embraced by the whole speaker cohort. We were all jealous. Who doesn’t want a nickname gifted to them by Libby Trickett?

Danish Kazmi swearing a yellow polo stands smiling in the Green Room with other speakers at TEDxBrisbane 2022
Photo credit: Josh & Anna Photography

Danish stepped onto the stage at TEDxBrisbane and delivered a fantastic performance. And as I tell all my coaching clients – your speech is a performance; if it wasn’t, you’d just send the information by email.

To be frank, highly-technical engineering-based talks can be a hit-and-miss endeavour in terms of audience love and engagement at any broad-topic conference or ideas festival. I don’t want to offend all the engineers out there, but topics like civil and geotechnical engineering, as it relates to sand, aren’t automatically as exciting and sexy sounding as some of you might think. Talks on these kinds of topics have to be special to draw the audience in and make them understand and care.

Danish did these things beautifully. I knew it was a great talk, but I was thrilled and genuinely surprised by the sheer number of people who came to me afterwards and said this was one of the standout talks for them. People who have no technical backgrounds but who clearly understood what his idea worth spreading was, why it was important, and what they should do about it.

Danish Kazmi speaking to a blonde audience member at the Speaker Spot
Photo credit: James Barnard

One of my favourite comments was from someone in the advertising and marketing space who said to me, “I usually use the time during the engineering style talks to check my phone because they aren’t the talks that interest me. But his talk grabbed me. I was captivated, and I’ve told more people about the details of that talk than any other I saw on the day.”

So, if you are a professor, a lecturer, a researcher or a practitioner in a technical field, and you’re looking to speak to an audience made up of people outside your field – do what you can to be like Crusher!

You can watch Danish Kazmi’s TEDx Talk here, with the releases of all the 2022 TEDxBrisbane speaker talks coming soon.

Danish Kazmi delivers his TEDx Talk

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