My Journey With TEDxToronto

ThresholdsSPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR: Drew Dudley, Past Speaker & Conference Host of TEDxToronto

Hours before my first TEDxToronto talk in 2010, I destroyed my only decent pair of shoes. A few weeks earlier I had quit my job, and sunk every penny I had (and that VISA would allow me to pretend to have) into my start-up. So, when the heel tore off my left shoe, I didn’t have much of a choice – I found a stapler and MacGyver’d up the best solution I could.

My students in the Leadership Program at the University of Toronto had pushed me into applying to be a speaker. I resisted, intimidated by those three big red letters. I told them that TED stages were for the “big timers”, and I was, after all, just “a part-time speaker”.

Ironically, I had also told them that I would never accept them using the word “just” to describe themselves. “Every time you say you’re ‘just’ something, you give everyone, including yourself, permission to expect less from you,” I said. They were quick to remind me of that.

And so, that day in September of 2010, I stood backstage, debt up to my eyeballs, completely uncertain about what the future held – in a pair of stapled-together shoes. I don’t remember much about the six minutes that followed, but I’m reminded every day of what they added to my life.

In the front row was a fellow speaker whose supportive smile helped me through the talk, and whose adventures motivate me to this day. During the lunch break, I met a young woman whose grace through a battle with cancer has continually inspired me in the years since. I received an email shortly after from a delegate that simply said, “a year from now, you and I will be great friends”. I am so lucky that he turned out to be right.

The final speaker that day had brought his new speaking agents to see his talk. By the end of the next day, they were my agents as well – and have helped me spread my ideas to people all over the world.

I have returned twice as the host of TEDxToronto, and each time, I am reminded of the powerful impact the conference has on everyone involved – speakers, delegates, organizers, and those watching around the world. Each story, idea and interaction contributes to the remarkable connections that are inevitably forged from conference day onward.

On October 22nd, a new chapter in the TEDxToronto story will be written, and it will be a place where friendships are forged (there have been at least two TEDxToronto marriages that I’m aware of!), and powerful ideas are spread. Each TEDxToronto conference has exposed me to incredible new perspectives, but more importantly, extraordinary people. I encourage you to be a part of the experience.

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