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Ryan Cunningham for TEDxOkoboji's 1st Annual Conference

November 18th, 2019 | Meet the Speakers

Ryan Cunningham

"Blurring the Boundaries"

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // 22 November 2019

Happy Birthday, TEDx is a Verb, and Ninja Warp Walls.

What an adventure preparing for this talk has been.  About a month ago, Will and I pretty much finalized our TEDx script and felt we were well ahead of the game.  We had weeks before the talk, with plenty of time to prepare. We were golden.

But then reality hit.  We received an excellent article on preparing for a TED Talk by Tim Urban called Doing a TED Talk: The Full Story.  In this article, he breaks down the levels of preparation you can take to get ready for a TED Talk.

Level #1 – Wing it.  In the article he says this is for the very self-confident and very good.  Well, that’s not me, so winging the talk was not going to be my reality.

 Level #2 – Talk through a set structure.  Initially, I thought this was for me. This is how I prepare for every talk I have ever given.  You just develop a few talking points, maybe a few rehearsed lines or jokes, and roll from there.  But as I read on, I quickly realized this would not work. TED talks need to hit a certain mark for time while packing in the most dynamic content.  A set structure may be great, but it allows too much variability in regards to time and the content that is included. That’s not the vision for TED.  TED talks need to be precise and powerfully punched to get the most out of the time allowed. And with the added variable of talking with a partner, going off a set structure just wouldn’t do.

Which leaves only Level #3 – Follow an exact script.  Not just reading the script, but having it memorized to the point of Happy Birthday.  When you are nervous, you can forget lines to the Star Spangled Banner or the lines to one of your favorite tunes, but you don’t forget Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday is seared in your brain.   You can sing the words by yourself in the shower or in front of one million people when the pressure is on. The words are just there. In the article it said almost 90% of TED talkers take this route.  So I figured that was the best choice to ensure success and I took door number three.  

Once I set my mind to getting to the Happy Birthday level, it was on.  I was focused, I was ready, I was willing to spend every extra minute thinking through the script to fully commit it to memory.  Yet, since this was a collaborative talk, I needed a partner that would help with the other half of the talk. And since it wasn’t practical for Will and I to be together 24/7, I turned to my loving and willing family. They are certainly loving and willing, but my brain doesn’t work like it did 20 years ago, so I needed an exceptional amount of their time to help get me where I needed to be.   After hours of service, their willingness has (mostly) remained, and now when they see me coming they say, “Watch out, you are about to get TEDxed by Dad!” TEDx has transformed into a verb in our house. In fact, there are some in my family that could probably deliver the talk better than I could as they have it down cold!

And thank goodness we got on the ball when we did, because late in the game, just 13 days ago, a final hurdle, or more accurately, ninja warp wall, presented itself.  

With winter hitting a bit early, our family just needed to get away, so we thought a day trip to Sioux Falls with family time at SkyZone Trampoline Park would be just what we needed.  And it was great, until I thought it was time to put myself to the test and run up the ninja warp wall. I psyched myself up, took a deep breath, and gave it my all. And I would have made it had it not been for that mysterious, invisible ninja who came along and whacked me in the back of the heel.  And I haven’t walked since. My achilles went kaput, and less than 72 hours ago I went in for surgery. I sit now, with my toes above my nose, working on healing up for next week’s talk.


I am so glad I prepared in advance and have such an amazing support team, as now I have the talk committed to memory and can fully relax while I recover.  Despite the injury, I am still pumped to give the talk. I’ll be on my knee scooter, in the red circle with my great partner Will, with the support of all my family, friends, coaches, and excellent medical staff who helped me get to this point.  

It’s been an adventure but it’s also made for a great story.  I look forward to writing the last part of the story next week as we all congregate together to share our ideas and learn from one another.  I can’t wait to see you all soon. Until then I’ll be at home resting and fending off any invisible ninjas who think they can get the best of me.  Not gonna happen. It’s time to TEDx!

Ryan Cunningham for TEDxOkoboji's 1st Annual Conference

September 4th, 2019 | Meet the Speakers

Ryan Cunningham

"Blurring the Boundaries"

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // 22 November 2019

If you’ve ever been a homeowner, then you likely know questions arise that need answering.  Why won’t this faucet stop dripping? Why won’t the garage door shut? Where is that smell coming from?  Whoops, just dropped a bucket of paint on the carpet, now what? Based on your background knowledge, some of these questions may be easy for you to answer, but what do you do when you don’t have the answer?  

If you are like me, you turn to your most trusted resources. In my first years of homeownership, my options were primarily close family and friends.  In the past decade, YouTube has been an amazing addition to my contacts. Without the help of others, I’m not sure how I would have fixed most every major issue that has come my way in the life of homeownership.  It’s quite humbling how little I could have accomplished on my own.

As I prepare for this TED talk, I feel the same way.  I reflect on everyone who has been a part of shaping the idea.  If you know me fairly well, you know I’m a verbal processor. I’ll wrestle with a question or a problem for days, weeks, or months through countless conversations.  These conversations shaped the idea that we can’t do it alone. Fittingly, had Will, my co-TEDx talker, not given me a call to ask if I’d be interested in sharing our idea, I would likely be an audience member rather than stepping onto the TEDx red circle.  Again, we can’t always do it alone.  

I look forward with a mix of excitement and nervousness to the TEDx speaking experience.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how much support we have to help prepare this talk. From the TEDxOkoboji organizational team to our own TEDx talk coach, there are so many people willing and working hard to ensure all the upcoming TEDxOkoboji talks will shine.  I don’t think the nervousness for me will likely go away until after the talk is complete, but it’s nice to know they are in our corner.   

And with that, I am hopeful we can bring a talk to life that will help you see how collaboration has the power to transform education and our community.

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // Friday November 22, 2019