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TEDxDePaulUniversity alum shares experience, advice for 2022 applicants

Coya Paz stands on stage giving her TEDxDePaulUniversity Talk
Interim Dean of The Theatre School and 2021 TEDxDePaulUniversity speaker, Coya Paz, reflects on her time on the signature red carpet and gives her advice to those interested in applying for the 2022 event. (Randall Spriggs/DePaul University)

On Oct. 19, Newsline announced the 2022 TEDxDePaulUniversity theme, Metamorphosis, and a call of speakers.

At the 2021 TEDxDePaulUniversity event, Coya Paz, interim dean of The Theatre School, stood on the signature circle red carpet, outlining three different ghost story categories and their importance. Her talk was so compelling that it caught the attention of world-renowned, idea-generating non-profit organization, TED. The organization republished Paz's talk on their platforms including YouTube, e-newsletters and social media, garnering over 420,000 views and placing a global spotlight on Paz's academic pursuit — ghost stories.

In this Q&A, Paz shares her experience and provides advice to those hoping to share a talk in the 2022 event.

TED is highly selective when choosing TEDx Talks to feature on its global platform. What was your reaction when you heard your talk was selected?

I was honored and very excited. I'm used to engaging with relatively small audiences – most academic work has a niche following – but this is a global stage.

What was one challenge you overcame while developing your talk?

My topic is interesting to me, but I'm used to talking to students and conference audiences who already opted-in to hearing what I have to say. In this case, I had to make it accessible and intriguing to people who haven't spent time thinking about why ghost stories are interesting. That's humbling for those of us who are used to being experts in our field. If someone doesn't know they should care about the field, how do we hook them? 

Did you learn anything about yourself? Perhaps during the development process or while recording?

I'm a very confident public speaker, but I'm used to speaking "off the cuff." Because TEDx Talks must meet certain guidelines, and be clear and factual, my talk had to be memorized. As it turns out, memorizing things verbatim and making it sound natural is hard! I'm in theater, so I knew that theoretically, but I'm a director so I don't memorize lines. I came out of this with increased empathy for people who do this every day.

Did being a TEDxDePaulUniversity speaker help you grow professionally or personally? Did it introduce you to any new opportunities?

The best part about doing TEDxDePaulUniversity was getting to work with the team that puts it together, as well as meeting other people in the DePaul community who were all talking about very interesting things. While our talks were all centered around the theme, The Unexpected, they were really different from each other. I loved that process.

Being a TEDxDePaulUniversity speaker helped me be more confident in public with my interest in ghost stories. TEDx is a respected venue so now it's easier to point to my talk and say, "See? Ghost stories are a serious topic!"

What advice would you give to those who are applying to be a TEDxDePaulUniversity speaker?

Spend some time asking yourself, "What's the 'so what?'" The topic may be important and interesting to you, but why should it matter to others? Focus on that in your application. What makes this an idea other people would want to engage with? What world changes will people think about from your talk?

Everyone has a good answer to this. You just need to find it. 

What would you say to students, faculty and staff who may be hesitant to apply to be a TEDxDePaulUniversity speaker?

The whole TEDxDePaulUniversity team is thoughtful, supportive and rooting for you. It is an incredibly affirming and reflective experience. Their feedback is kind but also razor sharp, and there is something great about taking your area of expertise outside your comfort zone. 

Interested in applying?

All DePaul students, faculty, staff and alumni are invited to apply to be a 2022 TEDxDePaulUniversity speaker. Applications are due by Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. and must relate to this year's theme, Metamorphosis. For more information, visit Newsline.​