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The story behind TIMtalks by Maggie L. '12

In other words, a story about stories

This semester, a great thing was born. MIT hosted its first annual “TIMtalks”, in which MIT students who have invented, implemented, succeeded, or failed at a wide range of ventures or ideas told their stories. Inspired by the wildly popular TED talks, the “TIM” in TIMtalks stands for “Think. Inspire. Motivate.”

There has already been some coverage of the event through The Tech, the MIT News Office and the Alumni Association, but as one of the handful of inaugural TIMtalks speakers, I got a unique perspective on how this initiative developed and the people who helped make it happen. I included videos of the talks in this entry, and I highly encourage you to watch as many as you can because they show what MIT students are all about. Maybe all you need is a 10-15 minute story to get you motivated for the summer!

According to Anjali ‘12, the Director and Founder of TIMtalks, “TIMtalks was created as a forum to practice and learn to communicate as the change agents that we all will be, but also to discuss failures and challenges along the way as a community-building exercise to build a culture of accepting failure.”

As Anjali enthusiastically explained over e-mail, “I sent emails to the Chancellor and a lot of deans, directors, and MIT Corporation people, and within three hours of sending the email, we had raked in ~$9000 in funding. It was one of the most inspiring days of my MIT career, to see the entire community come together so quickly to support something that they really believed had potential to positively impact our students. That was one of those ‘ah-hah!!!’ moments for me at MIT that made me realize why I loved this place so much.”

Next, she assembled her TIMteam: Omar ’12 and Samvaran ’12: “I got them on board in early April, and it was wonderful. I remember one night when the three of us were working on getting the website and applications up. We literally sat in the student center by Dunkin Donuts from 4 pm to 4 am and just pushed out so much work to get the website ready for the launch. We bonded over so many things, and we learned so much from each other!”

Omar said he was excited to be involved in such an event: “I was particularly concerned with the lack of forums for undergrads to come together to share interesting ideas or amazing things they had struggled to accomplish. It was something that had bothered me for some time and when I heard Anjali was starting such a program, I knew I wanted to be part of it.”

Sometime during the spring semester, Anjali and I sat near each other during a dinner at a nearby cafe. I overheard her explaining the idea she had for TIMtalks, and was instantly hooked.

Public speaking is a big passion of mine, and I could tell this was going to be an innovative, inspiring event for the MIT community. So, as soon as the website went live, I submitted my application, including a sound recording of me giving an excerpt from my talk, which I titled “comMITment.”

Within a few weeks, the speakers were chosen: Samvaran would emcee, Anjali and Omar would give two of the speeches, and Kanjun, Noam, and I would be the speakers at the inaugural TIMtalks on May 18!

Flashing forward to two days before the event, I sat in the office of Kim Benard of MIT’s Global Education and Career Development Office to have her read the first draft of my speech. I liked where the talk was going, but I didn’t know what my overall message was. It just seemed like a lot of random thoughts strung together on a piece of paper.

Kim identified a few themes that stood out—including the support web on MIT’s campus—and gave me the idea of illustrating the support found at MIT during my talk. Okay, we were getting somewhere.

This was a crazy week for all of us, and TIMtalks were smack in the middle of it all on Wednesday evening. With the semester winding down, we had other projects (for example, Noam had two 40-page papers that week, Omar had another speech to memorize the night before), so it was honestly no surprise that none of us had our speeches finished at our dress rehearsal Monday night.

Instead, we just talked about our ideas for our talks, and it was amazing to hear the diversity of perspectives. Leaving that meeting, I was apprehensive of my yet-to-be-written speech, but I knew TIM talks was going to be an incredible event.

I stayed up late into the night finishing my speech, and printed it. All Tuesday I kept that copy in my pocket and pulled it out whenever I had downtime between classes. All five of us had a little over 24 hours to memorize our speeches that were supposed to inspire the MIT community and beyond. That night, I practiced anywhere that was quiet and could hold an audience: the MIT chapel, the Stata center, a random classroom. Two, three, four recitations at each location later, I was starting to get it, which was good because it was already past 1:00 am and I was dragging from a week’s worth of sleep deprivation, which is not exactly what my memory needed.

Before the event began, Anjali pulled us into a little huddle, where she reassured us that it was going to be a great event and that she was already so amazed with how the event planning had come together. The five of us went into TIMtalks having never practiced our speeches together as a group, so I had no idea what to expect.

comMITment

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Omar had a similar experience while practicing. “Early on, I knew what idea I wanted to present to the MIT community but as the event approached and I actually had to write out a speech, I quickly realized how hard it would be to convey my story in 12 minutes. …My speech changed literally five times before the day of the event, meaning I had more or less a few hours the night before to memorize it. In addition to TIMtalks the next day, I had two other presentations, one of which was a 15 minute talk that I also had to memorize. Needless to say, the night before was frantic and stressful as I paced back and forth through my apartment memorizing my two speeches. …The next day, I hardly paid attention to my classes as I was going over my speeches in my head. Although many times, my two speeches blended together by accident as I practiced, I luckily pulled off my speech at TIMtalks without any problems.”

Drugging the Undruggable: The Road Not Taken

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Kanjun, too, practiced as much as she could before the event. “On the day of the talk, I was in lab, and really needed to practice. So to do dry runs, I locked myself in the lab’s only empty room, which happened to be the room with the laser cutter, 3-D printer, and a variety of other machining tools. Talk about an interesting audience,” Kanjun said.

Expanding the Culture of Computing

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Anjali had pulled several all-nighters the week before the big day, so her energy was low by the time Wednesday came around. She finished her speech at 3:30 AM on Wednesday, and went to see Kim Benard later that day.

At that meeting, Anjlai said she had a mini-break down: “I wasn’t sure how everything was going to happen. [Kim] was perfect: she sympathized with me for about five minutes and told me everything would be okay and that the event was going to go great, but made me realize that I actually needed to have a talk for the event to start off well! She grabbed my printout from me and forced me to give my talk by memory. So I did, and I stumbled a lot and begged to see the sheet, but she wouldn’t let me. So I did it a few times until the fourth time when my talk actually started sounding like a talk!

“That was exactly what I needed: somebody to help me focus on my talk rather than the event in general. During my next few class periods, I just kept going over the main topics and punch lines until I felt more comfortable.”

It was obvious to see the emotion in Anjali’s email to me about the hours before TIMtalks: “When I walked to Kirsch, it was NOTHING like what I had expected. I had been working with Larry Gallagher and MIT AMPS for the weeks preceding the event, but I hadn’t envisioned the event looking so. freaking. SPECTACULAR!…That got the energy flowing, I think in everybody! We chatted with Chancellor Grimson before the event, and the whole force of people who came together to make that day possible was just wonderful!”

Conquering the Imposter Syndrome: The Inspiration for TIMtalks

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According to Noam, “It was an interesting experience for me, because to be honest I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten so much positive feedback at one time. [It was a] huge confidence booster, and speaking at the event itself was so exhilarating! I loved every second of it. One of my friends even e-mailed me ‘Noam, you’re going to be President.’… That was so incredible to hear.”

Do Now

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In fact, each of us feels like a mini-celebrity on campus. Noam loved the feedback from the event: “I received a humongous amount of e-mails, half of Israel found out after my mom e-mailed the extended family (and posted it on Facebook for all her Israeli home girls to see), and I had someone stop me on the street and ask me if I was Noam Angrist, from TIMtalks: ‘Your talk was awesome. Just wanted to let you know and introduce myself.’ That was so cool.”

Kanjun, too, found it to be a memorable experience: “I wanted to participate because I think there are important things that the general MIT community experiences but never thinks about, and it’s about time somebody talked about these issues in a more public way.

“Post-TIMTalks, I’ve gotten emails from a bunch of people asking everything from how to engage young girls in their field to how to deal with MIT culture,” she said.

This has been an incredible journey for those of us involved in TIMtalks, and I am so excited to see where this event goes from here. Anjali’s already planning for next year’s TIMtalks, which I’m sure will be just as inspiring and insightful as the first. In case you’re interested, the entire collection of TIMtalks videos are available here.