Paul Thomas MD at TEDxDetroit

This week I was invited to speak at TEDxDetroit! It was held on Thursday evening at the Charles H. Wright Museum for African American History and it was an amazing event. For those of you who don't know, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. 

From their website, TED is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 110 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

TEDxDetroit is one of those independently-organized events that brought together thought leaders in Detroit and Southeast Michigan. The topic: ideas worth spreading. 

It was an honor to be selected and an honor to share the stage with innovators like Kimberly Dowdell of Century Partners, Jon Rimanelli of AirSpaceX, and Marlin Williams of SistersCode

About Being Selected

I attended last year's TEDxDetroit event at the Fox Theater and I signed up for their mailing list, followed them on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. The 2016 event was inspiring and I knew that I'd want to take part in future events. When the call for presentation proposals came out through their email and social media channels, I jumped at the chance to sign up!

I believe that health care should be affordable and accessible for everyone, and I believe that idea is worth spreading. About 2 weeks after applying, I heard back! I was floored that I had been selected as a presenter for the 2017 event!

The Preparation

I started to prepare almost as soon as I found out that I had been selected. I had been wanting to read the book Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo for a while, and this was the impetus to do it! It took me about 4 days, but I went through the book once, and then re-read the first half before the event. 

There are basically 9 key points to giving an excellent TED talk, according to the author Carmine Gallo. Three that resonated with me are as follows: share your passion, tell a story, and lighten up! 

As you may know, I am passionate about Detroit, health care and family medicine and I needed to tap into that passion to deliver an excellent TED talk. I also had to find a way to weave the facts and figures that are pertinent to primary care medicine into a story about primary care medicine. Finally, I had to keep it light! I injected some humor about my childhood and my desires to become a doctor as I grew up!

It took me about 5 days to work up the chutzpah to write the first draft, 2 days to write it, and then 1 day to craft the accompanying power point presentation. 

After all that was done, I gave the presentation to a receptive audience online. I recorded myself giving the presentation with accompanying slides and then uploaded that presentation to a community of 1,000 Direct Primary Care doctors on Facebook.

They liked it. It was obvious that my passion was coming across strongly, and I had a clear thesis: Health care should be affordable and accessible for everyone.

2017 Paul Thomas MD TEDxDetroit Health Care.jpg

However, the story telling element was not as strong as it could have been and it was almost depressing! One of my colleagues told me that I should tell a few more jokes and another told me to strengthen the story. 

So, for the talk, I inserted a joke about how I wanted to be a ninja turtle growing up. The joke was well captured by Twitter user @_AlexanderJohn:

2017 Dr. Paul Thomas TEDxDetroit.png

I also told some personal stories about my family and my grandfather and his experiences in the health care ecosystem. This gave my presentation an emotional component and allowed the audience to identify and empathize with the story that I was telling. It also allowed me to weave in some facts without overloading everyone with stats and data.

In short, the night before the TEDxDetroit presentation, I completely re-wrote my original draft. This was on Wednesday night - the presentation was on Thursday! I took a few hours to re-work my slide show to sync up with the new version.

I spent all day Thursday memorizing my presentation. By forcing myself to memorize the presentation, I forced myself to raise my game as a public speaker. You see, I've never given a presentation from total memory before. I've spoken during lectures from the heart and delivered content from memory that synced up with certain slides and I've given hour-long presentations like this.

But, having only 8 minutes, I didn't have any time to meander to get to the points I wanted to get to. My timing and pacing had to be perfect! Therefore, the presentation needed to be memorized.

The night of the event

The night of the event was nerve wracking! Around 3 pm, I gave my presentation to an empty house, and I totally bombed. I just didn't have the presentation memorized well enough. It was literally just the sound guy and a handful of other presenters, and I choked. 

So, from that dry run at 3 pm until showtime at 6 pm I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed.

At showtime, I tried not to look at the packed house before I got on stage. It was a crazy experience looking up after taking the stage at a full house, everyone leaning forward in their chairs, quiet enough to hear a pin drop, waiting in anticipation for my words. 

That's when I said "Hello, my name is Paul Thomas, and I'm a family medicine doctor," and the momentum from that first line carried me through the rest of the talk. I knew my speech really well, probably not as well as I would have liked to, but well enough to say what I needed to say. 

I'm excited for the TED team to release the presentation on their website, and I'll keep you posted when they upload it - until then!

- Dr. Paul with Plum Health DPC

PS: stay tuned for the video from, follow me us on Twitter for the release! Button below: