Joe Kowan ‘91 gives TED Talk
Stage fright causes Joe Kowan ’91 to shake, rattle and roll — and not musically. The singer/songwriter knows all too well what happens when he stands in front of an audience: the sweaty palms, the trembling hands, the knot in his stomach. How he deals with it, though, has put him in front of an audience that is thousands of times greater than any open-mike night: He gave a TED Talk on stage fright and on Friday, Jan. 24, it was the featured Talk of the Day on TED.com.
Kowan started out as a music major at Binghamton (“It was too hard,” he says.) He switched to psychology, but took a lot of art courses with Linda Sokolowski, now professor emeritus.
Today he works for State Street Corp., a financial services company in Boston.
“I’m a graphic designer by day and a musician by night,” Kowan says.
He’s also a funny guy, bedazzled and rapping about making “cozies for his brass knuckles” in his video, “Crafty.”
“My name is Joe K. I’m the craft aggressor. Look what I made with tongue depressors.”
Kowan’s songs are quirky — they’re about Big Foot, the cosmos, arts and crafts. “They’re not your typical songwriter songs,” he says. “They’re definitely offbeat, but I try to make them informative.”
But his fear of performing was making it difficult for him to share his songs with more than just close friends. Then he got an idea: Write a song about stage fright as a way to get the audience on his side, “So we’re all one big happy, nervous, uncomfortable family,” he says.
It worked. Eventually he sang The Stage Fright Song less and less. And that’s how he came to be a TED speaker.
As a part of State Street’s participation in the TED Institute, Kowan answered a call for employee submissions for a TED@StateStreet event and made the cut. He had six weeks to develop his talk. He worked with a TED coach, revamped the speech, cut it, edited it, did dress rehearsals and then, in the last two weeks before the actual talk, he practiced. “I probably practiced it a hundred times, four or five times a day.”
Kowan delivered the talk in November to colleagues. It was released on the TED.com site as the featured Talk of the Day about two months later. In just a few hours, the talk had nearly 40,000 views.
His colleagues were supportive and a bit surprised, he says. “I don’t give a lot of talks or speeches, so no one knew what to expect. I think people enjoyed it. It’s not controversial; everybody can get behind it.”