Alysa McCall on the TED Talk stage in New York

Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Alysa McCall on the TED Talk stage in New York.

TED Talk on Polar Bears

By Alysa McCall, Director of Conservation Outreach and Staff Scientist



11 Apr 2023

“Thank you for listening to my TED Talk”

… is something I never imagined I would say. 

When the call from TED went out last summer, looking for applicants from across Canada to put forward their ideas about our shared future, I knew I had to apply—but the deadline was looming.

Fortunately, the Polar Bears International team helped me quickly work up a pitch about human-polar bear coexistence, an issue on the forefront of our work in Canada. After a video submission and nerve-wracking Zoom interview, I was accepted to be a speaker at the TED@DestinationCanada event in New York on February 23, 2023.

The entire process seemed to fly by, though there were moments I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. 

Alysa McCall on the TED Talk stage in New York

Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Alysa McCall talks about our Burr on Fur project on the TED Talk stage.

I started by working with my fabulous TED coach, Briar, to develop my first draft. She encouraged me to stick to about 1200 words, but by my third draft, my talk had ballooned to >4400 words in my desperation to squeeze everything I wanted to say into the scant 11 minutes I was allotted. Briar skillfully helped me pare it back down while keeping my key points, all of which related to my “throughline”—the crux of my talk. She also reminded me I would be able to post supplemental information when the talk was released, a huge relief. All told it was a great exercise in “less is more”.

Over the next few months I had many late night writing sessions. These involved me repeatedly falling down information rabbit holes, going off on writing tangents, and then having to circle back to painstakingly cut out large swaths of text (all while talking to myself way too much!). At last, after two practice runs in front of TED staff and on lucky draft number 13,  I was ready to start rehearsing the final product.

It was daunting, but the TED team had our backs the whole way. My fellow speakers and I took part in a “Precision Learning Bootcamp” to teach us how to memorize our scripts. They presented us with several tested options depending on how we learn best; I chose to color-code my script and print it out for visual help and occasionally (and embarrassedly) practiced in public places for the real-life adrenaline rush. I rehearsed constantly in the shower, the kitchen, my car, on walks, at the park, and anywhere in between, aiming for at least 3x a day. 

I started to feel ready. Until I landed in New York and met my fellow speakers. 

Upon seeing the company I was in, I was humbled and intimidated. “How did I get here?”, I thought. But imposter syndrome was not entertained by anyone, and we were all reminded that we were chosen, trained, and ready, and that our ideas mattered. I felt a part of something bigger and got excited to “give my talk away,” as the TED team would say. 

Alysa McCall on the TED Talk stage in New York

Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

After a couple days of warm ups and rehearsing, the big day came and … was over in a flash. I spoke first, which was a bonus as I could then relax and enjoy everyone else’s talks. My fellow speakers talked about a huge variety of topics including Indigenous storytelling, coastal clean-ups, Artificial Intelligence, perverse choices, game theory, youth activism, happy climate science, architecture, Arctic flora, and more. The expertise was mind-blowing, and celebrating Canada in the heart of Manhattan felt bizarre yet appropriate. The day ended with a beautiful reception appropriately featuring poutine and Canadian wines, and the relief that I would never have to rehearse that talk again!

The incredible people at Destination Canada, the supportive TED team, and the brilliant speakers and amazing performers from my home country all ensured the experience was once-in-a-lifetime. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to meet so many fascinating people, to represent Polar Bears International and my home, the Yukon, and to share my love of polar bears on this world-renowned stage. 

Thank you for listening to my TED Talk!