Preparing a TEDx talk is an intense, grueling, and emotional process.
What is a TEDx talk? TED is a national organization whose letters stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and their focus is on presenting “ideas worth spreading.” The “x” indicates that the event is independently organized and sponsored. To view my talk, titled Beauty Is an Inside Job (“What if how others see us depended more on our choices, actions and words rather than on how we look?”), scroll to the end or click HERE.
I applied and was accepted into the Sno-Isle Libraries TEDx program.
Much has been written about the technical and organizational aspects of doing a TED or TEDx talk. Since those writers and coaches likely understand that process better than I do, I’ll leave that to them. What I’m exploring here is my emotional experience. Some of these feelings were also felt by others in the group I presented with, so they are common within the process. Such emotions could also crop up during the process of writing any speech or written work that incorporates personal stories and experiences to help get your point across.
I felt very fortunate to be accepted into a professionally run program that included coaching. I had one primary coach, yet I was fortunate to have input from several other coaches. However, getting input from several sources can be overwhelming and sometimes contradictory. There was one occasion in which I had so much input all at once that I seriously questioned if I was qualified to do this, but Anna Rohrbough, my primary coach, did a great job of helping me sort out and process the information so I could use the feedback effectively.
One of the biggest challenges for me was focusing on a single through-line. There were so many things I wanted to say; so many things I’ve learned from having a facial difference that I wanted to share. But not only would this be way too much information that would make the speech too long and overwhelm the audience, but it would also leave them scratching their head wondering what the speech was actually about.
Yet even knowing this, sometimes it was hard to let go of certain points that were particularly important to me. But I had to trust myself. Even though I was attached to certain points, the niggling voice in the back of my head said “maybe it doesn’t quite fit here, for this speech.” But none of my feedback suggested cutting them, so I left them in. Eventually, as my coach(es) and I focused the speech more and more, these things did get cut because the niggling voice had been right all along…they didn’t follow the through-line.
Sometimes I had trouble remembering part of my speech as I rehearsed, which made me question if maybe that part really didn’t belong. Alternatively, it could have meant that my transitions weren’t good enough. Once I had my through-line and all my transitions were good, it was very easy to remember because it flowed naturally from one point to the next.
Another huge challenge, and something I learned about myself during this process, is that I sometimes have trouble getting in touch with WHY a certain story has meaning to me- the “feel” behind the story. Some parts of my stories would cause me to choke up as I rehearsed them, so they obviously had deep meaning to me. Understanding the “why” is how we make a connection with the audience, so I kept having to dig deeper into myself to find those answers. Or, my coach would tell me what she thought the “why” was, and suddenly it was like yeah, of course, it seems so obvious now!
My greatest frustration was when I didn’t understanding what the coaches were asking me to do, even after a tête-à-tête with Anna. Sometimes I had to sleep on it, start to rewrite that section, or even say aloud what they were suggesting in order for it to “click.”
On the plus side, if a suggestion made sense and resonated within the context of the presentation, incorporating it into my narrative was easy for me to do. I didn’t have to “memorize” a whole new concept.
I was pushed. I wanted to be pushed, because I strive always to make a good thing better. Yet sometimes I didn’t particularly enjoy being pushed, so I resisted. I came to understand that this resistance was built on confusion- a lack of understanding of what was being suggested. I’m one of those people who needs processing time, yet before the processing is complete, I tend to push back. This is where having a compatible coach who understands this and didn’t mind the pushback became really important. Once I processed all the input, I was able to better develop my idea and really focus my message.
There were times that I questioned whether any of what I was saying made any sense. But this wasn’t a major hurdle for me because I went through phases with each of the three books I’ve written, deciding at one point or another that the content was terrible and experiencing a mild anxiety attack because of it. I knew the phase would pass, and I trusted the coaches. They wouldn’t let me produce a substandard speech. As the process neared it’s end, I had confidence that what I was producing was not just good, but exceptionally good, possibly even great.
Prior to any event, I tend to be fine until the night before or the morning of. However, in this case, the nerves started to hit the Monday before, four days prior to the scheduled event. I attribute this to my perceived importance of doing a TEDx; deciding in my mind that this could be a turning point in my speaking career. Thankfully, with a little help from the Sno-Isle support staff, I was able to quell the nerves enough so that I didn’t have to go four days without eating or sleeping. I convinced myself that I could do this, that it was OK to be excited about it, I knew my speech really well, and that it was good.
My biggest fear by far was that I’d forget part of my speech on stage. In fact, we were given tips on what to do if that happened- hints to get back on track. I gave the talk in front of a live audience at the Edmonds Center for the Arts on Friday November 18th. While my delivery was not flawless, I am relieved to say that my memory didn’t blank.
When it was over, after I’d unmiked and went back to the greenroom and sat down, it was like a weight had been lifted. It was done. I was free. But there were times in the hours after that I shook from the slow release of stored up adrenaline.
That night, I got to sleep just fine, but awoke at 4 am.
I must have cried half a dozen times between Friday evening (as I was driving home) through Saturday afternoon. I attribute my tears to joy, for having been so well received; grief, for having to let go of all that intense focus and purpose; and possibly, as Anna pointed out, the combination of anticipation and fear that accompanies glimpsing my true potential.
I watched the live stream, which had still been available after-the-fact, and I felt better. Usually I don’t like to watch myself, but I must have needed to.
Finally, I am filled with gratitude. I am grateful for this opportunity to fulfill my goal of being on stage presenting a TED or TEDx talk. I hadn’t imagined it would happen this soon. I am especially grateful to all involved for helping through this process, especially Anna, Ken Harvey (Communications Director and TEDx coordinator with Sno-Isle Libraries) and private speaking coach extraordinaire Michelle Mazure. I know that all the coaching and support gave me a much better end product than I could have done on my own.
One last thing I’d like to emphasize- always be true to your message and to your style and voice. Ultimately it’s you up there on that stage and it’s your message being spread, so if you feel strongly enough about an aspect of your content, there is no niggling voice telling you it doesn’t belong, and you’ve considered carefully any arguments to the contrary, it’s on you to make that final decision.
For those who haven’t seen it, here is my TEDx talk, titled Beauty Is an Inside Job.