I love to speak. In fact, I feel more comfortable in front of a microphone than at a networking event. So, when my friend and colleague Kristen Pressner suggested I give a TEDx talk, I was like, sure, no problem. Pressner's talk, where she introduced the "flip it to test it" method for handling unconscious bias was a perfect example of how a talk should be. This, I thought, will be easy. 

Boy, was I wrong. Giving a TEDx talk is hard. For a 7-minute talk, I worked harder than on any other speech I've ever given. But, I'm so glad I did it because what I learned was invaluable.

Mentors come from unexpected places

My modus operandi is to write an outline and speak with the outline. That allows me to adjust my talk for time and audience reaction. For TEDx Basel, we were to have it memorized--word perfect, and no notes allowed. In fact, the guidance the coaches gave us was to have it memorized to "Happy Birthday" standard. That is, you should know your speech to the same level that you know the Happy Birthday to You song.

Well, it's been a while since I've done serious memorizing, and I was frustrated. I vented my frustration to my teenage daughter. She said, "Mom, I just memorized a three-page Shakespearean monologue for drama class. It took me about an hour."

Oh. Here I was struggling to memorize my own words, and my teen just rattled off a monologue from a Midsummer Night's Dream. She taught me to start at the bottom and work my way up--that way you finish strong as well. That, combined with a few other coaching tips from her helped. She was right. I learned it rapidly once I adopted her methods. I guess drama camp paid off!

Coaching is good, but ultimately, I'm responsible for what I do.

One of the things I loved was the opportunity to practice and receive feedback from experienced speakers. But, there was a bit of conflict over how to begin my talk. Should I begin with a story or should I begin with my shocking fact? Back and forth, back and forth we went, trying it one way and then another. I wrote at least 6 different introductions and sent them all out for feedback.

In the end? One of the coaches, Brett Simner, said, "It's your choice. You decide." He's right. Our mentors, our friends, our families, and even our bosses can only advise us on how to act. Ultimately, I couldn't blame my opening paragraph on anyone but myself. My speech. My choice. So, I chose to go with the story.

Everyone has a story.

I knew this before, of course. I try to read a lot of different things and I love listening to TED and TEDx talks on many subjects. But, as I worked with and listened to my fellow speakers practice, I realized there was so much other people had to share. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a TEDx talk in them. The only question is whether or not they want to do the work to present one.

Everyone wants you to succeed.

Sometimes we get caught up in the competition of life. The US just finished yet another contentious election. Only one person gets the promotion, the job, or first prize. We kind of accept that it's every man for himself. 

This was completely different. Everyone involved, from coaches to fellow speakers, to audience members, to the tech crew, all wanted me to succeed. It wasn't like "I need to be better than the other speakers or it won't do!" It was a serious feeling of "I want everyone to knock it out of the park."

Most of life, actually, is like that. Sure, there are some areas in which it's a winner takes it all scenario, but in most cases, other people's success makes our lives better. Success breeds success.

In practice, they told us that if we got stuck, just to take a deep breath, go back a paragraph and restart--they would edit it out for the YouTube video. They also told us the audience would support us.

On the one hand, the audience paid to be there, and they were expecting polish. But, on the other hand, they really wanted us to succeed. When people stumbled, the audience did respond in a supportive manner. Success was everyone's goal.

Should you give a TEDx talk?

It's scary--no notes, alone, on a stage. But, the lessons I learned were invaluable. The experience was great. You definitely have a story worth sharing. So, if you want to promote yourself, work on your speaking skills, conquer a fear, or just do something hard for the life lesson, you should consider it. 

Published on: Nov 8, 2018