This blog post is about practicing what I preach, which, if you watch the first minute of my latest TEDx speech, you’ll learn isn’t always easy for me.
Most of my talks start with a humorous story about a stressful situation that recently occurred in my life. These real life examples illustrate how our brains biologically interpret adversity. This TEDx talk was no different except, in the past, the top stressor for me actually IS the TEDx talk. Nothing makes me more nervous than not only having to speak before 1000 people, but having to do so without any notes. This is far from ideal for me. I really like having notes to guide me when I’m speaking, something to get me back on track when those unavoidable distractions creep in to my brain mid-presentation.
Not only are notes frowned upon, so is going over your allotted 15 minutes. There’s even a panic-inducing large digital countdown clock, strategically placed in view of the speaker to let you know if your ums and pauses have dragged on too long.
When I gave my first TEDx talk I remember handing the script to my husband 5 minutes before going on stage with very explicit instructions: “If I freeze up there, just come running up to the stage and give me the damn script.” I was committed to surviving that first talk, no matter what kind of protocol I broke.
I had wanted this time to be different, to feel different for me. I was going to be talking about Generation Stress, this idea of a generation of stressed out parents raising a generation of stressed out kids. One of the solutions I was giving in the talk revolved around the power of reframing our mistakes. As the talk got closer and closer, I kept reminding myself of this.
‘So what if I blank out, or trip as I walk on the stage’ I thought to myself, this, in itself, was part of my message. While this was somewhat comforting, I still wasn’t in the mindset that I needed. The thought of standing up there, blanked out with no clue of what I was going to say next kept creeping into my mind. While in some ways this could actually prove the point of my talk, the possibility of being my own real life humiliated example felt like little consolation, just 15 minutes before setting foot on that red TED rug.
(There’s an entire other side story that I’ll share in another post. It’s almost too comical to believe and involved a looming wardrobe malfunction and an emergency dash to Nordstrom’s just 90 minutes before the talk. Let’s just say that by the time I had the luxury of going into a full blown cold sweat about the talk, I was still recovering from the panic of the wardrobe crisis.)
So I did what I tell others to do all the time. I took 5 minutes to actually take care of myself and committed to mindful breathing. It was all I needed to get my smart part of the brain firing and quiet my amygdala’s taunting voice whispering, “you’re going down sucker!”. I sat quietly in a chair in my dressing room, I closed my eyes, and for 5 minutes I focused on my breath.
When my mind wandered through to thoughts of failure, humiliation, and the fear that I just might suck, I simply noticed it and returned my focus to the next breath, again and again, until my heart rate slowed, my nerves calmed and I heard the producer knock on the door.
I rarely feel positive about how I did when I am done giving a speech or presentation (see first sentence about not practicing what I preach☺). In the TEDx talk, I mention my perfectionistic tendencies and how they’ve held me back. Yet this time, after my 15 minutes on stage, I actually felt great. Ok I was RELIEVED to be done, but I also recognized that this experience was far more enjoyable than my first time on a TEDx stage.
I felt proud that I didn’t get rattled by the few hiccups I had in my delivery, I didn’t fall on my face, a gong never went off when I went 20 seconds over my time, and my husband didn’t have to run on stage and rescue me with my notes. I sought out a challenge, I assumed the risks, and I relied on what I preach on a daily basis to best prepare my mindset to truly thrive under pressure rather than just survive.
Most importantly, I shared an idea about societal stress levels and what to do about them that I believe is very worth spreading. I hope you think so too. If you’ll do me the honor of watching this talk and then sharing it with your friends and colleagues, I would be very appreciative. And my pre-TEDx near nervous breakdown will have been well worth it.
Lastly, I would like to dedicate this speech to Baby Julia, and the lessons I have learned from her mom, Erin Davis.