After spending the last two Saturdays rehearsing with this year's crop of TEDx Colorado Springs speakers, it seems like a good time to revisit a post that I wrote last October, when my own experience was still fresh and new. This post was first published on 18 October, 2015 as part of the Management on the Mat blog.
Today I am walking around in a daze, pinching myself periodically.
You see, yesterday I checked off a bucket list item and had the time of my life doing it. I had the honor to take the stage at TEDx Colorado Springs, along with a host of inspiring, insightful speakers. Behind the scenes and in the audience, I was supported by loved ones and hard-working volunteers whose presence and efforts allowed me to take the stage with a joyful confidence that is still bouncing around in my heart a day later.
As I emerge from my TEDx-prep coma, it seems fitting to share some of the things I learned over the past few months as I stepped out of my comfort zone and into a new space that I could definitely get used to!
Here are the lessons that come to mind, straight from the horse’s mouth— that horse being me, a bouncing ball of gratitude and amazement as I bask in the afterglow!
1) It takes a village.
The number of smart, hard-working people who coordinated and ran this all-volunteer event was astonishing! Witnessing the flurry of activity leading up to the event and all of the back-stage movement and preparation, not to mention support and consideration given to us as speakers, was humbling.
I will forever be indebted to those with the vision and will to put on such a big production without compensation in an effort to benefit our community.
Apart from the volunteers, if you are anything like me, there are also the people you dearly love and respect in the equation too— mentors, friends, family, and colleagues. These are the people who will listen to a rough version of the talk and give honest feedback when you ramble or a joke falls flat. They will tell you if you are too technical or boring or if your body language seems fidgety.
They will also hold your hand back stage and sit in the audience, lining your walk to the stage with an invisible carpet of love and support that lifts you up so that it feels like you are walking on air, as you step up to give the message you so want the world to hear. (Cue harp music!)
2) Preparing for a TEDx event is different from the other kinds of speaking you may have done.
I teach MBA classes— lots of content, experiential learning, and detailed slide decks that students can use later…
I teach yoga— detailed cues, physical adjustments, demonstrations, spiritual talks and reflections, and the joy of watching people achieve things they didn’t think they could ever do…
I speak in business settings— carefully chosen content with an emphasis on practical application and clarity...
I speak at academic conferences— summarizing research and related concepts in ways that demonstrate competence and fluency to an audience of experts in a particular niche...
I pitch consulting work in my business— emphasis on the client’s need and my ability to offer a tailored solution at a reasonable price...
It just wasn't like any of those experiences!
All of my past experience was helpful, to be sure, but the level of preparation needed to deliver a TEDx talk and do it well— that necessary combination of an insightful (and well-researched) idea, vision, personality, and audience engagement, quite frankly, surprised me!
There were countless hours spent progressing my visual aids from academic-style charts, to a set of pictures, then simplifying like crazy. There were many, many videotaped practices over several weeks, followed by a brutal analysis of my own body language and facial expressions.
Pause and smile.
There were visits to the event site where I practiced on the stage ahead of time, including one run through that was so bad I was sure that all was lost.
(That leads me back to the first lesson— the value of friends and colleagues who can support you and help with solutions.)
A wise woman suggested a work around. A dear friend listened to me practice again and reassured me that my mountain of a problem was, indeed, a molehill!
There were hours and hours of rehearsal, writing a script, revising it repeatedly, then driving around town for weeks listening to that instead of music in my car, talking along with myself until I knew each carefully chosen phrase well enough to improvise the way you might when performing a familiar piece of music— adding grace notes here and there, varying the tempo, and revising the arrangement.
... and then crossing the line between work and play, settling down in the play space because the air is so much clearer there...
Even though this is a very enjoyable sensation, the next thing I will share makes it feel even better!
3) It’s not about YOU— the speaker.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this activity I came to realize that this was not about MY idea.
What I wanted to share on the TED stage was my small contribution to a very big idea that belongs to many, many people of multiple generations.
Some of them are scholars. Some are scientists. Some are teachers, managers, artists, children, grandparents… An event like TED or TEDX is a chance to share your little piece of life's truth in a way that serves all who hear it, connecting with them in a way that is both memorable and helpful.
While I certainly have my own take on the complexity of organizations and have done some original research, mine is but one voice in a rather large chorus. I just happened to get the chance to solo this time, a chance to belt it out in my own way and to truly be heard!
When I started thinking of it this way, with some help from a dear friend and mentor, the nervousness dissipated and I knew I would do fine.
4) Keep on doing what you do!
I will admit to putting some things on the back burner in order to prepare for this opportunity. I don't regret that at all. However, there were a few key habits that I didn't dare to stray too far from.
When I felt too busy to fix a decent meal, I inevitably got back on track with healthy eating the next day. I didn't dare risk getting sick. Those days I failed to practice on my yoga mat or at least meditate, the effects were immediately felt and, again, I tried to get right back on track the next day with at least one of those activities.
As wonderful as an opportunity like this is, it is still a high energy thing. For us first-timers, the preparation is lengthy and somwehat stressful, like any big challenge or life-changing growth experience.
Whether "what you do" to sustain yourself is running, reading, or yoga, this is no time to back off of whatever it is that charges your batteries.
(Hugging your kids a little extra helps too!)
When you take on something big like this, you really need to bring your A-game! So failing to take care of yourself is not an option.
5) Wow! This is fun!
I worked very hard, for months, to refine a topic I had been trying to explain clearly for years. The hours were long and nobody could really see the progress until the day of the event.
Yet when I stepped onto the stage and had the privilege to interact with the crowd, to share a laugh and a deeper concept, it was pure joy! I loved every minute of it and the sheer rush of it all was worth every single hour of hard work and every moment of fear as I stepped out of my comfort zone. As if that weren’t enough, I also met some really neat people doing it.
TEDx people are my kind of people— out of the box thinkers and doers to a man.
Now as I dive back into the tasks I let sink a little lower on my priorities list last week, I do so with a happy heart and the knowledge that ANYTHING is possible!
So how about you?
Are you ready to step beyond your comfort zone to engage with the world in a new way— maybe even in a big way?
If not, what’s holding you back? We ALL have something important to say, after all!
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