Just Go For It: Taking the Big Stage
According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
What if tomorrow you receive an invitation to do a TED Talk - would you say yes? If you are an emerging leader, a seasoned entrepreneur, a social activist, a scientist, a chef, pretty much if you have any thoughts you think are worth sharing, then YES is what you tell TED. As an entrepreneur and artist, I have so much to share, and I know that by speaking on a famous platform like TED I could increase my brand significantly. However, speaking on a TED stage is not like speaking in front of 300 people at your cousin’s wedding–TED can make or break your career...especially if you coach people on how to improve their public speaking experience.
If you watch TED talks, you’ll know that there is a precision with how each speaker presents their information. There is a certain tempo, a specific script they are following, a boundary they stay within, and rarely any spontaneous moments. TED and other large platforms are brands, and if they invite you, it means you need to fit yourself into their brand. Everything from the topic you present to how you present must be specific to their niche. Even without much wiggle room, however, there is room for you to bring your authentic whole self to the platform. In fact, your imperfect human flaws are what will connect audiences to your brilliant ideas. Remember--people connect to other people--not perfect talking heads.
For some of us (me), being confined to a scripted, timed, and formulated speech can overwhelm us with so much fear that we just simply shut down emotionally. We become just talking heads. The scariest thing for me when I have to do any kind of public speaking is memorizing the speech. I used to freeze up on stage when I could not remember the words of my speech. On one occasion I totally messed up my speech in front of 500 people. I had a list of “wise” advice to give and I repeated one of my points twice. My dad, who was in the audience, said to me after my speech, “You did good, but you said number 5 twice.” I didn’t even realize it because I was so hyper-focused on getting every word right. In that moment I knew that I did not bring my whole self to that stage, I did not connect with my audience, and worst of all, I knew that I did not enjoy myself while giving a speech that was supposed to spark joy in other people. It was in that moment that I started to incorporate mindfulness into my speaking engagements.
It is true that I do better when I don’t have to memorize anything. I can rely on my mindful ability to actively listen to my inner expert and the audience. I can have the freedom to work with my “muse” and deliver words of “wisdom” that often just come to me in the moment. However, TED is different. It is a brand that does not have room or time for spontaneous moments. Most big stages will be precise like TED - you will have limited space and time when you present your speech.
Having the opportunity to speak in front of a large audience on a formal stage is a gift. For most of us, it is our chance to introduce ourselves as experts in our fields. But, an invitation to share our ideas and ourselves means that we will be speaking on someone else’s stage. It is like being an invited guest to someone’s home: we have to respect the house rules and other invited guests. In the confinement of space, time and rules, you still must bring forth your authentic self to the stage. You do that by owning your speech and by being mindful of yourself and your words for the 18 minutes you are up there talking. This means that you prepare well in advance and allow enough time for you to embody your speech. Then when you’re on stage, the crowd is hushed, and the camera starts to roll, all you have to do is breathe, smile, and connect to the words that you already know. It won’t be easy, but it will be doable with some discipline.
Here are 4 suggestions when you’re ready for your first TED Talk:
Know your topic well. Don’t try to be interesting by choosing a topic that you don’t know much about. Pick a topic that you can talk about in your sleep and expand your knowledge on through research. Adding new knowledge to a subject matter you already know adds personal freshness.
Write several drafts of your speech. This allows you to figure out what resonates with you, and what doesn’t. This process allows you to start embodying the speech and topic well in advance.
Rehearse the speech while being mindful of yourself and the words you are saying. Try practicing in front of a camera. Playback each time and ask yourself how authentic were you in the moment. If you spoke the words perfectly but look like a deer in headlights you probably weren’t being mindful of yourself.
Radically accept that you know what you know, and take the stage. Enjoy your 18 minutes. Feel the ground beneath your feet, look out into the audience, just breathe, and smile.