“I wish that I could brag that this wasn’t a big deal to me, that I’m a pro, but the truth is, I’ve been feeling anxiety.”
It was one month before my TEDx talk. I was sitting on my counselor’s couch processing the physical stress I was feeling: quickened heart rate, shallow breathing, tingly feels in my body.
Going from professional speaker coach to a first-time-TEDx-speaker was not what I expected. Here are five things I learned.
- I’m human.
I am susceptible to anxiety just like the rest of ‘em. It didn’t matter that I’m a professional speaker coach and speaker. I tell clients not to wordsmith talks to death – but I did. I tell clients not to over practice – but I did. I tell clients not to get flustered by feedback – but I did. I went through the rollercoaster like everybody else. And in the most beautiful, important way, it was humbling.
I had to practice what I preach countless times:
- find the novel angle no one has heard before
- smooth out the transitions
- find the tweet-worthy one-liners
- don’t try to say too much in a short amount of time
- Practice in the car.
I don’t recommend memorizing a talk, but I did for this big opportunity for two reasons. I didn’t want to go over-time (an unforgivable sin of speakers) and secondly, I had subtly woven in references to every TEDx speaker I’ve supported in the past as their coach.
To memorize but still feel conversational (super important), I purposefully practiced in the car. I said the talk out loud off paper every time I drove somewhere. I had a copy of the talk in the passenger seat, only checking the script occasionally for accuracy. I aimed for 90% consistency with wiggle room for different wording here or there. This afforded me flexibility while staying on track.
If you have a big gig coming up:
- write it out
- pull back into an outline with phrases not sentences
- practice out loud and time it
- Expectations are complicated.
Three days after my talk, I was sitting on my counselor’s couch again, this time processing the lack of big emotions I felt on stage. My heart rate didn’t spike. I didn’t feel excitement course through my body. I didn’t have a huge adrenaline dump walking off stage. It all felt so… uneventful.
“Did I swing the anxiety pendulum to the opposite side, numbing myself?” I asked my counselor. After processing, we determined no, I didn’t. It just wasn’t what I expected. And that’s okay.
It was still good.
To manage expectations:
- name them
- hold them loosely
- maybe go to counseling!
- Accept feedback and fight for your idea.
One of the hardest parts of this process was sitting with three different committees who offered tweaks to my talk. I sifted through dozens of ideas and suggestions, which inevitably made my talk clearer and smoother, but it was overwhelming.
On the other hand, I repeatedly heard that my one idea worth spreading was an unclear concept. I told my speaker coach Cody (yes, a speaker coach had a speaker coach – we all need trusted truthtellers!) that I had to live with this TEDx talk the rest of my life. I would roll up my sleeves and do the work of making it more clear, but I was all-in on the idea.
To get helpful feedback after speaking:
- Find a trusted truthteller
- Ask them for feedback preemptively before your meeting or presentation
- Ask for a follow up: three things I did well and three things to take me to the next level (be specific)
- Rest and trust yourself.
I have made plenty of goofs on numerous stages over the years. My trusted tools to navigate imperfect moments are quick wit, relaxed composure, and swift transition. But what was more liberating was knowing that audiences don’t want perfect – they want real.
Authenticity over perfection.
My challenge was moving from knowing this truth, to living this truth.
After feeling mechanical in a rehearsal, I decided to prioritize rest. I stopped practicing in the car or anywhere else a week before my talk. Instead, I got my hair done, watched movies with my family, took hot baths, and weeded my garden at 5:30 am (my body’s alarm clock was definitely feeling the anticipation!).
How to rest:
- stop making last minute changes/edits
- know (and practice) your content
- trust your practice
- do something you love (move your body, get outside, unwind with friends)
When my big day came at TEDxPortland to share my talk live with 7,000 people at the world’s largest indoor TEDx event ever (2.5 years in the making thanks to COVID), I was prepared, relaxed, and present.
Is giving a TEDx talk on your bucket list? Or simply want to feel less awkward and anxious before speaking in a meeting? Let’s connect! Email [email protected]