TEDx Sun Valley

Doing a TEDx talk is nerve wracking. 

I wouldn’t advise it for anyone who isn’t ready to dive deep into personal development. I’ve done a fair bit of public speaking and I’m comfortable with it.  But this was different.  Ask anyone who’s stood on the TED stage and they’ll tell you the same thing.  I was listening to a podcast from PhD in high performance psychologist, Michael Gervais, and he referenced how mastery in sports is often about being able to do the practiced activity even when the background is very noisy.  Just like the Olympics or any other high stakes event, the skills required are the same, but so many athletes choke because the environment is noisy with all the hype, the sponsorship deals, the media, spectators and other athletes.  People all around the world are watching.  The ones who can tune this out and perform as they have trained are the ones who take home medals.  I think the TED stage is the public speaking version of the Olympics.  The level of expectation is exceptionally high and being invited to talk is reserved for a select few.  And, like the Olympics…people are watching.  Not only was my hometown watching, but there’s always the online version to live on in perpetuity.  I was also tackling a personal topic and being vulnerable is not something a professional athlete often does.  We train to be strong, independent, with no chinks in our armor.   Add this noise to a lack of preparation and you have a very reliable recipe for stress.

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My preparation was not what I’d hoped it would be. I found out about my acceptance in late October, launched on a trip to Laos in early November and by the time I came home, I had only 10 days to prepare.  I was way behind and I knew it. It was like showing up to a start line in a race wishing you’d trained more, had more time.  Cramming to deliver a creative, meaningful speech gave me flashbacks of writing Rusch to Glory. Late nights, fitful sleep, the deadline looming over my head like a dark cloud.  Creativity doesn’t come naturally for me and unlike sports, the creative process doesn’t always respond to gritting your teeth and simply working harder.  It was the same feeling as being in a tough race that I wanted to quit because it wasn’t going as planned.  I had to remind myself that quitting feels worse than failing.  I got to the stage only by swallowing my pride and asking for help. I had writer friends review the outline, invited friends to critique me even when I didn’t have a presentable product. For the first time in my career, I asked my husband to proof read what I’d written.  I admitted to the organizers that I wasn’t ready.  Everyone chipped in to help and their belief in me became a substitute for the confidence I couldn’t muster on my own.

This was the first edition of TEDx Sun Valley and the speaker line up was stacked with incredibly diverse and talented individuals from my hometown. From the organizers, to the selection board, the speakers, and the volunteers, this event was truly a representation of what’s so special about our small, dynamic community. The speeches covered a range of topics from innovation, sustainability, feeding the hungry, and personal growth. I kept telling myself that even if I completely bombed on stage, the event was worth it to get to know these people in my community.

I was the final speaker of the night and my presentation, Navigating Home, was about how to find your place in the world, your sense of belonging, your home. 

At the end of it all, none of the speakers bombed.  I certainly stumbled on words and probably said “umm” a few times, but it was a worthwhile experience.

And that part about having to line up when I wasn’t ready…I tried all of the advice from friends before going on stage.  I’m not sure which one of these worked, or if was a combination of all of them, but it doesn’t really matter.

Throughout the process I compiled a list of some of the advice from past and current TEDx speakers. Give these a try next time you need to get up and speak in front of  a crowd. I did ALL of these things, plus 10 minutes of meditation on Headspace, a few minutes with an energy healer who was backstage and a shot of whiskey. I’m not sure which of these things helped, but I was willing to try them all.

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Stand on your head. Before going on stage, not on stage. – Sherry McConkey

Strike your Power Pose before going on stage.  – Mark Gilbreath

Ground your heels into the floor to stabilize. Warm up your voice by buzzing your lips and making your voice go as high and low as you can.  I guess this is what musicians do. – Lara McLean, KFD Paramedic and former rock star in a heavy metal band.

Don’t give a speech, tell a story. – Allen Lim

Who’d have thought a 15 minute speech could be so consuming?  Like anything hard, it made me grow and learn. I look forward to sharing more of my TEDx story with you all in a few weeks when it is available online.

Additionally, if you are around Sun Valley on the 14th of January, my MTB-Lao team and I will be presenting stories, lessons, and experiences from our trip as part of the lululemon The Local’s series, The Air Out There.  Check out more on the Local Roots, Global Reach:  Adventure Activism on the Ho Chi Minh Trail Facebook event page or the flyer here.

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