by Lori Milner: author, entrepreneur, thought leader and founder of Beyond the Dress
I am a professional speaker/trainer/teacher who does talks and workshops to a corporate audience for a living. So when the opportunity to do a TEDx Women talk came along, I was thrilled. Firstly, it’s been on my bucket list for over 10 years and secondly, I was sure having this public speaking background would make the process that much easier. Quite the contrary! It was the most amazing 8 weeks for me, I have not been pushed out of my comfort zone and beyond for a long time. It tested me on every level and the process has been my greatest reward.
My role was to tell a story and more important, to tell my story. When I wrote my first draft, it sounded like a talk on time mastery, not an engaging conversation to take people on a journey with me. I had to get my head around the fact that this is a different animal all together. Just because you can engage people in a training session, doesn’t mean you will have the same impact on a TED stage. It’s a conversation using design thinking principles that takes people on an emotional roller coaster. Here are the greatest takeout’s from the process I want to share with you that can be applied to your everyday lives as entrepreneurs. It doesn’t mean you need to do a TEDx or even public speaking. This is applicable to the company status meetings, the client meetings – any time you need to present something or even a one on one conversation.
1. Strip out the ego
Firstly, I had to get over the fact that this is a TEDx Women talk. So as the depth of this opportunity seeped in – bearing in mind – this has been on my bucket list for the last 10 years, I started to freak out that this is a TEDx talk! The reason it got me so anxious was what it could mean if it goes really well. You hear the stories of Brene Brown who didn’t think her talk would lead to anything so she shared a beautiful and deep story because ‘who was really going to watch it’. Well, over 8 million views later – she’s done ok! My internal dialogue was starting to panic me that my entire career rests on this talk and so of course this is living way in the future which is where anxiety breeds. I was over thinking the process too much, I was over thinking my topic, the message and the impact I wanted to have. Quite simply, I was trying way too hard. It was all going quite pear shaped in my mind until my beloved and level headed husband reminded me ‘It’s just a talk’. Of course I was horrified ‘It is not JUST a talk.’ He reminded me ‘It’s just a talk. Would you be like this if it was a 12 minute talk for a corporate client? Of course, I replied no. It was like a weight lifted off me and I realised my task was to serve the audience who were coming to show up for me. It wasn’t about me or how clever I had to show everybody I could be. Simply, I had to strip out ego because it is about the message worth sharing. It’s about being a gift and a contribution to the audience.
When the opportunity comes to present – it could be in a meeting, to your Exco or a stage platform, just remember you are there to be a gift to them. Remove the ego and make it about the audience and how they can benefit from your knowledge. It’s not about how perfect you need to be – but how can they leave as better human beings for having listened to you?
2. Trust the process
It took 8 weeks and 33 drafts to prepare a 14 minute talk. Around draft 15, I thought I had nailed it, I was there and could just focus on delivery. But I could not have been more wrong. I received a voice note from my coach telling me I’m not there, he can’t see me in the script and I need to keep persevering and cut the script in half! So I had my mini meltdown moment...Ok it wasn’t so mini. And to distract myself I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. And then I saw the quote I needed at that very moment - ‘Remember when you wished for the thing you have’. Yip...and in that moment I realised this is what I have been dreaming about for years and now it was my reality. Billie Jean King said ‘Pressure is a privilege’ and I used that reminder to drive me forward. I just wanted to be at the point of a final script so I can practice my delivery and work on the technical part. It’s that instant gratification we all push for – I just wanted it written and done.
Ironically I had to take my own advice and trust the process. I had to go through the discomfort of working through draft after draft to find my message. Where I started, where I thought I needed to go and where I have landed up are so far apart. The true lesson of giving a TEDx is not in the talk itself or the delivery – it is in embracing a level of discomfort and growth to push yourself past your comfort zone. It is about truly understanding design thinking and how to tell a story that moves people to the feeling you want to leave them with. Don’t rush the idea generation or writing process – let it percolate for a day or two – then sit down again to write. You’ll be amazed what you create.
When something is really important, put in the time it deserves. Don’t try rush the creative process thinking you’ll just ‘wing it’. I don’t consider myself a ‘creative’ but I really surprised myself that when I dug deep and put it in the hours, I created content I had no idea was in me when I started the process. On the days you feel stuck and tired, don’t look at it. Give yourself the time to process and digest it, then come back when you are fresh and you’ll be amazed what happens. It is also very important to give yourself time to relax and let your mind wonder – this is where the best ideas happen. For example, treat yourself to a long bath, take a run, exercise or take a walk in nature.
3. Be real
You have to be vulnerable and share your story. This was not easy for me. My second draft was a great talk but it lacked any part of Lori as my coach reminded me. The theory is nothing until I show how it affected my life in order to allow my audience to connect with me. I used my experience of ACT (attitude, consistency and trust) to build daily micro wins to achieve a greater goal. I shared my headspace at the time, my thoughts to truly allow people a window into my world at that time.
What we need to remember is the story we tell is often about a previous version of ourselves, no one is the same person of 5 years ago. We have come through the story, learnt the lessons and grown as individuals. My advice is don’t be afraid to let us see that version because you didn’t know what you know today. Look back at him/her with empathy and share the wisdom. I read a quote that said ‘In our mess is our message’. It doesn’t have to be deeply personal, it can be something quite light hearted but your message will be an inspiration to someone in that audience. Everyone has a story worth sharing and don’t under estimate the power of yours.
The simplest way to make your talk meaningful is to share a personal story. Let the audience connect with you and become accessible. Strip out the ego of what will people think of me – remember you are telling us about a time in your life where you didn’t have the knowledge you have acquired today. There is someone in that audience who needs to hear your story. It doesn’t have to be so dramatic – perhaps you share a funny story that happened to illustrate how you learnt to deal with something. People connect with us when they know you are real, stop trying to look perfect. Comedian Bryon Allen said ‘To succeed, you don’t need to be the funniest person but the most liked. When people like you, you have their loyalty forever’.
4. Your topic will change
My original topic for the talk was ‘The mind-set of time’. As I went through the writing process, I had lots of points I wanted to discuss. What was most important to me and what truly shaped me was not my mind-set about time but my attitude towards myself and how I showed up to myself. I couldn’t figure out how to marry these different concepts together. It was in a journal entry, I discovered that micro wins were the secret to my accomplishments and this is what I chose to focus the entire talk on.
You need a starting point of what you want to discuss but allow the process to steer you on what is the most important message to share. Be willing to let go of what isn’t working or will not bring you the greatest result.
5. Be single minded
You are given 18 minutes for a reason – stick to one idea. It’s very tempting to think you need to share all your life’s wisdom and depth into this time slot. Choose one message and go big on it. Stick to the rule of 3 and give your audience 3 key points about your message. Using the advice of Akash Karia, I incorporated an acronym into the talk to highlight my 3 action points on how to create micro wins. I used the acronym ACT to discuss the 3 elements of attitude, consistency and trust. Everything is going to feel like it’s really important but you need to be able to summarise your message in one clear statement. For me – it was ‘Micro wins are the antidote to inaction’.
One of the techniques I used was to summarise every paragraph into one key thought and the most important points of that paragraph. I could then visually see how many conflicting ideas I had tried to incorporate and allow for more considered editing.
Be strategically single minded. Summarise your talk into one key message – then make sure every point only speaks to that message. The audience needs to be able to leave with a clear take out. We know you are brilliant and have many skills but they don’t all need to be proved in one sitting.
Here’s to owning your next talk,
LORI MILNER is the engaging facilitator, thought leader and mentor known for her insightful approach to being a modern corporate woman. Her brainchild, the successful initiative Beyond the Dress, is the embodiment of her passion to empower women. Beyond the Dress has worked with South Africa’s leading corporates and empowered hundreds of women with valuable insight on how to bridge the gap between work and personal life. Clients include Siemens, Massmart, Alexander Forbes, Life Healthcare Group, RMB Private Bank and Unilever to name a few. Lori has co-authored Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman in conjunction with Nadia Bilchik, CNN Editorial Producer. Own Your Space provides practical tools and insights gleaned from workshops held around the world and from interviews with some of South Africa’s most accomplished women to provide you with tried-and-tested techniques, tips and advice to help you boost your career, enhance your confidence and truly own your space on every level. Own Your Space is the ultimate ‘toolkit’ to unleash your true power. It’s for the woman who wants to take her career to new heights and who is ready to fulfil her true potential.
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