By Lori Milner: author, entrepreneur, thought leader and founder of Beyond the Dress
Welcome to part 2 of Lessons from doing a TEDx talk! - [Read part 1] 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. Preparation is confidence
The only full proof solution for instant confidence is preparation. The more work you put in, the more confident you will feel. End of story. If you can present with no script and text heavy slides to be your guide, you are already a step ahead. Scripts confine you and leave no room for any off the cuff thoughts that pop into your head. Don’t use the script as a security blanket. If you really need something, have some cue cards with bullet points on them to prompt you.
The best way to rehearse is to use the little pockets of time that are empty for example, when you drive. Say your talk over and over again – perhaps on the way to work, you can rehearse the introduction and get that down. When you are getting dressed in the morning, say it to yourself in the mirror. Practice in front of a mirror to really get a real perspective of how you are using your body. For example, do you have a weird gesture you are doing with your hands.
Another tough exercise but reaps massive rewards is to film yourself or record your voice. You can hear how you sound, perhaps something works on a script but when said it out loud, it doesn’t land well or it comes across too formal as opposed to having a conversation. Also – when you play back the recording, you pick up on those unconscious phrases like ‘you know’, ‘do you understand’, ‘like’ etc.
Key take out:
Do not underestimate the power of rehearsal and repetition. Allow yourself the time to truly let it sink in and take ownership of it. The more you practice, the more relaxed you become and you can focus on the delivery rather than what paragraph comes next. Go through the discomfort of hearing and seeing yourself on video rather than regretting how it came out. Dale Carnegie said ‘For every presentation there are 3 versions: the one you practiced, the one you gave and the one you wish you gave’. As the Wabi Sabi philosophy teaches, ‘I am perfectly imperfect’ – it’s the same with your script, we need to accept it will never be perfect.
2. To write is human, to edit is divine
This quote is from Stephan King and it encapsulates the TEDx process to a tee. In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered; sunk cost bias is when we value something more because we already own it. For example, think about when you want to de clutter your wardrobe. We find it hard to let go of an item because we’ve had it for years. Instead of asking ‘Will I wear it again? Because we will convince ourselves it may come back into fashion one day. Ask ‘If I had to buy it now, what would I be prepared to pay for it? This provides instant clarity to let go of it.
You will find yourself trying to defend a script at all costs simply because of the time you have invested in it. It takes great courage to let go of what isn’t working to make room for a fresh idea or in some cases – a complete fresh start. Easier said than done – but when it’s not working, let go and move on. It wasn’t a waste of your time – perhaps it would be a great talk or chapter in a book. But you need to have an honest conversation with yourself and make the call whether it fits in this talk.
Knowing what to remove is often more important than what to include. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and ask ‘is this contributing towards my clear single minded message?’ And if not, let it go.
Relating to letting go of ego or shego (the female ego) – learn to take constructive advice. Even if you have skills in public speaking, lecturing and taking a public stage – be open to hearing a different perspective. A TEDx talk is unlike anything else so be humble and allow yourself to be a student in the process. Be aware of how many people you seek advice from as everyone will have a subjective point of view based on the lens of their experience. I would recommend using one go to person and allow them to be the guiding voice in the process.
No one achieves success in isolation, seek advice and guidance from a professional or someone you respect and who has experience in public speaking. Be open to hearing things you don’t necessarily want to but with the student mind-set to be open to receive their advice. Make sure it is someone who values your growth and supports you in the process. They want what’s best for you and often we need an external voice and eye to guide us as we can get too close to something. Remember – you need to keep an open mind that the feedback is about the script – not you personally.
Perhaps you are doing a big presentation to a client – consult someone in all departments like sales, HR, finance to ensure you have covered all relevant points. They may have an insight you did not consider.
4. Flow is the reward
I have read many books about flow and being in flow state but I don’t think I have ever experienced it truly until I was on that stage on 6 December 2018. I knew my script backwards, I was so well prepared and the strangest thing happened. I felt like I had 2 computer screens in my front of me simultaneously – one was the audience in front of me (which you cannot see because of the lighting); the second screen had my script on it. While I was delivering the speech, it was as if my brain was playing musical paragraphs and it was delivered in a slightly different order than I had rehearsed. But while I was delivering the talk, I was thinking about where the missed paragraphs should go and was amazed how well it actually worked. From the audience perspective, you could ever tell this was going on inside internally, I was confident and it worked out even better than the original script.
Even when you know your script, be present in the moment and allow yourself the flexibility and freedom to trust that inner voice. Never apologise if you forget a paragraph or bullet point – no one knows what you intended to say so just carry on and bring it back in when possible or just leave it out. Trust it wasn’t relevant to that audience. One of my colleagues forgot to quote a statistic which she thought was the crux of her point but in fact it was irrelevant because she spoke to our hearts and emotions. Stats were inappropriate in that moment.
5. Own your headspace
The day before the talk, the nerves truly hit me. I had been quite pragmatic about the process. Those butterflies came in drones and I was really frazzled. I remembered what my dad taught me that butterflies are fine as long as they fly in formation. I made a conscious decision to make sure I enjoyed the day and chose the attitude that I was going to savour the stage experience and truly love the day. I didn’t want to arrive with the mind-set only to ‘just get it over with’. Of course I was nervous but they were healthy nerves. For me being nervous means I care and have something to lose. Be aware of your mind and don’t let it con you out of one of the greatest experiences you will encounter.
Key take out:
Let’s be honest, speaking in front of people whether they are colleagues, customers or our superiors – it is daunting. The fear of judgement is very real and can often prevent us from being our best selves on the day. In the mirror, we are confident and rehearsed but come the main day and the butterflies take over. Remember, your role is to be a subject matter expert and to share your knowledge with others. I have worked with the most technically savvy engineers who feel intimidated when they need to present to their colleagues. They have the experience and knowledge but the fear of judgement is overwhelming. Remember – you are a gift to them in that moment and people don’t expect perfection. Be transparent. If you are nervous, tell them you are nervous, people will want to support you. Once you name the nerves, they lose their power over you.
Let’s face it, once you are up on that stage or in the boardroom, you are opening yourself up to all kinds of judgement but don’t give away your power. Switch your mind set that it’s not about you or how clever you sound, but it’s about how can you benefit them. How can you best serve them, what do they need to hear? Smile, stand up straight, dress for the presentation – use the external tools at your disposal but only you can control that self-talk. The best advice I can give you is… Don’t try. Trust.
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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