It was a few months ago, May 24th to be exact, I was lying in bed scrolling through my social media on my phone when I received an email through my website.
'Invitation to speak at a TEDx event'.
'This has to be a joke' I thought to myself, or maybe a scam, like the ones that ask me to speak at conferences that are non-existent. I have a think about it and I message back. Its legitimate, I have a conversation with the organiser of the TEDx Robina event. Well, speaking at a TEDx event is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Of course, I say 'yes, I'll do it'.
Little did I know, this would be one of the toughest and most stressful times for me. Easy to say 'yes' but what does this mean? Well, it's ok if you are just doing a TEDx talk, but you also must still go to work and tackle all the other crazy, busy things happening in your life.
First, they give you a theme and you must come up with a pitch. In a short time frame they want the written version to go over and see if it fits the theme and regulations. I can tell you now, the version I handed in was completely different to the finished product. So, that initial version gets looked at by a friend Peta, and it is tweaked and rearranged and some helpful tips were given, over a glass of wine and dinner. This TEDx talk is already consuming my life. I walk away changing it again.
I turn up to work in a stressed state and head straight to our wellbeing officers’ desk. How lucky am I that she happens to love TED talks, so she goes over my talk with a fine-tooth comb. She corrects every possible mistake, I can hear Janet's voice now "it's 'who' not 'that' Helen" as she scribbles corrections on my script. Poor Janet, I visit her many times to read it out aloud and to practice. She calmly listens and reassures me that it is going to be 'ok'. I storm into her office again one day and announce "I'm just going to have to use cards to prompt me Janet, there is no way I can remember this off by heart. I just can't do it, and besides I've seen plenty of TED talks where people use cards or are holding paper" Janet again reassures me and insists again ‘it will be ok’.
I feel nervous and anxious and unsettled. There is Six weeks to go. Well, another tweak of the talk and some more reading out aloud. No one is safe. If they are sitting near my desk or in the tea room they are a target. Then an email is sent to me at Four weeks out. There is lady willing to coach us if we need assistance. I feel an instant sense of relief. Tanja is her name. I attempt to book a session in with her, but it seems everyone else is trying to see her as well. This is proving to be much more difficult than it seems, and I am not able to take advantage of the coaching as I would like. To get to the University, I must drive down to the Gold Coast in peak hour traffic after work. It looks like this is not going to work out. I eventually book in to see Tanja on the day I go down to the University to film the promotional video. The promotional video is a terrible experience for me only because for whatever reason, I suddenly can’t get the words out or say what I want to, and I can hear my voice is shaky. I have spoken on Television before and in front of cameras but today I am all over the shop. It is a good chance to meet a couple of the other speakers and hear where they are at and realise I am not alone in the nerves department or feeling like there is a lack or preparation.
I spend time with Tanja in the studio, reading my talk out to her and timing it. Tanja gives me some feedback, and some changes are made to the talk, again! Even the though the last changes were going to be the very last. I stress to her then that I will be taking in cards because there is no way I can remember this talk off by heart. Deep breathes and the realization that its crunch time. This could not be happening at a worst time for me. My schedule both at work and out of work is full and I am crazy busy. I could just cry. I just don't have time to practice! Of course, amongst other things I must fly up to a school to speak at their end of year awards night and attend a three-day Business and Professional Women’s Conference all in the same week and it’s Two weeks to go. To add to the stress, I start a new role at work with lots of new things to learn. My brain can't cope. I'm walking around the office sighing every few minutes completely overwhelmed.
Now it's time to get the PowerPoint finished, and there is a realization that all pictures need permission from the Photographers, so I have the task of reaching out and contacting all the Photo Journalists to ask for permission to use their photos. This takes time as I am dealing with time differences and having to communicate in Greek as well. I read a TED book that was leant to me by Alesha, a colleague and friend of mine, and I look at how they expect to have the power point set up. I also must use a specific TEDx Robina logo that has been sent out to all of us, there is the copyright statement and credit to the Photo Journalists that I, this is really time consuming and not what I need right now. I continue to say no to people that want to catch up outside of work and I try and stay focussed.
So, I start to practice a little more. I take every opportunity even down at the local bowls club. I drag anyone willing to listen to the side room and stand there and deliver my talk to an empty room speaking to a patron with their beer in hand. I ask people during their lunch breaks at work to sit and listen. It is the only way I can practice, talking to myself in an empty room just isn’t the same. The weekend before the performance I deliver my talk in front of a small crowd at the AHEPA hall in Brisbane. The next day I go to Sally's house to deliver my talk at a mums 4 refugees meeting. I listen to the constructive criticism ‘make sure you pause more so people can take in what you are saying’. I make mistakes during the talk, I stumble a bit, but it is an informal intimate group and they are a kind. I was so grateful, I would rather be making these mistakes now and not on the night. All the support from everyone around me is so amazing. I practice at the conference in room 308 with my awesome Darwin team mates who all sit and listen with a glass of wine in hand and ready to give feedback. Some more small changes and I'm all over the shop, every time I think I have finished tweaking my talk, it needs changing again. I've convinced myself I can do it, but I'll be reading off cards. ‘Helen, you’ve got this!’
I have recorded my talk on my phone and I listen to it as I drive to work, in fact for the entire month I've been doing this, forgoing my favourite music or radio to listen to my talk. One day, I'm not sure what comes over me, but I put the cards away and start practising without. I had a list of one word prompts to guide me. Eventually the pictures from my PowerPoint prompt me. I decide I can’t deliver my talk the way I have written it, so I will just tell the story the way it comes out, and that is how I practice it until the event. Two days before the event and I am rearranging the Power point slides, so it will make sense to me when I tell the story and I feel like it flows much better.
That final week and I feel calm. Something has shifted. I am happier, less stressed, more confident. I know I have got this, and I have a team of amazing women who keep reminding me of that every day up to the moments before the presentation. Even receiving messages from Mary with little mantras to be telling myself every day, just knowing people out there have me in their thoughts helps so much. Two days to go and I message my sister to say I'm not feeling nervous, I just want it to be over and done with now.
Friday night dress rehearsal, I get a chance to meet the other speakers and get a feel of the venue and the space I will be speaking in. I am asked to be the first up as the first scheduled speaker for tomorrow is still in Sydney. The crew attach the microphone, I bite the bullet and tell myself there is no time to be nervous. Thoughts run in my mind, like 'will the other speakers hate my speech? Are they judging me? Do they think I am not good enough and what am I even doing here?' I stand in the assigned space and in front of the volunteers, camera crew and the other speakers I begin my talk.
I confidently start and suddenly out of nowhere, I go blank. I forget what I am saying. It is hard to not be distracted. There are camera men walking around the top of the amphitheatre, one of the volunteers looks like they are falling asleep, someone is chatting on their phone, someone else has just entered up the back and walking down the stairs. I am suddenly overly aware of what is happening around me and I get thrown. I lose my concentration. I'm getting nervous now because tomorrow is the big day and I'm still stumbling. " Helen, just breathe, laugh it off and start again' I tell myself. 'Don't worry about what they think, this isn't about them right now’ To make it worse there is an old version of the power point that has been uploaded, and it throws me again as my talk has since changed. It is disjointed and doesn't go as smoothly as I would have liked it. I am told that I am one of the earlier speakers as I have expressed how nervous I am, and Tanja feels it will be best if I get it out of the way, and I agree! I am so annoyed with myself afterwards and can barely remember the drive home.
As exhausted as I am I get home and practice, one more time. I wake up in the morning, and practice with my morning coffee in hand. I feel remarkably calm but think to myself when will these nerves start? I casually shower and get ready, I head off to get my hair and makeup done so that I feel and look my best, and to help with my confidence.
I have myself a toasted sandwich and a strong coffee and as my hair is being done I feel like I don't want to engage in conversation with the ladies. I feel like I need to concentrate, but I can't. I look at my watch and it’s an hour until I must be at the venue. There is something to be said about visiting a venue before you speak and familiarising yourself with the parking and how to get there. It alleviates the added stress.
I arrive in good time, I easily find a park and head to the Green room. I walk in and find others are there too, from volunteers to other speakers. They all look fabulous, dressed and ready to go. I walk up the auditorium again to have a look and am pleasantly surprised at the hard work everyone has put in. It looks amazing! The TEDx Robina sign has gone up and there is an outline of the Gold Coast city skyline that lights up. The team has gone to a great effort to achieve all of this.
Ok, now I'm feeling a bit excited and a little nervous. I eat. Yep, that is what I do when I am upset or nervous. I find comfort in food. I go to the bathroom, nervous now, as there is lot of chit chat in the room and excitement, but I want 10 minutes to myself to go over my talk one more time.
The extra trips to the toilet are a combination of nerves and wanting to be alone. I find a space outside that is quiet and go through my talk off my phone. I have even brought my own laptop and an extra USB in case there is a problem at that moment with my uploaded power point. We have a little meeting and I am given a gift from Tanja, and the TEDx Robina team have organised gifts as well including T-Shirts and chocolates. One of the chocolates for me is in a 'H' shape and the sticker has the TEDx Robina logo on there. It reads: Helen thanks for putting the 'H' in Heartfelt for TEDx Robina.
How sweet is that? It is such a nice gesture. Some speeches are made and suddenly I am asked to go upstairs to meet the VIP and sponsors. I make it brief as I realise in less than 10 minutes I am on.
The first speaker joins me in a tapping session with Peta who will be doing her talk today on Tapping and this therapy helping anxiety. Peta was given a bottle of wine for her present, and we open it and poor a small amount into a glass. I take 2 sips, and someone says, "Don't get drunk!'. I laugh, I just need enough to feel comfortable, besides I think if I have a sip of wine, do some tapping stand in power pose, take some deep breathes, well I am doing everything I can to help me with my nerves before I go on. I make my way towards the door. The first speaker is on. I stand in my power pose outside, with the other speakers looking out at me and waving at me and giving me the thumbs up sign. I try to go over my talk quickly, but I'm scared I am about to go blank. Even if I wanted palm cards, I have not printed any out now as I had been successfully practising without them, but right now, I wish I had them. 'What's done is done Helen. You have got this!' I tell myself standing there in my power pose.
I take deep breathes and I hear them applauding for the previous speaker.
I make my way into the dark space to the side of the stage. The crew have set my microphone up and I get a tap on the shoulder signalling not to speak as I am 'live'. They are introducing me. Just like that there is applause and I walk towards Tanja who is holding the clicker. I grab it from her she calmly smiles at me with encouragement. I have a forced smile on my face. I take a quick look around, walk to the red circle, I take a deep breath, I pause and then I start to speak.
I suddenly feel very calm and in control. My worries about speaking too fast, not pausing enough, not getting a reaction from the crowd have left me. I am too scared to investigate the crowd, but I need to look up. I spot some familiar faces in the crowd and I try and focus at them. There is a man with his eyes closed I am not sure if he is so bored he is sleeping. Suddenly there is a camera man that has run down the stairs and there is a conversation happening down the side of the stage. ' Don't lose it Helen, just ignore it and keep going' I think to myself.
At one point in my story I get a gasp from the whole crowd. I continue and then there is a pressure in the room, I feel like I can hear a pin drop. The intensity is there, and I am scared I will lose my train of thought but so far so good. Just like that I say my last sentence and I bow my head and say thank you. There is an applause and some cheers and just as quickly as I came on stage I walk off. I hand the clicker to Tanja and as I turn so the crew can remove my microphone I get a big thumbs up and a smile from a mother of one of the speakers. They were so encouraging. I walk out and think ' Did I just nail that? it can't be it went so smoothly?'
I walk back into the green room and I tell the others who are waiting anxiously for their own talk that I did ok. 'I did well' I tell them. 'Yep, I think I did ok' I say again, I think I’m trying to convince myself, I am confused, and I feel like it is too good to be true, it all went so smoothly. Then it hits me.
'SHIT!' I say out aloud. "I friggen forgot a paragraph that I think would have rounded the talk off nicely. How can I forget that bit?!' The high I was on after coming off the stage has come to a crashing halt. I have forgotten a main bit of my talk and I'm devastated. I stamp my foot down and I am so annoyed. Oh well I must console myself now and tell myself that no one else would know. People are reassuring me it all went well.
It's now time to go upstairs for the intermission and I am getting hugs from people and positive feedback. My friend Drew says, 'Helen you know you have nailed it when the entire auditorium 'Gasps''. I take my friend Amelia’s advice and I make sure I have some people surrounding me that will celebrate and pick me up in case I fail. It is so good to have a few strong women around me to support me. I am so grateful for those friends that made it and supported me and those that cheered me on from afar. Team #308 from Darwin especially.
I will leave the link here for anyone that might want to see the talk: https://youtu.be/W_elAXlEwuk
The hardest thing after the talk is watching it. I refuse to watch the talk until after the weekend after it is released. When I do, I manage to pick it to bits and find every mistake, I identify everything I forgot to say on the night and I am annoyed at myself. I am determined to not psych myself out to the point where I will never want to speak in public again, in fact I text my speaking coach Trevor and send him the link and he too insists I need to look at the positives.
Well, positives are that I didn’t go blank, I got the message across, I completed it within the time frame and I didn’t speak too quickly, and I guess ultimately, I did it!
Yes, you are probably thinking that I am being too hard on myself, but I guess there is always room for improvement and I have mixed reviews and listening to the constructive criticism. Would I ever do it again? Absolutely yes! If you are lucky enough to be asked to speak at a TEDx event, do it! You will not regret it.