Last night, I gave a TEDx talk, “The Power of the Pause,” at the 4th Annual Valparaiso University TedX event. The theme was [Moment]um which is probably why my proposal was accepted. I sent it in on a whim and had no idea what was in store over the next two and a half months.
You would think that I was preparing a twelve-minute presentation that would define my entire existence. I spent hours and hours and hours writing, rewriting, memorizing, and re-memorizing. I read Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo and reviewed sections of Dale Carnegie’s texts. I reviewed TED talks and reflected on what has gone well and what has bombed in my presentations at Valpo.
I had the talk completely down ten days before the event. I even reached out to my cousin Brendan Sullivan of Creativity Coaching to help me with the delivery. (This is big. We Neylons try not to bother anyone.) But that was for the talk I did not give. Maybe someday I will deliver that one to an audience who wants to hear about a fifty-six year-old lunatic who can’t decide where her passions lie because “everything is so fascinating.” Oh man. I think I really wrote that.
My son Brendan also coached me on the TEDx talk that never was.
As an over-preparer who wants to really get things right, I was stunned when – nine days before showtime – the TEDx Director, a senior Mechanical Engineering student completed devoted to the TedX event’s success, met with me and told me my talk did not fit into one of the two categories of Ted Talks: a brand new innovative idea or a new angle an old idea. I thought, “What? You mean people don’t want to hear about the chaos of my life and my discovery of the value of presence?”
Then I realized – they don’t. Hugely humble moment #17 in this process.
So I completely rewrote the talk after spending hours of my cousin and my son’s (both Brendans – we repeat names a lot in my family) to help me.
That Friday with one week to go, the ME student and I met again and discussed the revision. Unsmiling, he said, “You are making progress.” I thought, “Hm. I think that’s a good thing. Not exactly the crowd-cheering accolades I was expecting.” I was determined to get this young man to grin. At the end of our meeting, he cracked a slight one when I complimented him on so carefully following the TEDx guidelines. I was sincerely appreciative.
So I read pages and pages of Doug Silsee and Richard Strozz-Heckler’s work on presence over the weekend, worked on what I thought was my final draft, and sent it off to the student who doesn’t study the humanities on Sunday – five days before the big day.
On 4:10am on Monday morning, I opened my laptop to a message from Mr. TEDx, and he said that it was looking good. He hadn’t changed any of my ideas, but he had rearranged them. He also changed a few words here and there.
My cousin Brendan texted me on Monday afternoon and asked how the talk was coming along. I replied that the new version was now a totally different speech. I thanked him for helping me work on my presentation skills and assured him that they would transfer to this new version. I was staying positive.
As I rehearsed Ted version #9, I tried to own words that were not mine such as “taking stock of the somatic input from my . . ..” I never say “taking stock.” Tim might buy stock, but I don’t take it. I think of beef when I hear the word “stock.”
On Tuesday, my son Brendan and I had a Zoom meeting for what I thought would be a quick check-in for content clarity. After getting through the first page, Brendan said, “Whoa. Stop, Mom.”
Oh man. I had had it. My soma was kicking in big time. (My talk is about the soma, the body-mind-heart integration that sends us messages.) I felt deflated, defeated, annoyed, and ready to say screw it.
I simply asked my loving son, “Why?’
“You sound bored.”
“I frickin’ am bored! I’ve been working on this damn thing for weeks, and now some of this isn’t even in words I would ever use.”
He said, “Find those words and change them back to your language. This is your talk.”
So I did.
There were only three short phrases that did not ring true to me, but they were enough to throw me off, to make me feel inauthentic. The student had the very best intentions. He just doesn’t talk like I do. He’s an engineer. Enough said.
So I switched the wording back, rehearsed like a mad woman for three days, and lost my mind on stupid stuff in the last hours before showtime. Yep. I got my eyebrows professionally waxed on Thursday night, did an at-home Arbonne facial, whitened my teeth, and got my hair blown dry and curled on Friday morning. I wish I was making this up. (I have only had my hair done twice in my life – for my daughters’ weddings. Nobody got married last night in the 720 seconds of me standing in that red circle.)
My talk was last in the four-hour event. (No kidding. 4:00-8:00pm.) I was so calm as I soaked in insight from a NASA engineer, a California-based e-commerce author and entrepreneur, a recovered addict with a story I will never forget, and others. Then it was my turn to go backstage. I went through a series of centering exercises, but my soma would have none of it. My body screamed, “Panic!”
To me, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The microphone was put in place over my ear, and I didn’t realized it was on when I told the student workers that I was drawing a blank on parts of my talk. One student put his finger to his mouth and told me that my mic was on, and the audience could hear me. Holy shit. (There’s another story here about Tim’s mic being on throughout our entire wedding mass, but I won’t go there.)
One kind student taped the mic to the side of my face. During the talk, it randomly banged against my cheek and sent “Kaboom!” sounds in my right ear.
I lost my place due to a mishap with a slide, and I struggled to figure out how to blend the unexpected slide with what I was really going to say. I remembered that good presentations do not rely on technology, and I was determined to plow through.
I couldn’t tell if my jokes were hitting. How does my son Brendan do stand-up in LA? The vulnerability is torture.
I finished, walked back stage, fumbled with the wires, and told the students that I lost my place. A swarm of them comforted me. One said that he was lost in the talk as he watched on the monitor. I want to find that kid and give him a hug.
I was last, so I did not re-enter the recital hall. I stayed in the lobby and waited for Tim and my friends, Teresa, Tom, Lissa, Ali and Bill to come out. I thanked Doug and Elly from dining services and marveled at the work involved in putting on this event. The cookies and desserts were beautifully displayed; the huge TEDx banners, the sign-in areas, the entire Center for the Arts reflected the complete professionalism and planning of our Valpo students. I was overwhelmed with their efforts, and I just stood there – numb.
My friends emerged from the auditorium. Bill turned to Tim and said, “You ought to marry her.” Tim said, “I did.” My soma gently whispered, “Woosh.”
I said, “I goofed up. The mic . . .. the tape on my face . . . the slide . . . my notes . . ..”
Tom said, “You couldn’t tell.”
Lissa said, “Don’t look at your notes. You’re done.” (Earlier that day, she had said she had always thought about doing a Ted Talk until she saw me be completely consumed by it.)
Ali said, “I cried when you said . . ..” I thought, “You are so amazingly kind.”
Tim and I walked back to the car, and he didn’t say much about the message. He had heard the damn thing at least fifteen times.
We went to a Mexican restaurant, and I buried my woes in a basket of chips (the whole thing) and a mountain of quacamole washed down with one and half Corona Lights. I was too tired to finish the second bottle.
As we left LaCabana, I looked down at my new, black suede Dansko boots I had splurged on for my big debut. They were spattered in slush. I thought, “I do love these boots.”
This morning, I read texts and emails from close friends who said they prayed for me. My only goal was to somehow glorify God last night. Just now, I reread my notes. I see that I did hit the main points. My prayer is that people are impacted, that people pause and seek change, that people strive to become instruments of peace, that people forgive themselves and others.
I now pause, feel, identify, reflect, shift, and choose an alternative perspective – the gist of my talk. I choose gratitude for the opportunity to grow.