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How do you turn someone who lacks the confidence even to speak up at team meetings into someone who can stand up in front of a live audience and an online audience and deliver a TED talk?
That was the question facing me after I heard I’d been accepted to do a talk at TEDx Totnes on 12 May 2017. Once the initial elation (and disbelief) had worn off, the gnawing fear of my own inadequacies began.
My first actual nightmare (the one where I’m standing on the stage with not a single thought in my head and hundreds of pairs of eyes watching me) came the night after I got the acceptance email. Since then, I’m pleased to say, I’ve done a pretty good job of barricading myself against these nightmares but the occasional one does still slip past the defences, leaving me exhausted and sweating when I wake.
Years ago I trained as a clinical hypnotherapist and I remember being taught how important it is to mentally rehearse the outcome you desire, rather than dwelling on thoughts of what might go wrong. Apparently our subconscious minds cannot distinguish between what we actually do and what we think we do. That’s why professional sportspeople mentally rehearse shooting the perfect goal or playing the perfect hole in golf, because this type of visualisation is as important as physically practising. For this reason, I am being careful not to allow myself too much time wondering what will happen if it all goes wrong – don’t really want my subconscious mind to latch onto that.
In my life, I have often challenged myself to step outside my comfort zone. As horrible as it feels, I believe it is a good test – and the only way to truly grow. But some challenges are bigger than others and, right now, giving a TED talk feels like one of the biggest I’ve ever faced.
A number of things have helped me over the last few weeks and brought me to a place – with less than a week to go before the talk – where, while I wouldn’t exactly say I feel confident, I no longer feel stricken with terror and feelings of unworthiness. Being chosen as a TED speaker gives one access to coaching with a professional speaker coach and my experience of working with TED coach, Danielle Krage has been fantastic. Each of us is allocated an hour of her time, in two half-hour slots via Skype, plus the opportunity for short Skype conversations in between if we need them. At the start of the process I wondered how much of a difference one hour of someone’s time could make but now, having had my hour’s coaching, I can see that the difference she has made has been huge.
There is something rather wonderful about being able to express every single fear I am feeling to someone who has heard it all before. And – I don’t know if every TED speaker coach is like this – Danielle has an overflowing toolbox of techniques designed to make life easier for speakers. One of the most useful of these, for me, was her advice to create a talk map using visual images. I searched the internet for images to represent different ideas, words and chains of thought and then stuck them onto two A3 sheets of paper.
Years ago, when I used to enjoy amateur dramatics, I was pretty accustomed to learning lines. But, learning a talk is a whole different ballgame. It is just me speaking, with nothing to cue you in. I have to remember the whole journey from start to finish. This is what makes the talk map so helpful for me as the images provide visual prompts. Each time I give my talk (walking the dog, in the bath, in the car…) I mentally walk through this map. If I stumble or lose my way, I can (usually) see the images in my mind’s eye and I know whereabouts I am at with the talk. I have found this to be more effective than the memory palace technique, which involves mentally walking around the rooms of your house and anchoring each part of your talk to a particular room. I tried this – even adding my own take with clothes – but found I just got lost or began worrying about tidying up!!
It feels like I have taken many positive steps to memorise my talk. As regards managing the fear of speaking in public, that one is still pretty untested because I have yet to stand up on the stage and deliver the talk. At Danielle’s suggestion, I’ve watched the fantastic Amy Cuddy TED talk, all about body language and the importance of adopting power stances and I’ve been practising my Wonder Woman pose ever since. I’ve also been practising breathing techniques and meditation.
I must admit, even with all of this, my anxiety levels are pretty high and my stomach is permanently in a knot. It’s been great for losing weight!
However, with less than a week to go, an interesting thought struck me. I remembered how the ideas flowed when I first wrote the talk. I described in my blog feeling as though the talk was being dictated to me, rather than having to “do” anything to make it happen. It occurs to me that maybe I am simply the conduit for this and that, if I have been chosen as a mouthpiece then the universe must believe I am capable of delivering it. There is something hugely comforting in that. I frequently dowse for answers to my questions. I dowsed to ask the universe if this was the case… and the universe he say yes!! With the universe on my side, I guess I can’t fail. Can I??!!
Today’s outfit is another £5 special from Paul at Totnes market. It is a fabulous purple and green print dress – no label – which has echoes of a Liberty print. I am wearing it with a beaded belt with an oyster shell at the centre, a hyacinth blue cotton waterfall cardigan by Marks and Spencer and purple ankle length cowboy boots.
Cardigan: Marks and Spencer
Cowboy boots: Unbranded