The Art and Commerce of Storytelling - How I Became A TEDx Producer


I have always been a story teller. It started back when I took my first stage. My story, although told with my body through dance, was a total expression of my soul. Story telling is something anyone can take on. And when we decide to become vulnerable, and share our ideas and purpose with the world, it’s possible to create not only magic, but also make an impact that will have a profound effect on every life.

Story telling is an art that may take on many forms. Choreography, filmmaking, literature, and now famously, The TED Talks. TED is a not-for-profit organization standing for technology, entertainment and design, but also includes scientific, cultural and academic topics. The conference, for short form, 18 minute or less talks, started in 1984 and has continued annually since 1990, with curator Chris Anderson at the helm. TED Talks are “ideas worth spreading” and there are over 2,600 TED Talks freely available online. Wikipedia notes that by November 2012, TED Talks have been watched over one billion times worldwide.

Tricia Brouk, courtesy of of Tricia Brouk.com

In 2011, TED started what they then called, “TEDx in a Box” for people in developing countries to have events in the style of TED. These independently organized events, now called simply TEDx, have become incredibly popular, and as of October 2017, TED has archived over 100,000 TEDx talks. That is almost 15,000 ideas worth spreading per year. That’s a lot of ideas, compared to the average of just 92 TED talks per year since 1990.

TEDx events provide an opportunity that TED can’t. According to TEDx Santa Cruz, as of 2015, there have been over 1500 TEDx events scheduled all over the world, in comparison to one TED event per year. TEDx turns the dream that you too can step into the red circle and share an idea that could potentially have global impact, into a reality. And this reality is something I was thrust into a very short time ago.

Three years ago, I was minding my own business writing, directing and choreographing for film, television and theater, when my dear friend and speaker, Petra Kolber, asked me to direct her TEDxSyracuse. I was a fan of TED and TEDx Talks, so I jumped at the chance to work with Petra and also become an expert on the art of TEDx. The first thing I did was invest in Chris Anderson’s book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. If you want to take a TED or TEDx stage. Start here. Period.

What I found so fascinating during my dive into TED, is that Keynotes and TED Talks are not the same. Chris Anderson says that a TED Talk is a gift not an ask. It’s an idea not an issue. And in the end, you want the audience to adopt your idea as their own. How sexy is that?

What is this phenomenon? Why did TEDx blow up? People love stories. People also love the brand. The TED brand is associated not only with big ideas, but also with big deal people. Past speakers include: Pope Francis, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates, Bono, and Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. People’s lives have been catapulted from obscurity to instant fame with a TEDx, like Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. This kind of credibility not only gets you booked on more stages, but it also drives the sales of your books and products.

When taking on the task of directing a TEDx, I approached it the same way I did any show I work on. I work with the writer on the script, as a dramaturg, analyzing the arc, through-line and its impact. And I direct the speaker the same way I do my actors, by teaching them intention, objective and action, and block the speaker by giving them choreography, which is knowing when and why to walk. And when and why to be still.

The one difference I became hyper-aware of, was that when I work with speakers, it’s all about the story or the idea. But with my actors, it’s all about them! I love my actors, but they lead with their needs.

In a room with a speaker, it’s all about their idea, so my job becomes about getting them to get out of their own way, so we hear this idea loud and clear and potentially “adopt it as our own”. This is how the magic happens. This is how the global impact happens.

Petra delivered a very successful TEDx and is also a best-selling author and sought- after Keynote speaker. Because she wears a TEDx crown, this credibility offered her up more paid speaking gigs. Her success also offered up my success. I began working with several other speakers who wanted to take a TEDx stage. I found myself with this handful of amazing speakers and nowhere to put them, so realized, as a theater producer, I had to put on a show. I applied to TEDx for my license.

The process was grueling. The application itself isn’t complicated, but the answers are. I don’t have the statistics of how many people apply for their license, which is free by the way, but the one person I know who’s brilliant and amazing, was turned down. I went back and forth with TEDx several times and each time, I spent hours crafting my answers, trying to read their minds as to what they needed from me and what would make me the right person to produce a TEDx. The TEDx team are amazing. They are communicative, helpful, thoughtful and totally supportive. However, it is truly a mystery as to how they choose organizers and why.

In November of 2017, I was granted my TEDxLincolnSquare license and with that responsibility, I took on producing my first event with my co-producer Jamie Broderick. I’m a theater producer, so I incorporate music and Broadway singers. I hire comediennes, magicians and pop stars to perform. I call it theatrical academia. TEDx events are independently organized events about the community and for the community. And Jamie and I nurture our community from the moment tickets go on sale. As a TEDx organizer, we are not allowed to make money from the event and speakers are not paid. Many people have asked me why I produce a show that doesn’t make me a dime. This always makes me laugh because it’s nothing new to me, you rarely make a dime as a producer in theater either. The commerce of story-telling is not always dollars. It’s impact. The art of story-telling on a TEDx stage brings credibility which creates opportunity for commerce. The credibility of being the executive producer of TEDxLincolnSquare definitely gets people to call me back, but the impact I’m having on the world makes me rich.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."