The theme of the TedX event was Rethinking Relationships. My idea worth sharing was that students with mediocre grades shouldn't be looked down upon instead mediocrity in school could be an indicator that the child may be destined for leadership. My talk would be entitled C-student to the C-suite. Basically, I would be asking everyone to rethink the relationship we have with grades and what that tells us about a child since I had been an average student and made it to the C-suite I was the perfect one to dive into this topic. After two months, many phone calls, thank you notes and pleading, I was officially told that I had been selected for TedXBocaRaton. Yay!!!!! I was elated and right away I sat down to draft my talk.
There was fantastic direction provided by way of 2 videos. The videos detailed what makes a good Ted talk and why. With that direction I was on my way and quickly knocked out the talk for the 18 minute window I thought everyone got. The announcement was made that I would be a speaker and I was over joyed! I had finished writing my talk and was on to the next item on my to do list. A month later I received a call from my friend Cindy that my big idea wasn't quite big enough and I needed to scrap it and start over. Then she sat on the phone with me and we brainstormed new, bigger ideas. We went back and forth for a week on different concepts and agreed on Rethinking the Relationship between women in the workplace which eventually morphed into my TedX talk: The Me Too Movement: Mis-Step or Mistake.
Wow. This was a bold move and one that I felt comfortable delivering however every time I shared the concept with someone they were shocked and told me how ballsy I was taking this on. They would tell me that I would upset people and should really rethink if I want to do this. I felt fine with the concept, the idea and my truth in the idea so I moved ahead thanking others for their beliefs and handing them right back to them.
I didn't think much about the talk again for the next month or so since the head of the TedX liked my idea and his speaker coach approved of it too. The timeline they provided for all of the speakers was very detailed. It included coaching calls that are you are encouraged to complete as well as zoom calls with the head of the TedX event. There were dates to do a walk thru, dates for sponsor events, VIP events etc. There were a lot of dates and I was surprised how much actually went into putting this together. This was not like giving a regular talk. So many people would tell me that they knew I would kill it because I speak all of the time. But this is not a regular talk. This is a Ted talk and there are so many requirements and restrictions it definitely felt different.
2 months before the event I received an email telling me I would be allotted 10 minutes. WHAT?!?! Here is the thing with speaking: the longer the speech the easier it is. Woodrow Wilson has a famous quote:
"If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now."
Needless to say I needed to start preparing. The less time you are allotted the harder it is. Suddenly, it was the walk through day and I was feeling really excited to go. As soon as I got into the car I started preparing what I was going to say. The words just came to me and it was the craziest thing! I arrived at the venue and they had a fire the night before but they assured me everything was fine. I took the stage walked around and felt fantastic. On the ride back to Miami the words just flowed. I ran into my house and sat down and typed everything out. I had googled how long a speech was on paper to hit 10 minutes and I was within the range. This was working out fabulously!
Next, I sent my proposed talk to the speaker coach, the organizer and to my friend Amy Morin who has a successful Ted talk with 10M views. I had saved my talk under the title: 'TedTalk50MViews'
I was going big or going home. I heard back good news from everyone except the speaker coach and my friend Amy. The coach didn't like my intro and didn't like the fact that I don't let the viewer know more about what happens after I got fired. I didn't agree with her so I didn't care. I thanked her for her feedback and moved on. Then my friend Amy sent me the most amazing and encouraging email however she challenged me to find a better intro something that was relevant to my topic yet would still pull the viewer in. Yikes. I had liked my intro but now seeing that she was challenging me to be better I had to think about it.
That is when I decided to call a speaker coach. It was 12 days before my first Ted talk and I was beginning to think I needed some outside help. At least I wanted to get the chance to give the talk in front of someone other than my reflection. I called Natalie. Natalie had been my son's coach the year prior when he needed to give a big speech at school and was running into some challenges. I loved Natalie's energy and vibe and excitement and I knew she was the perfect person for me to speak in front of. She had secured a min-venue and I stood up to give my talk with my notes in hand.
This was brilliant. Not only did Natalie encourage me and give me some specific tips, like when I was listing 5 things in my talk to use my fingers to highlight my points and count them out, she also opened my mind to something that I wasn't seeing and it was powerful.
She explained to me that she knows I am not anti the me-too movement and that I am talking about taking it to the next level however she wondered if other people would realize that too. She wanted to make sure that they did and she explained the concept of Yes, and… to me. This is a strategy that is used in stand-up comedy classes and I had taken one so I remembered the concept. Instead of having to pick something like you can have this or that – you expand something to include more. Yes, and…. I completely understood what she was saying and I made sure to highlight that I am a me-too movement supporter and I want to expand the successful movement to now include the sneaky villain a woman doesn't expect. Land mine has been avoided! Brilliant and I was so grateful she was seeing something that I had missed and she really helped me. She also pointed out things that I had done well in regards to movement so I locked in on the strong points and used them as anchors in my mind. She also recorded me and when I tell you I had just come from the gym had no makeup on and dirty hair in a knot it was not my finest moment but getting to watch those videos at home helped immensely. I saw what I liked and didn't like and got a new perspective on myself.
We had discussed my opening and she had liked it so I didn't change it although I still wondered if I should…
The next few days were busy and I had completely forgotten that one of my best friends from home was coming into town and had rented a house in the keys Wednesday thru Sunday and my son and I were going to stay with them Thursday thru Sunday. Probably not the best time considering I was one week out from my Ted talk but we had committed and we were going. I am so glad we went.
We stayed in the most beautiful area I had ever been in and I went for a run and would say my talk in my mind and some great new lines were coming to me. Also, I found my dream vacation house and ran to it each morning envisioning my Ted talk going viral and all of the books I would sell and how I would buy this amazing new home. Saturday ended up being gloomy so my son and my friend's daughter and I went for a walk where we found a real estate brochure and the two kids and me climbed into my SUV and we headed out house hunting. Dylan pretended he was a Latin real estate agent and Sasha laughed hysterically in the back seat. All day we drove around Ocean Reef marking up this real estate magazine and pulling in to look at homes ranging from 4M to 22M. These houses were exceptional. Massive and sprawling and nearly every single one on the ocean. Dylan and I live on the water but in a high rise and we both have been dreaming of moving to a home and suddenly it was feeling like it was going to happen. 50M views on the ted talk and we can afford this home. We had a fantastic day and our plans were in motion. I had the home I wanted and I could see it clear as day and it didn't seem like a dream at all.
That night at dinner I shared with Kristina and AJ that I needed to work on the talk I was 7 days away from go time and still didn't know about the intro. Kris and the kids lined up and listened as I paced and gave the talk. The next day she suggested a new beginning. It turns out, I loved it!!!! She listened to my talk went to bed and it just came to her the next day. That was it. It was not complicated and it was so perfect. I wrote the changes on my papers and Dylan and I headed home with less than a week to go. That night I practiced at home many times.
Luckily, that week was busy and I had committed to a few things that ended up being saving graces for me and my talk. I had committed to fly to NYC to give a speech at my friend's book launch and I had committed to speak at another friends media event in Miami. Friday, I had to be in Boca Raton for the VIP sponsor event and then Saturday it was go time.
I went to a media event on Tuesday and after I spoke for a few moments I asked if the audience would indulge me in letting me give my 10 minute TedX talk as a test run and time me? They went wild they were excited and I gave the talk. Stopping once as I forgot a line but finishing strong. I hit the 10 minute mark and the audience went wild telling me if I was half as good on Saturday I would kill it! I was feeling better!
I had never prepared so much for a talk in my life. I had taken the top 10 strong statements that I had in my talk and written them on large pieces of paper. I had stuck the 10 sayings all over my condo. When Dylan had seen it he rolled his eyes and asked what was going on now? I had to laugh!! It was a bit crazy but I am a very visual person and I like to see things - it helps me. I had written the talk out in my handwriting, I had practiced, I could see the visuals of the strong statements and was feeling ready. I had decided not to memorize word for word as I didn't want it to seem canned. One thing Kindra Hall had said on my podcast was that she lost a speaking contest because she was too prepared and too perfect and I thought that made good sense. I would rather be my imperfect self so others could relate to me vs being so perfect and fake. Little did I know I really was far from perfect but that was still a few days away.
I headed out to NYC and I read and re-read my talk on the flight taking notes to remind myself where I wanted to speak slowly to emphasize a point or where I could speak more normally to share a story. I landed headed right to my hotel shot a live zoom show from my hotel room spoke to my son who was away at marine lab camp for a few days for science class. He explained that the public bathrooms there were gross and he couldn't go to the bathroom but he told me not to worry because he had come up with another solution. I let him know how proud I was of him for being resourceful, we laughed and wrapped up our conversation.
Thinking of the importance of being resourceful I wheeled into the museum said hello to everyone and then my friend Scott introduced me. I took the microphone and began explaining how Scott and I had become friends and why this book was so important to me when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman pass out and she fell into the woman standing next to her who fell into the next one and so on. It was a domino effect and the entire table behind them smashed to the ground and there was glass breaking everywhere. To say it was chaos would be an understatement. There was no ignoring this so I chose to mention it and say, " well, it appears that someone over here knows I am giving my first ted talk this Saturday and as you know with ted talks they say that anything and everything can and will go wrong so I would just like to thank whoever it was that decided to stir things up in here tonight. I am grateful for you"
Then I went on and the speech was a hit. Before the night wrapped a gentleman that I had never met gave me a piece of advice for my ted talk. He shared that the most important thing is that I be me. No matter what bring the real me to the talk and it would be great. That reminded me of a note I wrote myself months ago that I have on a piece of paper visible to me each day : Just Be You! I flew home the next day working again on the talk and landed went home to shower and get ready and headed to Boca Raton for the VIP sponsor event.
I found it perplexing as to why we would have a mandatory party the night before our first Ted talk however we had it so I was on my way. I practiced in the car and then when I got there I talked to our sponsors took pictures with the attendees and chatted everyone and anyone up. I wanted to make sure I did a good job knowing how hard all of the volunteers had worked. Then at 930pm I asked if I could go home since I had such a long ride back to Miami. For two months the only television I had been watching was Ted talks. I do that to put myself on the red dot in my mind so when I actually am there I will feel at home. That night was no different even though it was late I went home and watched the best Ted talks. I fell asleep at midnight that night and woke up early the next morning heading out to hit the venue for our team meeting and sound check.
The car ride to Boca was great and I was listening to my playlist that fires me up like nothing else. I was on fire. In my sweats with my eye patches, I walked into the venue and Erik told me I would be speaking first. How exciting!!! I was stoked. He told me to stay with him on stage as they wanted to mic me and have me do a few minutes of my talk. The other speakers were with Ron walking backstage and discussing the flow of the day and what to expect. Erik had a mic put on me, told me to walk out, take the stage and give my talk and that he would cut me when he had enough.
I took that stage like a boss!!! I started my talk like a million bucks, then a few minutes in something happened and my mind went blank. That had never happened to me before. I was frozen. Erik laughed and said "oh, Heather forgot a line but I got enough we are good. Thanks, Heather" As if it wasn't a big deal. No one seemed to care but I was panicking. Then, I stepped off the stage as if I was in a fog and a woman said to me "I have a friend like you. It was his biggest game in the NFL and he missed the field goal kick. The kick he had done a million times and this was the moment that counted and he missed it."
I was livid. The only words that came to mind were "wow, thanks but that's not very helpful. I need to go" I told Erik I needed to leave to get ready and I headed to the hotel. I was shaking. I was panicked. What if I froze when I was out there to give my real TedX talk?
I got to the hotel and my hair god and my makeup artist who both know me well saw my category 5 emergency and jumped on it. I sat down and I started giving my talk. I gave it 5 times in a row. They were cheering me on and telling me how amazing it was. I was still a mess but at least now I looked good. My makeup artist Cynthia and I bee-lined back to the event because it was almost go time. We went back to the speaker area and it was packed with sponsors and people coming up to me wanting to speak to me. I wanted to disappear.
All I wanted was to find a safe space with no people and practice my talk with my music playing. I put my ear buds in and launched my playlist seeing myself take the stage like a boss in my mind. I had to tune out everyone around me. Finally, Cynthia and I were taken backstage and I was told I was on in 5 minutes. There was nowhere that was free of frantic people. Every area either had other speakers that were in panic mode pacing and practicing or other people that wanted to talk to me. I found a kitchen that didn't have many people and Cynthia sat there and I walked and talked and listened to my music.
We were walked to the stage and a nice volunteer handed me lavender essential oil. All I can say is lavender for the save. I have used lavender to calm me down for years however in this moment it was literally saving my life. I inhaled the lavender then I gave it to the man who was speaking after me because he was a complete nervous wreck. The nervous energy back stage was awful and I needed to get space from it. I breathed the lavender in and looked at my notes. Cynthia told me I was going to be great.
I had one moment before I was walking on stage and I said to myself in my mind "if you go out there and bomb I will always be proud of you for going. If you don't go out there you will never forgive yourself. F*** this I am going!"
I walked out from behind the curtain and headed for the red dot not knowing what was going to happen but turning it over to something so much bigger than me in hopes everything would be okay.
They say you either own the talk or the talk owns you. In this instance, I owned the talk.
I can't wait to hear what you think! Here is the 10 minute TedX talk https://youtu.be/rZtAJxvgGYw
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.