Talking for Ted
The Magical Power of Fear
If you’ve seen my TEDx talk you will know that I used to be very afraid of public speaking. In fact, I used to be afraid of a very many things, but talking, even to just a few people, was a particularly worrisome activity for me. I employed strategies – some more effective than others – so I often hid it well, but I lived in a lot of fear.
Through the work I have done over the years, and with the wonder that is Cognitive Hypnotherapy, I have let that go now. That’s not to say I don’t still feel fear at times, I just have let go of a lot of the inappropriate fear that I used to hold to be true and I choose not to let the other stuff define me and what I create in the world.
So last August I wrote a blog for the Huffington Post on letting go of fear. In it I talked about how I used to be scared of public speaking, why that wasn’t true for me anymore and how I now help many other people move through those things that hold them back in life.
Then came the hilarious irony. A few days after that article was published I received a call from the organiser at the Square Mile TEDx event to be held in the City of London a few months later. The telephone conversation went something like this:
TED: “We’ve read your article and we really love your message. We’d love you to come and speak at our event in November. Would you consider it?”
Me: (thinking mainly in expletives, already shaking with fear and knowing that because I was so terrified in that moment only one word was appropriate). “Yes. That would be an honour. Thank you for asking”. (*more silent expletives at how scared I felt myself to be in that moment*).
After I’d hung up and got some swearing out of my system, and with a heady mixture of excitement and terror, I immediately dialled the man who has over the years encouraged me through this journey. The only person in the world who knew what this really meant – Trevor Silvester, founder of Cognitive Hypnotherapy and one of my mentors, therapist and friend, who I knew, without even asking him, believed I could do it.
It definitely took a while, but over time I believed it too.
So I had two months to write, prepare and learn an 18 minute talk. Just enough time for it to be the biggest, messiest, most thrilling, most terrifying learning curve for a good while.
Here’s a bit of what happened in those two months:
I bought a really good book ‘TALK LIKE TED’ by Carmine Gallo. An amazing book where Gallo distils what makes a great TED talk. I read it, absorbed and then put it away and never referred to it again. But it got my head in the right place.
I did a lot of procrastinating, a lot of crying and not a huge amount of sleeping. I freaked the heck out for a couple of weeks while I told myself I couldn’t do it. Then I got on with it.
Once I had pulled my metaphorical socks up I did a planning session with an incredible friend and coach. We talked out loud about some of the things I wanted to include and drew up ideas in big sheets of paper to give them some shape. I love big sheets of paper – they make all the difference for me when I need to organise ideas. We laughed a lot. Most of what we planned didn’t make the final cut but some Important elements did and the laughing was essential.
I went to see Trevor for a Cognitive Hypnotherapy session. He asked me to visualise standing up in front of the audience. I couldn’t do it. I sobbed on his shoulder. I was convinced this whole thing was impossible. Out loud he refused to believe me. I suspect in his head he heard a little worried voice.
Then, I planned a really great talk. I wrote it all out on BIG paper. I got colourful and creative.
I went to LA and had lunch with my coach Rich, who asked how many times a day I was practicing. “None”, I said. I was frozen into inaction. He suggested I get over myself and start. The beach in Santa Monica became my practice ground.
Rich then asked what my greatest fear was. “Being seen.” I replied. So he had me stand up in front of 100 people, take the microphone and asked everyone to look at me. He suggested I be the first person ever to have done a really rubbish TED talk. “Why don’t you get up there and really show everyone how scared you are? In fact, why don’t you actually pee your pants? Then they’ll know that you can be terrified and still do it. No-one has done that before – you’ll get your message across about how you can be afraid and still just do it and they’ll certainly remember you.”
I didn’t want to give a talk based on weeing myself so I rehearsed harder. I practiced to a few people. They responded really well. And I started to get excited.
My mantra was ‘anything less than death is success’. I didn’t care so much now how it would go because I knew I would live past that 18 minutes and all would be fine. Because, as I had written in my own talk, I already knew that we always are fine. Our minds just kid us otherwise.
So I went the night before to the rehearsal where I met my fellow TEDx speakers. There were some incredible people sharing the stage with me that day and I felt incredibly honoured to be there. We all laughed and joked. It was a little club of people who were about to share something special with the world. Living examples of TED’s ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.
The next day came and I got up on stage and spread my ideas and my story. Standing in front of those letters, a whole bunch of Questie supporters and such a receptive audience was incredible. After I came off stage, I noticed that a few people in the audience were crying (and not just my amazing friends who were so relieved for me that I had rocked it!), also a number of my fellow speakers asked how they could work with me. All that stress, and not only had I loved every minute but I had significantly impacted my fellow inspirers.
When I last looked my talk has been viewed nearly 900 times. That’s potentially 899 more people who I have reached than if I were sharing my thoughts with just the one client in front of me. 900 people who if they have one change in their life and their thinking, as a result of leaning in towards the things that scare them, may have altered their lives forever.
The reach goes on as people contact me to speak at their events and to coach with me.
This coming year I shall be coaching, speaking and running workshops in Bali, LA and London. Letting go of that old fear has opened up a whole world of ways for me to connect more deeply with people, to share my message and to make a difference on a much larger scale than I had previously imagined. Because it turns out that I am pretty good at inspiring people through public speaking. Who would have thought it? 😉
So what do I say to people who are held back by their story of being too scared? Nothing is impossible; everything can change. How would it be to open up to the possibility that everything you’ve ever dreamed of is on the other side of your fear and move in towards, rather than away from that? I know the answer and I highly recommend life from the other side. It’s where the magic happens.
Here are my top tips for writing a great presentation or talk.
These things are particular to my journey but may also be of use to you if you are aiming to prepare a talk or presentation.
Choose a good idea that resonates with others but most importantly one that you are passionate about. Passion is infectious and if you want to get an idea across well you need to feel it. You will notice the difference in how you respond to others talking about things they believe in. Belief and passion transmit more powerfully than you can ever know.
Find a wise colleague or coach to talk your idea over with. Talk, write up your ideas on big paper. Go crazy with it and then simplify it hugely.
Simplify even more. Be ruthless. Get people to help you cut things out. You will ALWAYS have more than you need, which is great because then you’ll have loads of material for your next talk or blog post. I think I have about 10 years of blog/book/talk ideas now!
Write up the talk. As a guide, and obviously depending on how fast you talk, an 18 minute talk is roughly 2,700 written words. Write it, learn i t and then let go of it. This was hard for me as I got hung up on getting it right and not forgetting all the points that I wanted to put across. There is no room for perfectionism here – flexibility is key – and being able to talk around the key themes rather than stick to the words religiously is essential for your good mental health!
Create good slides. Use them as visual prompts, make them visually appealing and definitely do not put too many words on each slide. I had to fin d a balance with this as I was teaching some key concepts that I wanted to get across. For excellent visuals see Brene Brown’s TED talks. She does is beautifully.
Practice, practice, practice! This may sound silly, particularly considering I work with others on fears all the time, but I got to a point where I was frozen into inaction. I didn’t rehearse, I wouldn’t watch other people’s TED talks and I was silently panicking. I swiftly got over that and ‘performed’ my talk at least once a day to no-one or anyone who would listen. I believe you need to go past the point of knowing it inside out and back-to-front so you can then connect to the concepts and the passion again from the other side of that.
Use learning strategies that work for you. (If you don’t know what they are come talk to a Cognitive Hypnotherapy Master Practitioner who will help you work it out). I used colour, images, wrote the main points up on presentation paper and stuck them on my wall and recorded myself talking and listened back to it regularly. I have a success mindset playlist of music on my iPod which I listened to religiously. Before my talk, my amazing friend and Coach Rachel Moore breathed with me and we sang a song! Rachel and Sian Robinson (another incredible coach and therapist) are my living breathing anchors for friendship, love and self-belief. The two of them and Trevor and Rebecca Silvester supported me in ways that I will remember for always. Learning to ask for help has been a personal journey of mine and I learnt here that when the chips are down you really find out who you have around you and with you. It turns out I am a very lucky lady! Last but not least, my biggest learning in all of this would be next time don’t blooming well make a mountain out of a molehill. I told myself this was a big deal when in fact it was just one moment of my life (and one that I will repeat in varying forms many times I hope). If you tell yourself scary stories things look scary. If you tell yourself it’s a walk in the park, you can enjoy picking the daisies. I think someone has done a TEDx talk on cultivating a positive, fearless mindset – it’s quite good I hear. You might want to have a watch sometime…