Such a high pressure event requires a lot of practice. Plus you have be prepared for anything to go wrong.
There aren’t many talks more prestigious than speaking at TEDx. To name a few, there’s a commencement speech, a speech at the White House and a real TED talk. But for the majority of us, the probabilities of any of these events happening is quite slim.
On May 27, 2017, I had the opportunity to speak at TEDxUCIrvine’s The Pursuit of Greatness about Why You Should Let Your Fears Guide You. And what an honor it was.
Julia Arthur, Executive Director at TEDxUCIrvine and I first met at Tender Greens, across the street from the University of California, Irvine on March 8. She went over the topic of the event, The Pursuit of Greatness, and I shared an outline of my personal journey with her. After our initial meeting, she invited me to speak.
With a little over two months to prepare, I thought the process would be a piece of cake. But boy was I wrong.
In fact, I needed all the help I could get.
At first, I was excited. But the day after I was told I would be a speaker, alongside Tom Ngo, Darshi N. Shah, Cole Hatter, Lori Harder, Travis Bradberry, Jason Y. Lee and Michael Brainard, I was in shock. I needed to prepare. So I wrote out a script. But was it the right script to share?
Fortunately, I knew a few speakers who spoke at TEDx events previously, such as Ryan Foland and Daniel Midson Short. We went through a session and dropped my 20 minute speech to 9 minutes, taking out all the unnecessary details.
Some of the things Ryan and Daniel taught me included:
- How to remove distractions
- How to break a speech down into segments
- How to memorize a speech
Things were solid, but I wasn’t feeling 100 percent confident since both of my colleagues had busy schedules, so I went looking for additional help. I was referred to Nathan Gold, the demo coach, who helped me practice once a week until showtime.
What Nathan taught me included:
- Listening to another person speak your speech
- Tonality and pauses
When the first rehearsal came around, I was given additional feedback from the TEDx board, which included Julia Arthur, Wally Rashid and Goran Matijasevic. They told me to elaborate more at the beginning of the story and fill in some missing details. They also wanted me to spread my three tips, to recognize your fear, face your fear and DSA (do something about) your fear within the talk itself.
When I went back to the drawing board, I was nervous because I had memorized my talk and now I needed to reformat it. And the deadline for the event was approaching, closer and closer. I was scared and I wanted to run away. I wanted to call Julia and ask her if I could cancel. But I didn’t.
Instead, John Lim, who I had done a few podcasts with in the past kept encouraging me. Winnie Sun, who I’ve spoken with before at UC Irvine and has spoken at many events called me every other day to encourage me and share the media tips she learned along the years. But the person who helped me through the entire process is Susanna Mendler. She talked to me every day about the talk and even flew in all the way from New York to watch me speak.
The entire week before my TEDx, I was nervous and couldn’t concentrate on anything. The day before, I was panicking. Both Winnie Sun and Ryan Foland gave me a call and told me to just chill out, take it easy and be myself. If I sounded too rehearsed, then it wouldn’t be on brand to who I am. Then I rehearsed one more time with Nathan Gold and he told me that I had it down and I just needed to go and do it.
The day of my talk, Susanna and I went down to UC Irvine. We showed up at 2pm for the final rehearsal. After I gave my practice speech, I lost my voice and had to go to In-N-Out to grab a burger to regain my voice. Protein. It worked wonders. Then an hour before my talk, my entire body was so nervous that I had to go to the restroom a few times.
When I was called up on stage, I was as nervous as I could be. This was the biggest talk I ever did in my entire life and my voice was shaking. But I tried to go with it. Then, all of a sudden, my powerpoint took a life of it’s own and started to change slides when I wasn’t pushing the clicker. I turned back and saw it was on the wrong slide and made a comment about the technical glitch, saying something like, “Whoa, the slides are moving on their own!”
I could’ve froze up at that moment, but since Nathan had me prepare for anything to go wrong, I took ownership of it, then crowd laughed and I was able to feel calmer and more in the moment.
When I started to be myself, the audience laughed every two minutes. It was amazing. My friend David left right after my speech and on his way out, he heard some of the organizers saying it was one of the best talks they have seen.
Even though this was one of the scariest things I have done in my life, I made sure I followed the three step process I outlined in my talk. I recognized my fear. I faced my fear. Then I DSA my fear. I’ve been truly blessed to have had this opportunity and wish to see others make it up on that stage as well.
Thank you to everyone for all your support and I hope my personal experience with delivering a speech at a high pressure event can help you deliver an amazing speech at your next high pressure event as well.