Then, on an early afternoon in December, I received a message with the reference line: “2019 TEDxCharleston.” I took a deep breath and with my heart pounding out of my chest, I hit the open button. “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to speak…”
I showed my husband my phone - I needed another pair of eyes to confirm that I wasn’t hallucinating. Holy shit, I wasn’t!
There was a succession of emails detailing the kick-off event, media (Media!), sponsor & coaching information and related dates and events. Again, holy shit!
Now I had to begin the hard work of actually drafting my talk. The organizers offer a lot of coaching to prepare you to speak. They want you to deliver the best talk possible and a lot of emphasis was put on delivering an authentically you talk in the TED™ format. You can bet I availed myself of coaching. My primary coach was amazing. Funny, smart and knowledgeable, he helped me shape my stellar idea into a narrative arc suited to the format, that would be as memorable and impactful as I dreamed it would be. I did go “off script” a bit though. I wanted to deliver a talk that would be conversational while still being in the prescribed TED™ format. To that end, I wrote-in places where the audience was required to respond in very specific ways. It was risky and it could have gone very, very wrong. It didn’t, but more about that later.
In the months leading up to the TED™ event, I rehearsed with my coach, with other coaches and speakers at group sessions (it is a little like therapy) and wrote and re-wrote my talk, constantly distilling and “killing my darlings.” Then, I married my words to the visuals and undertook another honing process. Finally, I felt like there was nothing more that I could add, subtract or rephrase. It was as done and polished as I could ever hope to make it.
As an actor, I relish the rehearsal process. It’s how we make the material uniquely ours. In this case, there was no character to inhabit - these were my words, my thoughts and it was going to be me singly on that stage. The thought was both heady and nerve-wracking, simultaneously.
The day of the dress rehearsal dawned bright, clear and warm. I took a moment at the theatre to marvel at the well-oiled machine that was humming around me. The volunteers, the speakers and all of the production people were just so damn excited to be putting on this show. We were going to have an audience of 500 high school students that day. I had chosen to be one of the first speakers in the lineup. I wanted the audience’s energy and I knew it would be highest first thing in the morning. Also, I didn’t want the torture of sitting backstage for the entire day waiting for my turn.
Walking across the stage after my name was announced, both at the rehearsal and at the actual event, was a joyous, excitement-filled journey. That moment before you speak, that inhale of breath - when perfection is still possible, is indescribable.
My talk wasn’t perfect. It was really good though. Maybe it was even great. The audiences responded better than I could have anticipated. They were with me. They laughed, they gasped and answered heartily when required. They took the journey I led them on and I accepted the grace they offered. My final “thank you” prompted thunderous applause and the long walk back across the stage was a gravitational impossibility since my feet didn’t touch the ground.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics, headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company provides spectacular training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans. To find out more about training and speaking services, please reach out to us at 843-771-0753.