Kirsten Ejlskov Jensen
I can honestly say I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I agreed to do a Talk at this year’s TEDxCopenhagen.
Sure, I know about TED and had seen a bunch of TEDTalks without thinking too much about what went into the preparation. So how difficult could it be? My talk was only to be a few minutes long and I’m used to public speaking from work. I thought it would be fun.
The first hint of what was REALLY involved came with an email asking me to send the first draft of my script. My script? Let’s just say I come from the “wing-it” school of public speaking. Not that I usually just make it up as I go along. I generally have some idea of what I will say, but definitely never a script.
The next hint came when I started studying a bunch of other TEDTalks more seriously. It is interesting how different they are. Yet they have a number of things in common. They are big-time professional (so professional that they seem effortless). They are inspiring. They are thought provoking. They are often moving. They are seriously difficult to live-up to.
Lucky for me (and the other speakers), we were not left floundering around on our own. We were supported every step of the way through our script writing and delivery preparation with speaker workshops and one-on-one coaching.
The biggest challenge emerged when I started working on my script. Since I had “happily” blogged my way through cancer diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, I wasn’t expecting to find this part difficult. I was used to talking about it, right? And the message I wanted to communicate was very clear and simple: that exercise isn’t just about physical wellbeing, but about mental and emotional wellbeing too. It was only when I started writing that I realised that for my message to make sense I was going to have to be really honest about how absolutely horrific the whole cancer thing was. Not that my blogging hadn’t been honest, but I have always used humour and a positive spin, mainly because otherwise I felt too exposed.
I had tears pouring down my cheeks as I wrote the first version of my script. And that’s when I fully realised what I had agreed to: I was going to stand up alone in front of more than 600 strangers (not to talk about the live streaming!) and talk about the most painful thing in my life.
I was way outside my comfort zone. Still, two of the most important things I have learned from running marathons are (1) It’s only by moving outside of your comfort zone that you develop, and (2) you have to trust the process. So I faced the discomfort head on, put in the time writing and rewriting, practising and rehearsing until I had done the very best preparation I could do.
The big day finally arrived and it was with quite a lot of trepidation that I headed off to Bremen Theatre. But wow, I was treated like VIP from the minute I arrived! There was a real buzz of anticipation and activity backstage with people running all over the place. Yet everyone took the time to look after me and my speaker mates, make sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed. Photographers were snapping away at us, we got our make-up done. Snacks and nibbles around the place. Totally spoiled!
I was sure I would be so hyper that I wouldn’t take in any of the Talks before mine, but they were just all so mind-blowing that I completely forgot about my own nerves. And then it was my turn.
Standing back-stage before I went on was a lot like standing at the start line of a marathon. I was excited and very nervous, but by that point I could only do my best! Once I got on the stage, it was a lot like running a marathon (only a hell of a lot shorter, thank goodness!). I was in a flow where I just did what I had practiced. I felt very naked and totally vulnerable. But it didn’t seem like I was exposing myself in front of strangers as I had feared. No, it felt that everyone in that theatre was my friend and was silently cheering me on.
Doing a talk at TED talk was a lot different than I imagined. Sure it was fun. Really fun. In a totally masochistic kind of way. I learned a lot about communication and writing speeches. But most of all, talking in public about my cancer without cracking a joke or two, took me a step further on the journey of coming to terms with it.