“He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (German Philosopher)
For those who are familiar with the TED Talk format, you may know of the famous red dot. There are stages, and then there is the TED stage. Speakers walk onto a TED stage to deliver their unique message and begin their presentation on a red piece of carpet that’s shaped like a circle. Hence, the red dot. The red dot represents a bit of euphoria in that the speaker has officially arrived at the moment they’ve been preparing for. It also represents a bit of a battle ground, in that once you step foot on the dot, the battle between your preparation, nerves, and message all converge. You want to do well, but before you is a crowd, a set of expectations you’ve placed on yourself, and time itself as TED talks are only allowed to be 18 minutes or less.
In November of 2022, I was presented with an opportunity to apply to be a TEDx speaker. TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”. TED was founded in 1984 and brought a few hundred people together in a single annual conference in California. The idea was simple, yet profound. Founders Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks wanted a platform devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”. And the main way to spread them…invite people with ideas, insights and stories from all walks of life to speak on a stage and for the audience to learn. The TED platform’s goal is to make the speech short and concise (hence the 18 minute rule), and broadcast it (spread the ideas) through the power of the internet through video format.
If you know my story, you know that my mom’s death changed the trajectory of my life and career. I wrote a book to document my learnings, and when I was asked if I wanted to apply to be a TEDx speaker, I jumped at the chance to share my story with others in hopes they’d avoid the mistakes my mom made from an unplanned retirement. The book certainly has been a great way to deliver my learnings to others, and with TED, I’d now be able to share my learnings on a popular stage. I submitted my application, and soon enough, I found out I had been selected to be a speaker at the event which would take place in the Spring of ’23 at a soon-to-be-announced date.
Around January, I received word of the official date of the event… March 22, 2023.
Mom died on March 22, 2011.
I’d be speaking to an audience about her story on the very date she passed, twelve years earlier.
I felt it to be an honor to be able to do this, but it also made the emotions a bit more raw. I prepared for months. Crafting, deleting, editing, changing my speech until there had to be a point where I just had to stop and get on to the work of ‘knowing’ my speech. I chose to commit it to memory as I didn’t want to rely on a teleprompter or sound robotic as I read it. All told, 2,518 words memorized. Over 16 minutes of content, all in my head… and all in my heart. At first, I doubted myself that I could memorize it all. But slowly, yet surely, I read, re-read, recorded myself reading, and replayed it on my AirPods twice a day for 2 months. As my speech began to crystallize in my head, I then asked permission to go to my church and stand on the stage to practice my speech. During the week, no one was in the sanctuary, so I had no worries of anyone laughing at my mess ups or correcting my stutters. I did this every weekday on my way home from work and told my family I’d be 45 minutes later than usual for the month leading up to the event. Fortunately, they understood.
Then, the time finally came for the big day. On March 21st, I’d have a dress rehearsal so I’d be comfortable and familiar with the stage and atmosphere. At the dress rehearsal, there were 5 other speakers during that timeframe who got to practice as well. I heard their speeches, their ideas, their hearts. The one that went before me told of how she had been sexually abused at a church camp. She overcame. The one that went after me told of the troubles she’d been through as she found her true gender identity. Then there was me. A story of suicide and tragedy. A story of heartache and pain. But a story of learning and triumph. And there I stood on the red dot. The teleprompter to my left (I knew I wouldn’t need that), bright lights shining in my eyes, three cameras to capture different angles of our speeches, and quietness all around. I gave a few lines… and stopped. I didn’t want to give the whole thing at the rehearsal. I wanted it to be new, raw, in the moment. I wanted it to be fresh, the first time given… would be live. The TEDx crew seemed fairly surprised I didn’t take advantage of the rehearsal, but I knew it was the right thing for me. The next day, March 22nd, 2023, I’d give my full speech to the best of my ability.
The moments leading up to my name being called on stage were surreal. The lump in my throat was tangible as I choked down tears of sadness for the memory of what that day represented, yet joy in the hope that those who’d choose to view my talk would find value and help. My name was called, I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and approached the red dot.
The next 16 minutes and 55 seconds of my life are a bit of a blur. Suspended between recalling from memory all the words I wanted to convey, expressing emotion and care to keep the audience engaged, and flitting memories of mom from the deep recesses of my mind all converged all at once. I stepped off the red dot, relieved it was over, and hopeful my message would have a positive impact.
All told, I’ve received a number of kind comments from those who’ve chose to listen. And I felt an immense amount of gratitude and satisfaction from knowing mom’s story would help even more people.
March 22nd. Two very significant and memorable events occurred that day. The first in 2011 when my mom took her life. The second when I walked onto the red dot to live my why, to share her story, and to honor her legacy.
[Author’s Note: For those who’d like to view my TEDx talk, you can find it here. Hope you find it valuable! Reply with how it impacted you or any constructive feedback!]