This was only going to be written if my Talk was successful, which TED determines by number of online views. Screw that. It was successful because we worked our butts off and did it. Yesterday we won, we all won—every speaker, the TEDx committee, the EcSell Institute team and me. Every audience member’s expectations, almost 2,000 of them, should have been exceeded and if they weren’t, shame on them.
The EcSell Institute continually preaches the obvious, “the performance of individuals and teams are a reflection of how they are coached," and this University of Nevada TEDx event certainly follows that theme. Dr. Bret Simmons, the event’s director, is a rock star. He is the kind of Coach I would (and did) follow into battle. He strategized, challenged, hugged, prodded and loved. As a result of him, the TEDx committee is equally as strong, and combined they made the event the most memorable professional experience I’ve had to date.
While the purpose of being a speaker for a TEDx event is to change the lives of the viewers, it has certainly changed mine. It would take too much space to list everything I’ve learned, but below is what comes to mind 12 hours after one of the most exhausting and exhilarating days I’ve ever spent.
- Many people have asked why my talk was done at the University of Nevada when I live just a few miles from the University of Nebraska. I applied at the University of Nevada for two reasons:
- My talk was rejected at the University of Nebraska the year prior. Also, if I was going to be turned down again, may as well be rejected by a larger event. But, as it turns out, one has to be careful what they wish for…
- Bret Simmons' highly regarded reputation at the University of Nevada.
- The TEDx submission process was detailed, thought provoking and challenging. Like everything else that led to the talk, this was not a solo step, many people on the EcSell team assisted me in the submission process. More about that process here.
- My goal was simple, create and deliver the best short talk I’ve ever given. In order to do this I had to be an example of what my Talk encompasses -- it was time for me to get uncomfortable, or #OutOfOrder. First was to take a topic on which I keynote for 90 minutes and boil it down to 12. This was painstaking, took months, and I was constantly obtaining feedback from my team at EcSell as well as Dr. Simmons, who were both brutally candid.
- When I felt like I had it to the best 12 minutes, the EcSell team decided I should do a “dry-run” approximately 45 days before the event. So, 27 local people in Lincoln were gathered (most of whom I did not know) at a local establishment and I delivered my Talk. Immediately following, Stacia Jorgensen, our Director of Research had developed a written survey for them to anonymously fill in, and Anna Schott, our Director of Marketing also led a live feedback session. Bottom line is that while the Talk was very well received, it only rated about an 8 on a scale of 1-10. Not good enough.
- At the Lincoln dry-run there was a particular young woman who seemed to have a great deal of wisdom regarding TED talks and speaking. As it turns out she is a speech coach for a local high school and I immediately asked Angela Kramer to join our team and coach me moving forward, which she agreed to do. Together we spent many hours recrafting and rehearsing the Talk—success would not have been possible without her immense talent.
- Based on the dry-run feedback about 50% of the Talk was rewritten. Angela and I practiced the new version and seven days later I flew to Reno to do another dry-run with the entire TEDx committee. Dr. Simmons told me to expect it to get torn apart again, but it wasn’t. The TEDx committee liked it and had some great suggestions on delivery, but only a small suggestion on content. The dry-run group back home was spot on with their suggestions.
- TED does not allow notes, there is no teleprompter and if you goof up their best advice is to start over. So I practiced every day. Literally. Every. Day. Our Labrador, Aspen, heard my speech no fewer than 100 times and the mirror in our basement was never more appreciated. I rehearsed in the shower, on my walks, quiet nights at the office, driving in my car, sitting on airplanes (people thought I was weird), most any place where I didn’t have to engage with others, I practiced.
- My family joined me in Reno along with Anna. Up to this point I had made some wise choices, but this certainly ranks towards the top. Nothing feels better than to have family around. And, if your goal is to get your message out there everyone needs an Anna. She sat in the audience all day with her laptop open, responding to Facebook, Twitter and other social media posts. I had
no idea that so many people would immediately begin to reach out and connect. She handled everything with professionalism, grace and urgency and because of her we have relationships with many new people and businesses. She even made t-shirts.
- I typically don’t get nervous prior to speaking, but this was different, I got nervous. Thank goodness for the friends I’ve made in the sports psychology field, for the meditation and breathing techniques they taught me came in handy.
- There were 16 speakers and four entertainers and I was speaker #2. So, at 9:10 a.m. I walked onstage, stood in front of 2,000 people and had the best start I’ve ever had. But, something was not quite right, and after a few sentences a technician walked on stage to turn on my mic. Time to start over…
- What I didn’t account for was the people. I’m not referring to the audience, for they were my sole focus the past six months, but I am referring to the other speakers. As a result of them I cried, laughed, frowned, giggled and had my stomach turned inside-out. New friends were made, so many new lessons learned and ideas heard. This was classic complexity—unintended outcomes when one changes their order, and is willing to be uncomfortable.
Photo by Tim Dunn
This was one of the most humbling professional days I’ve ever spent. Countless people approached me and thanked me for my Talk. It resonated with so many for different reasons and I was humbled to hear their stories and experiences (join the community here). Our work is working!
My (our) Talk is titled “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life” and revolves around a simplistic view of complexity science. I introduce the concept of the Growth Rings which depict how every living thing needs to be in a state of complexity (discomfort) to grow, which is in conflict with our personal and professional desire to be in a state of order (comfort).
Understanding the Growth Rings has seriously altered how I parent, coach, think, research and strategize for our business. And, while the Talk is not yet posted, based on what I saw, heard and felt Saturday, maybe, just maybe, others may see the message the same way and want to share it with the world.
(Updated at a later date to include Bill's Talk)
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