Allow me to start this reflection with some context.
I’ve been teaching communication, which includes as my bread and butter, intro to public speaking, better known as the dreaded college speech class, for the better part of 11 years.
Prior to that, I was a budding communication major who enjoyed the challenge of public speaking, but about 16 years ago, I walked into a speech class for the first time full of dread. I tried everything I could to get out of that class. Can I test out of it? “No.” Can I substitute it for a writing class? “No.” You get the idea.
Sixteen weeks later, my classmates elected me to represent them at our campus speech contest. I then went to the contest, hoping to win some money to put food on the table for my family, and with an empty belly I stood and delivered to the best of my ability.
To my alarming surprise, I won.
That was the moment I realized I enjoyed the thrill and the rush of public speaking, especially when it leads to an authentic, genuine connection with an audience and they walk away from such a talk with something of value.
Today, I watch as student after student goes through a transformational moment of their own, learning to: own their anxiety and nerves, push through the discomfort despite what their limbic system tries to tell them, and discover that their words have power.
Therefore, all that stated, it’s not surprising that I would apply to deliver a genuine (as opposed to off-brand) TEDx talk. After all, such an event is like the Super Bowl for a communication professor, and if I could make that happen, I felt like I would have so much more to offer my speech students.
The day finally came, on January 12, 2019. For me, great things always seem to happen during odd-numbered years. Why? Not sure.
I walked out onto a stage, in a room filled with 300 or so people, and I delivered my very best for about 15 minutes. I fought my every last anxiety and nerve, each of which told me to shut up and run away, that I was no good, that nobody was listening, and that nothing I said would make a different.
But, in the end, I felt strong about the effort I provided and the fact that I looked each of those anxieties in the face and said, “Not today.”
A couple of applause breaks and a standing ovation later, I felt that very same rush that reminded me of the speech contest, when a young(er) husband and father of three, weighing only 120 pounds soaking wet, spoke for seven minutes to try to win enough money to eat. Way back then, when I won, it was among the proudest days of my entire life, and it changed my career plans. Today, I’m a professor because of the impact that day left upon me.
When I stepped off the TEDx stage last Saturday, my youngest daughter, who accompanied me to the talks, told me how proud she was of me. Later on that evening, my oldest son penned one of the most beautiful Facebook tributes to his old man, reiterating that same pride. While TEDx didn’t put food on my table, it certainly filled my soul, and now, I have a new memory to place delicately alongside the 2003 speech contest as one of the proudest days of my life. When my kids are proud of me, it feels like nothing else matters.
Sure, I could have spoken louder, I could have been more animated, or hell, I could have been funnier. None of that matters now, because my children are proud of their old man, and that’s good enough for me.
Thanks, TEDx Coeur d’Alene!