Woman Times is a weekly blog series devoted to giving voice to the women of the Central New York community.
Several years ago my son Johnny introduced me to TED Talks. He said, “Ma, you really need to do a TED Talk!” I watched several talks and was impressed. These were really intelligent people, they had lots of letters after their names. They were doctors and CEO’s of major corporations. TED was way out of my league.
Recently, a friend sent me a link with an application for TEDx Syracuse. I sent in the application. What the heck? They aren’t going to choose me anyway. But they did, and for the first time in twenty-five years I had to go on a job interview. It was nerve racking. I sat in front of six serious minded people, knowing, they had more knowledge in their twenty something heads, then I would ever have in mine. I wondered what the heck I was doing. They asked me questions like, “Who needs to hear what you have to say?” “Well you guys do. Lighten up!” Did I just say that out loud? One gal said defensively, “We’ve been doing interviews since early this morning and we need coffee.” Great! Now I’ve pissed them off. I left the interview and questioned my motives.
I realized I needed this challenge. I’m a motivational speaker by trade. I’ve been speaking for nearly 20 years. Doing an eight minute TEDx Talk should have been a cinch right? Wrong. I worked harder on that eight minute talk than I have on any talk I’ve ever given. At one point I almost canceled. This for me was like walking the tightrope without a net. It was the first time ever that I didn’t have my podium in front of me. Nor did I have any notes. I had never given a keynote address without my notes. They are the same exact pieces of paper that I’ve used each time. The edges are all tattered and the paper is worn and taped together. Even though I rarely look at the papers while I speak, for some reason, I can’t do the keynote without them. They are my rabbit’s foot.
This TEDx event was frightening for me. I wouldn’t have my podium to hide behind. I wouldn’t have my security blanket. It was just me and the audience and if something went wrong, I would have to think quickly. Very quickly.
I went to the rehearsal and quickly realized I was the clown at the rodeo. These people were brilliant. What was I thinking? Their talks were so over my head that I didn’t even understand what they were talking about. They used terms I’d never heard of like; digital currencies and gamification, they had statistics and graphs and all I had was a clown nose. I freaked out and quietly put my nose in my purse.
The day of the event I rewrote my entire talk. I spent the day trying to boost my ego and give myself the confidence to stand next to college professors, heads of foundations, poets and the Mayor. My little jokes and I headed to Newhouse.
I was next. Standing in the wings, mic’d and ready to go on, I was thinking of my opening line. And then it happened. The announcer introduced Bob O’Brien. What? I’m next. Those are my slides on the monitor. The stage manager frantically started to take the microphone off of me and give it to Bob. I stopped her. My slides were ready, I had to go on. I turned to her and said, “I got this.”
I walked onto the stage and said with a big smile, “Well clearly, I’m not Bob!” I turned the botched up introduction into something funny and the audience laughed. I continued, “My name is Yvonne Conte and I’ll be talking with you about laughter.” They cheered.
This was the best thing that could have happened to me. Taking control of the situation with humor, showed the audience immediately who I was. My personality came out the minute I walked on the stage. I’m a take charge gal. I do what needs to be done. Humor is important and these people need to hear what I have to say! It gave me confidence because from that moment on I knew the audience was with me.
The greatest lesson I learned from this experience is that education is very important but experience is what will carry you every time. Plus I don’t’ need my rabbit’s foot anymore and that’s a good thing.
Yvonne Conte is a nationally recognized and internationally respected Corporate Culture Expert/Author at Humor Advantage, Inc. She is founder and director of Day of Joy Women’s Conference and member of Camillus Chamber of Commerce.
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You can always find her counting her blessings.
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