Confession: Sometimes my close friends poke fun at me because I keep my “gone writing” email autoresponder on for weeks (or months!) at a time.
Hey, when you need to lock in some of that precious deep focus time… well, a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do!
One project that took my full focus was the talk I did at UCLA for Oprah’s SuperSoul Sessions (you can watch it below). I was really excited when I got the offer. Without a doubt it was a whole body “yes!” But I was also aware of the kind of mental and physical prep it would take to do a great job. If you’re not familiar with Oprah’s SuperSoul Sessions, they’re sorta like spiritual TED Talks filled with high caliber thought leaders. No chumps allowed—all A game—all the time.
Naturally, I wanted to crush it. And the best way I crush it is to practice my ass off. So I called up my speaking coach and we began sculpting my talk months in advance. We started the process by working with index cards. Each card had a short word or a phrase that triggered a story or led to a teaching.
We went big, tossing out every fun, practical and poignant idea. Note: It’s common to start this process with a hundred or so cards that eventually get reduced to 5-10 must-haves.
We talked about whether I should do something new and fresh, or go with tried-and-true stories and wisdom that I know work. While both options have their merits and challenges, when you’re given a chance to make an impact on a powerful global stage, I think it’s best to do what you know. Do what makes you feel confident. Do what works. That’s my advice and that’s what I did.
But here’s the rub: While I’ve given hundreds of lectures over the years, I’d never done a super short TED talk. And guess what? It’s much harder than you think! No note cards, no chair (mama likes to sit), no slides, nada.
I’m used to 60-90 minutes, which feels like a luxurious meal with the audience. 18-20 minutes? That’s like a spiritual drive-thru. You have to nourish, inspire and distill your message down to snackable nuggets. Think of it like wisdom from concentrate.
Whittling down my message to 1/6th of its usual size wasn’t only challenging, it was a mental stretch too. I’m very visually creative. I see my talks in my head. I picture the bones, muscle and fascia. I thrive in the artistic sinew and so when a section of my creative anatomy gets cut out, it’s almost like I feel unsettled and lost. Translation: I forget where I am.
Pssst… Fearing losing your place and ending up like a deer in the headlights will keep a gal up at night. The solution: more practice. Months of practice. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I put at least 100 hours of work into those 18-20 minutes. Now that may seem like A LOT to most, but that’s the kind of prep I need to rock it when the stakes are high.
So I’m doing the work. Rehearsing in the woods, in the car, in the shower, in my office, Skyping with my coach and it’s all coming together. The haircut is booked. The highlights are scheduled. The dress options are picked out (note: bring two in case of a malfunction or drool). Even the underwear gets an upgrade. Can this bra hold a mic pack under the dress? Better get a stronger one. Do these heels wobble or are they sturdy enough to hold me up while I hold the space in the room? Every detail gets planned—my message, my nails, my makeup. You name it.
Suffice to say, it all came together. Until it fell apart.
Brian and I had rented a house in Venice a few days before the event. We arrived on a Tuesday and the gig wasn’t until Saturday. Plenty of time to adjust to the new time zone and land the plane on my speech prep. Thankfully, one of my best friends, Marie Forleo, was also giving a talk, so the two of us rehearsed together. Marie even rented a theater so we could do a run-through on a real stage.
During said run-throughs, I’m kicking ass and growing more confident by the day. My coach and I do another check-in over Skype, tweak a few more points, cut another chunk for time’s sake. And voila, I’ve got it down to close to 18ish minutes, and I’m on fire. But that’s when the insomnia kicks in. A few nights before the talk, I stop sleeping.
Getting only 3-4 hours per night doesn’t work for me. I begin to get concerned because when I’m tired, I don’t remember anything. Cut to the night before the gig—2 hours of sleep. That’s it. Was I scared? Yes. Did my confidence shrink? Yes. Did I want to chew my own arm off and tell them that unfortunately I couldn’t make it? Yes. Did I go for it anyway? YES!