I was one of the featured speakers at UW’s TEDX event last spring. As a public speaker, it definitely was one of the more high-profile events that I’ve spoken at in my career. I remember feeling the pressure of needing to deliver. I hold very high standards for myself. This is both a gift and a curse. It causes more stress but it also pushes me to go above and beyond in my public speaking. From the preparation, all the way to being on stage delivering my speech–my expectation is to do well. This level of intensity is the killer instinct that I wrote about in a past blog.
Rather quickly, I’d come to discover that this speech would be far different from what I was accustomed to, mainly in the writing process. All featured speakers were expected to submit drafts with a panel of people multiple times prior to the event. This panel would either approve or make suggestions as to how to improve your talk. This was foreign to me. I had never let people help write major portions of a talk of mine. I might solicit feedback or toss around a couple ideas here and there with people I trusted but that’s as far as it went.
I remember the first time I showed up in front of the five person panel. I was slightly nervous because I hadn’t fully written everything out yet. My writing process is fluid. There are no parameters to it. But for this particular speech, the expectations was to have multiple drafts. This required me to push something out even if my heart wasn’t necessarily set on it. Inspiration is such an elusive feeling and I’ve found it to be even more slippery when there are deadlines associated. After I clumsily stumbled through my talk, I stood there before them, it felt like I was staring at my firing squad.
They provided constructive feedback, some more helpful than others. They wanted me to tone down this, be mindful of that, maybe say this differently so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audience (this was code word for white people). Initially, I was ego tripping. My pride got in my way. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, “What in the world can these people tell me about public speaking, if anything I should be teaching them how to speak!” After that first session, I went home indignant at their suggestions. I felt like I knew what I was doing and didn’t need any assistance whatsoever. I clenched my fists as I stomped off into the night.
A few days later, the unexpected happened. I was driving home from work and as I sat in I-5 traffic, my conscience kicked in and I began rethinking my entire talk. Maybe their suggestions were actually helpful. Maybe I could just take what resonated with me and discard the rest. I began to reason with myself, if I wanted to do my best, how could feedback from strangers that have a vested interest in my success be a bad thing? What would I accomplish being so prideful? Filipinos are world famous for their pride and here I was, falling victim to the same hurdle that so many of my people have stumbled upon. I told myself, if I was truly committed to excellence, then I’d be willing to do any and everything to improve which even meant collaborating with others to write a speech.
After this realization, the rest of the time going before the panel was a great opportunity to improve as a speaker. They provided me with ideas that I didn’t think about. By shifting my perspective, I was able to truly embrace their help rather than reject it outright. Instead of a deficit mindset, I switched to a surplus one. I kept an open mind and listened intently.
And let me tell you, I’m glad that I did. I hit a home run. But see for yourself, here’s the talk. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that on my own.
Some times you need help from others to truly tap into your best work.