Edison Talk: A recap

photoI’ve been trying to better my game in the speaking category lately, and Friday I got to do some things that would have been tough for me a few years ago. It all went well, which was encouraging.

I was chosen as an “Edison Talk” speaker for Chicago Ideas Week. (Others included Sal Khan, Michael Strahen, The Brain host David Eagleman, and Judy Smith of Scandal fame). On Friday morning, we were invited to participate in a small breakfast for donors and city leaders. Rahm Emanuel was in attendance. I agreed to give a 3-minute talk at the breakfast on something that interested me, so I spoke on why we should think in terms of 168 hours, not 24. It was a short hit, in and out, and touched on my major points. The audience seemed to like it, so that was motivational for my big talk.

This was in the full Cadillac theater in Chicago. I elected not to use slides, which I was grateful for later when two speakers had major slide malfunctions (there was a separate person advancing the slides as the speaker couldn’t do it automatically). I should note that both speakers handled it brilliantly. It was a really talented group. One of the things you have to learn to do as a speaker is keep calm when you are on stage in front of 1000+ people, no matter what happens. You also need to know your material cold, because if the slides aren’t there, the audience still expects you to entertain them. Eagleman actually acted out the physical process the slides were supposed to show. That was awesome.

Anyway, sans slides, it was just me on the stage (in my fancy speaking heels!), telling stories and sharing ideas. The audience came along for the ride. I came in at 1 minute under my 15 minute limit, without having to divert from the relaxed tone I’d planned. Best for me: at the reception afterwards, people quoted back to me some of my main points, such as that if you work 40 hours and sleep 8 per night, you have 72 hours for other things, and that you should take time on Friday afternoons to create a short priority list for the next week. In my speech, I am not trying to create an emotional reaction in my audience. That works for some people, but it’s not my goal. I want people to remember ideas or practices that will help their lives.

The key victory for me in all this, though, is something that didn’t happen: I really wasn’t nervous. Not in any way that would affect performance. I slept like a baby (well, not like my baby) the night before. I did not feel flustered beforehand or on stage. The only uh-oh moment was when my microphone fell off my waistband 2 minutes before stage-time, but the tech pros backstage fixed that up quick. A few years ago, I think I would have had butterflies about the whole thing, but it turns out public speaking really is a skill like any other. It gets easier over time.

I hope to have the video soon!

In other news: I met some fascinating people. On Thursday, I sat at dinner with someone who’d spoken earlier that week: the creator of the Dothraki language in Game of Thrones. It is a whole coherent language with its own grammatical structure and irregularities and introduced foreign words that helped the language evolve. I really hope most GOT watchers know that.

12 thoughts on “Edison Talk: A recap

  1. I’m curious to know if public speaking was something you were aware of as being part of a writer’s life earlier in your career. I think there are aspects to careers that evolve over time if one wants to grow, and public speaking applies to anyone in a leadership role (as opposed to individual contributors). Did you embrace it? Did you contemplate shying away from it? How do you practice? Is it at odds with being an introvert?

    1. @Griffin – good question. I’m not sure that I did ponder that writing would involve speaking. It doesn’t for everyone (there are some reclusive, successful writers) but most of us can’t trust the world will find us and adequately compensate for the printed stuff alone. I find public speaking easier than making small talk at parties with lots of different people.

      As for practicing, I practice in front of mirrors, or in the car while driving. And I’m giving my talk often enough now that each speech is in some way practicing for others. I see what audiences respond to and introduce one or two new elements to see if they work.

      1. It’s kind of a skill like writing. Almost anyone can use it in their jobs, and getting better at it will have payoffs. Probably more obvious, quick payoffs for those in leadership roles, but being more poised and confident in presenting oneself and one’s ideas to others is never a bad thing.

  2. I’m home bound due to a broken bone so I was able to watch you on the live stream. You looked great and so poised and comfortable. (Great heels!) well done!

  3. Speaking in public isn’t something I’ve practiced a lot, so I’m always quite terrified when I have to do it. I feel completely calm about writing for a large audience, but even speaking to a fairly small in-person audience feels completely different.

  4. You’re very inspiring!
    While attending college,presenting report to the entire class always made me nervous . It took me a little while to overcome my stage fright but the more you do it,the more confidence you gain.

  5. Laura, thanks for being so transparent about this. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally for everyone, so I love how you shared the lessons from the mishaps here. I don’t do it, but I feel like my past experience as a teacher really boosted my confidence of speaking in front of a crowd. I don’t teach anymore, but I feel like that experience has prepared me for something later. I’ll find out what that is!

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