Friday, July 27, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Devon Brooks talks about her sexual assault


(Editor's note: Vancouver-based speaker coach Janice Tomich of Calculated Presentations worked with speakers at TEDxChange in that city earlier this year. I asked her to share this speaker's story as a Famous Speech Friday. UPDATE: We've adjusted the text below to clarify that only one of the assaults described was a rape.)

On two occasions Devon Brooks was assaulted; in one assault, she was raped. The assaults happened when she was 18 and 21­­—the first time in Montreal, Canada and the second time in London, UK.

Jump ahead to April 2012 where a group of grade 10 - 12 students sat in complete silence as they listened to Brooks tell her story at the TEDxChange event held in Vancouver, BC, Canada. A pin could have dropped.

Brooks spoke with bare honesty. She spoke from a vulnerable place with the intent of creating awareness and hoping to change conversations about sexual violation. She said, “It's painful to talk about someone who you know and love getting hurt. So we just don’t ­—but we cannot live in fear of conversation.”

While having the pleasure to work with Brooks on her presentation, we had lengthy discussions about how our culture’s inability to speak about the atrocity of rape or violence lets perpetrators hide and continue violating. Lots of consideration was given to what she wanted her audience to take away and how to ignite them to take their part in changing conversations about rape and assault.

Brooks’ call to action was simple and clear. She asked that we be open to having difficult conversations. She said, “While we can't legislate humanity each of us plays a role in changing the dialogue and perception of trauma, in order to see less victims and assailants. There is no in between—it's time for you to figure out whether you are a bystander, or a difference maker."

Here’s what can you learn from Brooks’ presentation:
  • Speaking from the heart: Brooks’ presentation is one of the most difficult to for a speaker to do—her story is so raw and vulnerable. The repercussions both good and bad need to be considered before committing to such an open and vulnerable platform.  
  • Using “visual only” support: The choice of visuals that Brooks chose was perfectly aligned to her presentation. Each image drew you in, and then allowed you to redirect yourself to her spoken word. The use of the Munch’s “The Scream” in tandem with Brooks speaking about the circumstance of the rape still holds vividly in my mind months later.
  • Knowing her audience: The audience was challenged with difficult and uncomfortable content. But Brooks did not take them so far that they would or could not listen. Post presentation, a few attendees approached her and said that they had been silent about being victimized themselves but now their perspective was changed.
The video clip is below. Looking back, would you want this presentation shared with your teenage self or will you share it with a teenager?