What was your motivation for doing this talk?
I was asked to do this talk as a Consumer Representative representing the Wisconsin project for Aligning Forces for Quality. Although my role in the project wasn’t huge, I felt honored to be asked to share my observations with other project participants from around the country. Plus, I felt like, as a consumer representative, rather than a medical professional, that I could bring a different perspective than that of many of the other speakers.
How did you prepare? Who helped you and how?
I give lots and lots of presentations every year – some for crowds as big as 600 and others for small groups of 5 people. I generally use the dreaded PowerPoint presentation as a guide and then talk somewhat around my key points.
Giving a “TED-like” talk was so different and a little daunting. Fortunately, we were provided with the services of a speech coach – we were lucky enough to have Denise Graveline. This turned out to be a lifesaver. I really wanted to shine so I did all the prep Denise suggested – wrote out my speech word for word which is a struggle because I NEVER do that. After I got the written version edited to where I wanted it, I recorded myself reading it. Then I started practicing it out loud. I read it tons of times and then practiced giving it. I stood in my office with the door closed - feeling only slightly foolish when my coworkers walked by to see me ostensibly talking to myself. I practiced speaking out loud at home and in the car, and practiced in my head standing in line at the grocery store, while exercising, and in the shower. I videotaped myself and shared it with Denise for valuable feedback.
What challenges did you face in preparing, and how did you handle them?
I felt like the biggest challenge was lack of time. I was prepping for this speech as an extra to my very busy job. I also felt like my speech wasn’t substantial enough. I’m not an “expert” in health care quality and it took me awhile (and with much reassurance from Denise) that sharing my thoughts and experiences were OK. I didn’t need to be the world’s foremost expert on health care quality because I was sharing what I knew best – my own experience.
What was it like to actually give the talk? Tell us about your experience that day.
I was a little, but not overly, nervous on the morning of the presentation. I feel like I was well prepared and I’m not generally nervous about public speaking. I think the special attention given to the spotlight speakers made me more nervous than thoughts of actually giving the presentation. I was late in the line-up so my nerves did grow a bit as time went on.
It was finally my turn and on to the stage I went. I found my spot, took a deep breath, and began speaking. My introduction started smoothly and as I was talking I started searching the audience for a “face” I could connect with. But I couldn’t see anyone. The room was dark and my eyes got caught in the spotlight. My mind went totally blank and I couldn’t remember a single word of my speech. I froze. I knew exactly what a “deer in the headlights” felt like. Lost. Panicked. For a split second, I considered turning around and running off the stage.
Somehow I remembered Denise’s advice to pause and collect myself. The pause felt like 5 minutes to me. It was long and uncomfortable. Then autopilot kicked in and I started speaking again. I barely remember the rest of my speech. The words came out, albeit not with the same smoothness and easy delivery that I had practiced a thousand times. But they came. I knew this speech in my sleep; good thing because I was giving it in a stage fright coma.
I finished to polite applause and fled the stage. In my eyes, the speech was a total disaster. I felt like I had failed the conference organizers, my fellow speakers, my organization, and most importantly, the AF4Q project I was representing. I couldn’t wait to get out of that ballroom and cry my eyes out.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when I finally watched the video that I realized it wasn’t quite as horrible as I thought. No, it wasn’t flawless and easy. It certainly wasn’t my best shining moment. But I was able to finish my speech and get across my main points without running off the stage.
What else should we know that we haven't asked about?
If there was ever an example of “preparation is key” then this is it! I had practiced my speech what felt like a zillion times and then I practiced it some more. That served me well when I froze and it just came out of my memory banks to rescue me.
One tip I would give in all that practice: Give a few practices speeches in front of real live people – you coworkers, your kids, your yoga group, whatever. Getting a feel for audience reactions might have helped me with timing and with conjuring up the vision of a friendly face when I couldn’t see the audience.
I could say I’m grateful for going through this nerve-wracking experience, but I’d be LYING. I would have much rather rocked this speech. But I did learn that it really, really, really wasn’t as bad as I thought. The audience learned from my presentation, and more importantly, I learned to believe in myself and see even a rough road through to the end.