I had the pleasure of coach Nikki Van Schyndel at TEDx Bear Creek Park. Here is the latest article she wrote about her experience.
Be sure to check out Nikki’s book, and the video of her talk.
You never hear the full story behind giving a TED Talk. It always just starts with a smile and for those of us fortunate enough, it ends in a standing ovation.
But what happened for me, leading up to that world-stage moment was one of the toughest survival journeys I’ve ever gone on. TED took over my life for 4 months.
Now, I love being a storyteller. To be able to relive a memory, a myth or a lesson learned in such a way to inspire others, is like spreading magic. The Ted stage captures and shares such creativity, inspiration and knowledge and I’ve always wanted to stand in that red circle. So did a friend of mine.
Nearly two years ago, we stood together applauding a speaker at a TEDx Vancouver conference and vowed in that moment to both be chosen for the same event the following year. It miraculously happened. I’m quite sure the world conspires for everyone’s success when we open ourselves to it.
Truth be told, I never thought dreaming up my Idea Worth Spreading and delivering it under those bright lights would be such a long, soul searching and arduous journey. And all I was suppose to do was tell a story…
I’ve spoken in front of hundreds of people before without feeling the jitters, as a competitive athlete I’ve learned how to rise above pressure and thoughts of failure, and I’ve never had a problem speaking from my heart, but the circumstances around my Tedx talk, somehow crushed me and I continued failing and proving to be a huge disappointment to the committee.
I was chosen through an application and interview process where only one man believed in me. That was stressful enough. I was made to write three entirely different speeches, I continually faced numerous head shakes and thumbs down at every practice session, I couldn’t get through the talk without becoming emotional and then, when I finally had a script deemed “worth sharing” – I had to memorize it until my mind could no longer produce thoughts of anything else. Once I became robotic, my actions matching my words, the rise and falls of my voice drilled into me, I was told, “You’re just not speaking from the heart.” And I”m like, “No shit. That was beat out of me long ago. I don’t even know my own story anymore.”
On the advice of my incredible speaking coach, Tania Ehman, who was the only one who understood me, I escaped to the deserts of California for the mega wildflower bloom. I needed to become wild again; put my bare feet in some warm sand and get back to who I was and the story I was to share with the world.
Even with the memories of moonlit canyon hikes, following coyote tracks, I still kept failing; forgetting my lines, crying and just stuck in my head – no connection – no authenticity – no me, right up until the dress rehearsal of my performance. I’m sure I caused a lot of gray hairs for the volunteer committee. And then…the funniest story unfolded…which put everything in perspective.
Too many tickets had been sold for the main event, so myself and the 12 other speakers would be able to practice in front of an audience who were not sympathetic to our practicing struggles nor attending to give us constructive feedback.
I arrived in my everyday “town” clothes, with a change of t-shirt in my backpack – I had already worked myself up into a nice, uncharacteristic, armpit stress sweat. After attending the information session on “dressing for TED,” I already had my new clothes picked out and pressed for the big day, I wasn’t risking a clothing disaster too. I had enough to go wrong, especially now that I was chosen to be the first speaker…”to set the tone for the day.” I mean, how could I back out of that responsibility when the response was, “You’ve spent your whole life defying your fears Nikki, why stop now?”
The disaster came as soon as I put on my clean t-shirt. I happen to be wearing a pink, lacy, Victoria’s Secret bra with a rather thin, tight t-shirt and under the lights….yeah, it was see-through! I didn’t need our dressing coach or makeup staff that day to know I was walking on that rehearsal stage in the worst possible outfit.
I miraculously gave a decent performance, despite the chilly, air-conditioned temperature of the room, which led to the worst TED nickname of all time: Nikki Nipples! I have no idea what the audience thought, those of us who knew each other laughed hysterically, that is once I put their embarrassment at ease. One brave woman came up and said, “I loved your talk, but I’m sure the men loved it more.”
I think that performance was the best thing to have happened for us all, it put this TEDx experience into perspective. We all struggled with the experience in our own ways. The failures, pressures, complaints, harsh criticizing, uncertainties and endless hours of practice, study and deleting words from our constantly changing scripts and throughlines, eliminated the joy of a dream lived – that dream of knowing we were going to be standing in that red circle, telling a story that meant something to us, in front of a world audience who wanted to listen.
In the end, my wilderness survival skills saved my TEDx life. Wilderness survivalists are taught to follow the “Sacred Order of Survival:” Shelter-Water-Fire-Food. I’ve adapted the order:
#1 Breathing: to eliminate panic, center myself in the heart, fearlessly open myself to the unknown
#2 Laughter: if you can’t laugh at yourself or find humor in your situation, you’re in for a world of hurt, whether living in the wilderness or city
#3 Wonder & Awe: life is a beautiful wonder when you have eyes to see it and and open heart to feel it, this is what helps make miraculous happen.
#4 Shelter: making forts is fun. And fun is what a TED Talk should be. And thanks in part to Victoria’s Secret and of course to everyone else involved, thank you for all the learning and speaking adventures, I had a lot of fun on the big day, bare feet and all!
What if you’ve been searching for your life purpose in all the wrong places? In this inspiring talk of survival, lions and overcoming fear, Nikki van Schyndel will uncover the true meaning of purpose and how to quickly start making the greatest difference in this world.