Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Giving a TED Talk has been a goal of mine for years as a professional speaker, journalist and agency owner. But as I learned while attending a workshop on how to create a TED Talk, the whole mission and purpose of TED Talks is to promote an idea, not the person spreading it. In fact, TEDx curators (event producers) often shy away from selecting keynote speakers. They want people with big ideas worth sharing. Full stop.
So as I sat in that workshop in 2017 led by the amazing Tamsen Webster, a four-time TEDx Cambridge event producer, I focused on uncovering the idea that people MUST hear. What is that one thing, that passionate spark that the world needs to learn about?
As a bereaved parent, I immediately thought of how uncomfortable and awkward many of my conversations become when newly acquainted people ask me how many children I have. Do I choose the easier path and name my living children? Or, do I include my heavenly child and invite that awful pause when people just don't know what to say next? That was the genesis of what would become my TEDx Talk. How and why you should talk to bereaved parents.
My good friend and mentor, Stan Phelps, told me I would likely need to apply to 20 TEDx events to get a yes. In the summer of 2019, I decided I would begin the application process. Then, at a local speakers' group meeting in August, a colleague asked if any of us would volunteer to be speaker coaches for the upcoming TEDx Cary Women event.
What? There's going to be a local event???
Clearly, I wasn't going to volunteer to coach the speakers, I wanted to be one of them. Now it meant putting my idea onto paper. Creating the narrative of this difficult, yet necessary topic the world needs to hear.
The application for TEDx Cary Women was due October 1st so I set out to begin writing the abstract for the talk. We didn't need to submit the entire script, just the details of the idea and why it fits into the "bold and brilliant" theme of TEDx Cary Women. I ruminated for days, crafted my abstract and hit the enter button in mid-September. I spent the next two weeks trying to busy my mind with family and work obligations so I wouldn't obsess on the validity of my idea.
On October 1st shortly after 5:00 pm, I got an email from Stephanie Sarazin, the curator of the TEDx Cary Women event. She asked me if I had 20 minutes for a call because she had some questions about my submission. I immediately responded and we were on the phone within the hour. Stephanie was lovely and shared with me that she liked my idea but that a strong "through-line" had not emerged yet from the prose. For anyone who has read Chris Anderson's book, TED Talks, The Official Guide to Public Speaking, you learn that "through-line" is the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element. Every talk should have one. As speaker coach, I certainly employ this principle when working on my clients' content. But when the tables were turned, I found it more difficult to tease out the through-line of my own speech. Stephanie was so patient and we spit-balled ideas right there on the phone and it was her idea to look up this odd word "vilomah." There it is. Part of the hook. One of the ingredients of my through-line.
Stephanie asked me to spend the rest of the evening rewriting my application and to send it back by 10:00 pm. The deadline for all submissions was that night. Before we said goodbye, I waffled on whether to tell Stephanie something that I don't consider a coincidence. As I have found throughout my life, timing is everything and divine intervention, faith, whatever you believe plays a strong role. With a deep breath, I told Stephanie that today, October 1st just happened to be my daughter Macie's birthday. There was silence. It was as if this phone call happened with a wink from above, that it was meant to be.
I packed up my computer and drove straight the "Macie's Garden," what my family calls the cemetery where our sweet girl is buried. I rolled out my picnic blanket and began rewriting my TEDx application, praying that Macie's presence would help guide me.
Three days later, my inbox exploded with excitement that my idea was accepted and I would get to share my big idea with the world on December 13th at TEDx Cary Women.
This is happening
Well...now it's real. Within a couple of days, I was assigned a professional speaker coach and given a list of deadlines to deliver the first draft of my TEDx Talk, rehearsal times, slide requirements, bios, headshots, etc. Let me tell you that writing a TED Talk is like nothing I've ever done before. It requires a different perspective, an approach I've never used. Thank goodness for my speaker coach, the incredible Stephanie Scotti of Professionally Speaking. She encouraged me, gave thoughtful feedback and teased out what I didn't know existed in my soul so that people hearing this talk about such a challenging subject would be open to learning a competency most don't have.
Our curator, Stephanie Sarazin, and her team worked diligently to prepare all 16 speakers. They provided multiple opportunities to practice our TEDx Talks in front of the team at a local library. Then, she managed to get SAS to provide three full days of their state-of-the-art theater and AV team so each of us could bring our programs to life. They secured multiple sponsors and volunteers who put on a phenomenal event.
On December 13th, 2019, Stephanie Sarazin stepped onto the stage and invited the 400+ sold out crowd to be open to shifting their perspectives. To consider new ideas. To be #boldandbrilliant in their minds and hearts as they embarked on a day of phenomenal storytelling with lessons for the ages.
Stephanie and her team created a program that carried the audience on a true journey of introspection and courage. The speaker lineup was carefully chosen so that we all could laugh, cry, be inspired, touched and motivated to think differently. You can learn all about the speakers and watch their talks here. It's absolutely worth your time. Ditch Netflix for a couple of days and work your way through the 16 talks. I assure you, you'll be thankful you did.
Now, I invite you to watch my talk on How and Why Your Should Talk to Bereaved Parents.
Please share it with your people. I promise it's relevant to all of us. In our circle of friends, there are people hurting. They're often silent. We can help them heal by using the right language and approach. I show you how in my talk and here in my Vilomah Voice Playbook.
On January 13th, big TED published my talk on its global platform. I'm humbled, proud and excited that my idea can take flight. But the most gratifying part of this TEDx adventure has been the reaction from people who reached out after seeing my talk. One woman messaged me saying that after she saw my talk she called a friend whom she ghosted a year ago because she didn't know what to say to her about the death of her child. The other emails, texts, DMs through Facebook and Instagram are nothing short of astounding.
"I've now watched the video and read the transcript and can't thank you enough for the privilege to do both. I can't imagine what life is like being a vilomah, even for me taking care of thousands of children for a long time and being with families when their child died, it is never as personal as when it is your own child. Your helping me learn and get past my discomfort and ask the questions is a gift. I can't thank you enough." ~ UNC Healthcare Pediatrician
"I just wanted to say a deep, deep thank you for speaking on behalf of us the bereaved parents. Words escape me. Thank you very so much. With much love and light from one vilomah to another." ~ Tarryn O., Support Group Facilitator, The Compassionate Friends in Pretoria, South Africa
"Wow, you touched my heart today at the TEDx event. I’m passing on to my bestie in Ohio. She lost her 24 year old son to opioids overdose in April. So, so heart wrenching."
This entire experience has been transformational. The people, ideas and connections we created in this joint endeavor have changed me forever. I've always said that there's a book in everyone. We all have valuable stories to share. I now say there's a TED Talk in everyone, too. Thank you for letting me share mine.