In one week I’ll stand on stage at the Greensboro Historical Museum and give a TED talk. I’ll be exploring the role of imagination and dreaming in my life, and I’ll talk about how this grassroots project — Imagination Installations — has flourished in our community.
This is, frankly, one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done.
I feel a bit like a kid on a roller coaster slowly making its click-clackety way to the top of that first, steep, terrifying hill. I know I’m going to love it. I know I’m going to have a great time. But for right now, as the top of the hill looms ever nearer, my heart is in my throat with anticipation.
I am not a timid public speaker. I am, in many ways, most comfortable in front of a crowd. Public speaking is my slipstream, the place where I lose track of time and am entirely in the present. I love creating the space and opportunity for people to connect with knowledge, with themselves, and with each other. The alchemy of such a connection is pure magic. I thrive on it.
So I’ve been asking myself for weeks, why is this short, 18 minute talk so daunting? I feel now as I did in high school, before I found my voice, before I got my PhD, before I knew I was born to teach. An introvert and shy, public speaking was the worst kind of torture. I remember the wooden surface of the podium in my 11th grade history class. The bored looks on the faces of my classmates. The way my palms sweated and my heart pounded so loudly I could barely hear my own, tremulous words. I felt vulnerable and afraid. I had no mantle of credentials, yet, to hide behind.
And perhaps this simple truth is what makes TED feel like a beast of another color than my typical teaching or speaking engagement. What makes TED talks so compelling is not the expertise of the speaker but the humanness. TED talks work when speakers take off the cloak of credentials they wear and simply lay their hearts bare.
In one of my favorite TED talks, Ivy-league social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses her research in hormones, specifically with regard to dominance, stress, and what she calls “Power Poses”. The talk is informative, enlightening, funny. But when she tells her own story about surviving a head injury that shaved her IQ down by two standard deviations, the talk comes alive. The audience leans in. The applause is deafening.
I cannot hide behind my credentials at TED. When I speak of the power of imagination and dreaming to change lives, the community, and the world, I’m not simply spouting science. I will lay my heart bare to the core truths of what I believe about these fragile, restless lives we lead. I will have to be vulnerable. My 16-year-old self will visit, and remind me of my humanness.
I had the great fortune to speak with Hannah Brencher about a week ago. Hannah is a wonder, a woman who write love letters. To strangers. Just because she feels the world needs more love letters. She also gave a TED talk (you can watch it here). Her advice to me (roughly paraphrased):
TED isn’t just about credentials or expertise.
It’s about finding people who know the story of their own heartbeat and want to share it.
On Tuesday, April 16, I will share my heartbeat with the world. As that day approaches, my heart beats louder and louder, ready, soon, to speak.
~ Cyndi Briggs
Dr. Cyndi Briggs is a professor, blogger, counselor, activist and dreamer…. and in one week, a TED Presenter. We are already so proud of you!