How do you describe the indescribable? How do you define love? How can you put into words how inspired you are when you hit with a moment where you are literally different than you were just minutes before?
If I could answer those three questions I might be able to adequately write something about my journey as a TEDx speaker and attendee.
It started last year, when I was invited to sit in (my client and dear friend) Chip Southworth’s TEDxJAX presentation about art in public places. You could feel electricity in the air. When it came time for me to leave after his presentation, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted more.
Fast forward a few months to a chat with Sabeen Perwaiz about all things TEDx, where a glass of wine may or may have been involved (“not” left out intentionally). We discussed whether or not I had an “idea worth spreading” based on my experiences representing Jordan Davis’s family and other recent high profile cases. I was encouraged to apply.
The application was intimidating. It made me feel like I needed to have a good speech written to even have a hope of making the cut. I gave it a stab, even using a line or two that stayed with my speech throughout the entire process. It was fairly daunting in and of itself.
At some point, I remember hearing that there were well over 100 applications for the 2015 event. Much like my darn ‘Leadership Jacksonville’ nominations/applications which never make the cut, I expected to hear a very polite, “THANKS, BUT, look, we had Hank Coxe speak and, well, you, sir, are no Hank Coxe.” And that would be that. Except that wasn’t that. I was selected to speak at 2015’s TEDxJacksonville. Oh, Lord.
For insight into how in-depth the process is, read Tessa Duvall’s great report on the paces they put us through. Speech coaches, improvisational sessions, the more than occasional email but lots and lots of love poured our way. We had a few gatherings where you got to meet your fellow speakers, the team and performers. Each more awesome than the next.
What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
People look at me like I am a public speaker. I insist that I am not. Speaking to a jury of six or a camera crew isn’t public speaking. Unlike audiences of strangers, I am in a safe place with a jury I helped pick or with a camera lens as a buffer no matter how many people are watching on the other side. My hands don’t sweat as bad and my mouth doesn’t get as dry.
I was a “C student” at best in Ms. Mullin’s speech class in high school (no matter what grade I may have swindled) and, except for being the emcee at a few elementary school events, few would have ever pegged me for anything like this. I remember singing off key in Ms. Burney’s class in elementary school and getting a look that made me make sure my voice stayed just under everyone else’s for pretty much forever.
As much as I wanted on that stage, I wanted to run far away from it at times, too.
From the moment I met him, I knew Mark McCombs was special. His material- Why every kid should build a robot -was awesome, but more than that, he had “IT.” At the improv session, he (of course) got the word “electricity” to create an impromptu speech and he simulated harnessing it, arms outstretched holding onto the current. My jaw dropped. After getting to know him and seeing his speech, I honestly believe Mark can harness electricity at this point. I have seen him light up so many. That’s the thing about TEDx, you are surrounded by inspiration and passion.
Mind you- I got the word “rainbows.” Yes, rainbows. I rambled something about “Rainbow Bright,” which was 3/4 made up. I was told there were no wrong answers, so I let my brain be my guide. It is pretty random at times.
Getting to engage with both Tessa Duvall and Peter Rummell at the improv also was pretty awesome. Tessa, who easily is one of the best storytellers of the coming generation, and Peter Rummell, who has been on my “to meet” list for about a decade, were both as warm as they were passionate about their topics. I think I was sitting next to Peter Rummell the first time I said, “amygdala,” out loud for the first time. Just two guys talking about things that make them… them.
The preparation was legit, but when you get to work with people who inspire you, who crave the best out of you, who have such great love for this town, well, it makes it pretty fulfilling.
Practice, Practice, Practice
We all know I am lucky. Fortune has prepared me for most steps I have been able to take. Before TEDx, I was asked to speak at UNF’s Leadership Symposium. Before that, I had a Pecha Kucha. Before that, I had a speech at an LGBT awards dinner. Before that- a trial carried by media and a little show called Good Morning America. None were more important than the one before it, but each made me a little more comfortable with being on the island that a stage can sometimes be.
Heather Downs, my awesome speech coach, was there with encouragement. My team was there to give me advice. My wife was as supportive as always. Months went by and I’d tweak or refine, find an awesome fact like opening up an oyster and finding a pearl. It came together slowly. If I had it written down like I wanted it, I’d have enough to tell the story. Maybe. I am not the kind who can “memorize” a speech. I could give it 10 times and it’d be a little different each time. I hoped that the words would come to me when it was time to utter them.
The first and final time I gave the full speech before an audience was at rehearsal. My slides weren’t right. The stage squeaked under me. I had doubts about some of the material. I wanted to go stand on my desk and say it and say it again throughout the night. I was told to rest. My wife and I discussed how it was a speech I was probably born to give in a way and I needed to relax. I did. Sort of.
The event was something else entirely. I am not even going to try and thank everyone or say who I loved the most. Except Tim Harris. I loved Tim the most.
Catch up on Tim here:
I was second in line to give my speech, so I didn’t have to stew on it all day. But Tim was first.
Question: How do you follow Tim Harris?
Answer: Trick question. You will always be behind Tim Harris no matter what order you are in. He’s too awesome.
During rehearsal, I spontaneously added Tim’s tribulations to my talk about equality after following his speech and getting caught up in his story. I realized I probably should have discussed that with him and his parents before I gave my speech. They gave their full blessing. I added another line at the end of my speech I hadn’t ever written down before it came out of my mouth.
There was almost nothing better than referencing Tim’s unconditional love as a punctuation mark within my own speech. However, one thing might have been better… finishing my speech and walking straight into a Tim hug. I will never forget it. Heck, I want a Jacksonville “Tim’s Place” franchise now, but we’d need him to be here, too.
Thanks to the organizers, the coaches, the volunteers, the sponsors and the attendees. I can’t put any of it into words which will do it justice.
From a guy who has cracked an egg 100 feet down (the pressure keeps it all together in a little ball) at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef, who has Run with (or more Beside) the Bulls in Pamplona, who was at both Sundance and Tribecca for two different documentary premiers this year, who has found silver linings wherever he could, who married his best friend in Paradise with a guy who opened for Jimmy Buffett strumming for just us… as a guy who can’t begin to count his Blessings… this was up there.
We will be sponsoring next year.
And, yes, you should apply/go/sponsor, too.