Throughout the process, I was told I was “too waffly” and I didn’t have a point!
In an early coaching workshop (on identifying potential focus for my talk) the coach told me that, even by the end, my idea still didn’t make sense. “Just because you care – doesn’t mean others will” was his feedback. I felt so annoyed that he didn’t get it, but also annoyed at myself that I couldn’t express it.
I worked really hard to put what I’d learnt into practice – and the workshop did help give me structure. As a result, it went through a phase of being really facts based, yet the feedback was I still wasn’t making a clear point.
A few weeks later, during one of the rehearsals, one of the other speakers commented that they ‘didn’t get it’!. This felt brutal – I felt so exposed – it was horrendous.
I have a high level of expectation of myself – so seeing all the other speakers doing so well just made it worse. It was so frustrated and upset that after over 2 months of work I still couldn’t get it out.
As part of the development of my talk I practiced it to a peer in my industry I really respect. As part of my talk I addressed some significant taboos in our industry – but her feedback was that this was too extreme and traumatic – and that I couldn’t say this. I hold this woman in high regard so it was a brutal experience. I didn’t know what to do.
Shortly after this experience, by chance, I ended up talking about my ideas with a stranger I met on the train. His feedback was “But if you can’t say it on a TEDx stage, where can you do it?”. He thought it was just a matter of working out ‘how’ to say it. He found another part of my talk entertaining – which gave me the realisations that maybe I could break the ‘seriousness’ of it all.
Not long after I had a session with my mentor. Despite all the suggestions she made being things I knew I didn’t want to say – it was actually the fact I didn’t agree with her that really helped spark the breakthrough for me. It enabled me to start seeing what wasn’t working for me. By default, all that was left was what I did want to say.
The final breakthrough for me came in my final coaching session where, instead of focusing on the idea as a whole like I had been for so long, my coach and I just sat and went through each tiny section and point in isolation. She just asked me why each point was important, and why it was making me so upset – and we kept and discarded things accordingly.
Although it felt very raw going through it in such detail and getting upset, I could see she could see how much more was within me. Even if she couldn’t articulate exactly what was in my head, she managed to help me see the bits that were holding me back – often because they weren’t what I truly wanted to say.
I realised what I really wanted to say was ‘It’s not acceptable what’s happening in our industry’ – but to do so I wasn’t going to be able to dance around the subject or worrying about upsetting people.
But to do that – to take on this topic – was a huge responsibility. But if the months of frustration had thought me anything, it was that this was a responsibility I could no longer hide from. I had to show my industry that there is a better way.
What had been missing for me, until now, was an acceptance of the level of vulnerability I was going to have to go through to do so. I wasn’t scared of speaking – I was scared of the vulnerability of what I had to say. This was why I had been getting so upset – because I hadn’t been allowing myself to be my true self. Instead, I was just being defensive.
After months of wrestling with what my idea was, I realised to find the real idea, I had to look inwards. Receiving the negative feedback had given me a physical pain in my chest. But what I hadn’t realised at the time, was that this was my sign that this was what was most important to me. I realised I had to be very honest about the guilt I felt about being a part of this bad practice in my industry in the past.
In hindsight, I think I always knew in my heart and my gut what I wanted to say – but I just got too wrapped up in wanting to please everyone and take on everyones advice – without first being vulnerable enough to admit the feedback I was giving myself.
I feel like I did almost a full 360 turn with my talk; by the end it was always the same concept, but what I’d gained was the freedom to loose everything it wasn’t.
TEDx Speaker: Cathy Sugden
Talk Title: Horses – Let go of the reins