tl:dr Being a TEDx speaker has involved a lot of background work in many areas for me. Also, I now I have a mailing list. It will be great for staying up to date with my events, launches, openings and so on. You can sign up here.
I’m pretty sure the volunteer organisers behind TEDx have had a much bigger job than I have, but it’s been a huge project for me as a volunteer speaker too. I was thinking about it the other day and how much goes into making something like this happen, so little of which is evident on the stage (all going well, that is). It’s felt like several fairly large projects interconnected, for me.
The most obvious project has been preparing for my talk. It took me several weeks to craft the script. Emotionally Safer Sex is a huge topic I’m really passionate about. The format of TEDx is very different to what I’m used to in my other speaking experience. I don’t usually write a script but instead have a series of dot points to keep me on track, and I can expand or shrink the points depending on my audience. I also never memorise it – that’s been taking me way back to drama class at school. The sense of pressure is a lot higher due to the larger audience, tighter time frames (pretty rare for me to speak for under 15 minutes!), lots of other moving pieces, and the filming.
Illustrating the talk stalled for a bit because I found I needed to completely restructure it to shave off 5 minutes. Also because I loved the idea of creating large scale paintings that could be hung at SHINE SA during my residency… but changing the format so much from what I’m familiar with was too much to deal with. I found it most productive to go back to small scale ink paintings as I usually do for talks.
Online Abuse and Trolls
One concern I had going into the TEDx talk was the possibility of dealing with some abuse once the video went up. It’s a personal, sensitive topic and I’m female (or female presenting) which can mean trouble online. I did a bit of looking into what other people’s experiences have been and was pretty horrified by what I heard. At least one other TEDx speaker has had significant ongoing troubles with harassment and abuse since their talk. They described a regular torrent of dick pics, rape threats, and death threats. That gave me pause.
I had to really think about what I am doing this, and what price I’m prepared to pay for it. I reached out to a number of people I know navigating public life and gathered some resources. If this happens to me (it may not!) I want to have a strategy on hand to deal with it. The methods I use at the moment work well for the level of abuse I currently encounter, which is only occasional. Sometimes I deconstruct it publically such as this anonymous email and this facebook post. Often I simply let it go. Sometimes I engage directly.
Like bullies, online abusers are diverse. There is no one best right approach. Calling them all trolls is unhelpful. Sometimes people are trolling – ie deliberately trying to provoke a response because they are sadists and pain and distress amuse them. But it’s certainly possible to be abusive without being a sadist. Other people are angry or hurt and lashing out. Abuse often comes my way when I am dealing with someone suicidal, for example. When I was a kid in school I was bullied by many different kids for very different reasons. Some lacked empathy and had a lot of power. Others were being abused at home and taking out their frustrations on me. Some were simply making sure that someone else was at the bottom of the pecking order. Some were attacking anything different without even understanding why it made them feel so uncomfortable. Different bullies needed different approaches, and those of us who are attacked have different resources and skills available to deal with it.
So I get pretty frustrated at the ABC advice out there – sometimes ‘don’t feed the trolls’ is the way to go and sometimes it means you don’t get to say the things you need to, to take care of yourself, or a troll attacks you and savours your silent suffering instead. Sometimes silence is the language of power and sometimes it’s just being silenced and blaming the victim for crying out when they are harmed.
Amanda Palmer and John Scalzi are two people who’s approach to abuse I admire. Scalzi grades his hatemail. Palmer gathers so much support from her community online that mostly the abuse is drowned out. When it can’t be – she withdraws and is hurt for a time. Then she comes back. Pretending to be okay isn’t her style.
So there’s been an interesting reflective and investigative process started on the side since TEDx kicked off. What happens online and how are people dealing with it? At the moment I’m feeling okay about my approach. I know where to reach out if that changes.
Post Show Blues
A long term issue for many performers – I’ve just learned. That’s rather helpful to know! I have written about this many times, which is handy because I’m giving it a lot of attention at the moment. Why is it sometimes much worse than others? What helps me? I wrote about the crash afterwards for me from the Voices Vic Conference. Things were a little different after speaking at the World Voice Hearing Congress because that was the time that Rose was dealing with an assault. At first it looked like caring for her helped me skip the post talk crash. But no, I found it had merely delayed, my journals show that the next week I was in a really rough place.
It’s not always talks that set it off, sometimes I meltdown following intrusive intake assessments or being interviewed. There’s possibly two different processes going on for me – a vulnerability hangover from being alone and naked in front of the crowd as well as post show blues from the wrap up of a big project and rest phase of energy cycles.
But it’s not always the same, sometimes it is more like the ISPS conference At the end where it was a very gentle experience of transitioning out of that space. I experienced it intensely this week after merely doing a talk run through with the SHINE SA staff – which surprised me greatly. So I’ve been thinking and reading about this too – why do I give talks considering how they impact me? Why do they sometimes have a worse impact than others? What helps other people deal with it? What might work for me?
So far my plan for TEDx is to:
- Have someone waiting in the wings. Don’t go from connection with a whole crowd to being alone in a change room, the shock can hurt.
- Validate the feelings. This is normal. Mastering the Post Performance Blues by John C. Buckner
- Pay attention to the transition (Third Space) go down gently.
- And create. De-role. Step into another world and break all the rules. Speak into the dark
I’ll see how that works. Maybe I get better at handling these, or maybe I do less of them, I don’t know yet.
Will I be ready to reach for opportunities that might come? TEDx is a bigger platform, not just for my ideas, but for my work. One of my first conferences was interstate, speaking as a mental health service user about my experience of peer workers. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel. I was caring for a family member who had been in terrible crisis for months. Just before I left I discovered they had a suicide plan in play during my trip. I was drowning and clutching to my work to help look after my own fragile mental health. I arranged boarding for the pets, hospital for my loved one, and finishing painting my last illustration a few minutes before leaving for the airport.
I got a standing ovation and a lot of hugs. Someone approached me about creating a logo for their new NFP. People wanted to buy my poetry and share it. A book publisher gave me his card and asked me to get in touch. I was ecstatic and overwhelmed. I went and hid in the toilets until everyone left for the next talk.
Then I came home to the anguish and exhaustion waiting for me there, and I did not have what it takes to reach out. I still have the publishers business card and contacting him is still on my to do list. Many of the opportunities dried up before I could grasp them, and others were so overwhelming I never even tried. Responsibilities elsewhere, life crisis, and anxiety kept me down.
I have some big dreams. I want to support my family and use my skills in the world in a sustainable way. The gap between where I have been and where I am going is huge and some of it is about networks, some about skills, and some about managing the psychological shifts. It is in the things I don’t know, and the things I don’t know I don’t know. My sense of value of myself, of entitlement, of morality. The culture that is my norm, my people and the tremendous tension in trying to stay connected and at the same time, leave for something better. Honor my past, love my tribe, but build a better future.
So I’ve started a process of business development with Christina from Creative Consultancies and recruited help in the form of an awesome Office Manager. I am setting myself up. A new website will be coming soon, and in the meantime, a clearer business with better project management, admin structures, and marketing processes. I’m already holding off a number of people and exciting project opportunities while I get my ducks in a row so I can schedule my time better and pick up those I love most without winding up working until 3am on a regular basis.
I’ve also finally set up something people have been asking for for years – a mailing list to keep people updated with the big events without having to trawl my blog to find the details. Once TEDx is done, I’ll send out the first email.
Now I’m going to run off to the Adelaide town hall to check out which of my outfits works better and do yet another run through of my script. There’s still some tickets left if you want to come. Wish me luck!