On January 27th 2023, I rolled onto a stage on the spot marked by a red carpet. Behind me stood incredibly large letters that spelled TEDxWesternU and in front of me were about 100 people – most of whom were members of the organisation committee.
Becoming a TEDx speaker had never been on my radar. EVER. I really enjoyed watching others deliver them, as I either judged them unapologetically or shared profusely their videos when I was inspired by their stories and ideas. But speaking on YouTube this way… had never been a goal of mine. To be honest, I didn’t think it was an attainable dream. I didn’t think anyone would want to hear the story of a scholar in an obscure field, who became the subject of her own life’s work.
But then, I realised that speaking on that particular stage – had become a necessity.
Why that stage in particular? Because landing a TEDx speech can lead to thousands of views.
A World Stage that opens up possibilities to be HEARD.
And on January 27th, I delivered my talk titled What we can learn from Parents with Disabilities.
So how did I manage to speak at a TEDx event?
What was my process and what were the steps I took?
I knew less than 1% of applications were selected. I had downloaded the App from TED to help get clear on my messaging. I had then applied on their website when they opened up a call for speakers. But like most who applied, I hadn’t received an answer back.
The road to the Red Dot would be challenging. But not hopeless.
Before the speech: Where did it begin?
At the age of 20, I met two women that changed the course of my life. The first was a mom of two rambunctious children. She was working so hard to provide for her children and I was impressed by her efforts. The other was my age and had just undergone surgery to tie her fallopian tubes. In other words, she had just been sterilized. Both had an intellectual disability.
Meeting these two women, I wanted to know more about parenting and parents with disabilities. I wanted to know how they managed parenthood and I wanted to understand about all the forces that interplayed and influenced their families’ lives. And I did just that. And at 25 years old, I graduated with a Ph.D. in psychology on that topic.
My career was launched.
I continued to work in this field, collaborating with colleagues and friends all around the world and making a difference in the lives of the parents I worked with. I was fulfilling my purpose.
Thirteen years into my career, I became a single mom – by choice.
And I found meaning in my Life.
And then, out of the blue, on my way to work, my car slid on black ice and my life changed forever. In that accident, I sustained a Spinal Cord Injury and I became like all the moms I had been working with and for. In a weird twist of fate, I became the subject of my own life’s work.
I was now a single-mom with a disability.
My son was 16 months old.
A lost voice
In my work, I learned and studied and saw the impact of inequalities, of discrimination, of misunderstanding, of prejudice. It made my blood boil. I felt for these women and for their children who often were removed without any evidence of neglect. These families were not offered services and programs that would have been offered to a white middle-class family.
I had meaning in bringing into light those injustices. In advocating for these families.
But as a disabled mom, who was single, and was in the midst of learning what being paraplegic is, who had not yet an adapted home, who had to fight for her rights … I was scared. Scared that I too would face discrimination and prejudice. I was petrified that my son – the reason I had survived the crash – would be taken away from me, like I had seen so many children removed for no other reason than their mother’s disability.
And so I stayed quiet. And I hid.
I stopped advocating. I stopped speaking out.
I lost my voice.
And in losing my voice, I lost my purpose.
And I entered a dark void, where the only light that could pierce through was my son.
Where does TEDx come into play?
To feel alive. For me to have meaning, I needed to be able to point the injustices.
I needed to SPEAK UP.
In October 2020, I entered an online inspirational speaking competition. I made it to the Top 10.
Most of my speeches made it to the Top 10.
One in the Top 2.
Another one, the coveted First place.
I was on a roll – literally 😉
And then… I won the Grand Slam, the end-of-year competition where the Top 2 of each competition were invited to compete.
And to my surprise, I was crowned The Inspirational Speaker of 2021.
With the winning package, was a consultation with Brian Miller.
Brian Miller is a former magician, who became an expert in Human Connection.
His TEDx Talk, How to Magically Connect with Anyone, was viewed over 3.5 million times!
In sharing his experience, I saw the possible IMPACT I could make, if only I were brave enough to try to speak on the red dot. Could I even get there? I wasn’t sure. But Brian was convinced.
And so we started identifying what my great Idea Worth Spreading could be.
An idea worth spreading
I knew I needed to speak about the fact that disabled parents are wonderful parents with similar hopes and doubts about their parenting than any other parent. But I needed to find a way to frame it that would be compelling to everyone.
We worked for a few months. Had conversations. Debated over ideas. Brian was there to challenge my thoughts, asking pertinent questions that led me to clarifying my own thoughts. Every time, I was getting closer and closer to something I could be proud to share, that everyone would see value in.
Because this is key – With Brian, I learned that the speech should not be about me.
It should be about all of you, watching it.
I needed to figure out what you needed to hear, that I was the only one capable of telling you.
It was a lot of hours of work and reflection.
And then we got to a point where the idea was clear enough to share with TEDx organisers. And I moved on to the next step of the process. Now, I needed to be vigilant and check regularly which event was being advertised, where, and with which theme.
Would I even find a good fit with what I needed to speak about?
Every week I would check on the big TEDx map. I would connect with TEDx organisers on their LinkedIn profiles. Hoping something would come along that would make me take the jump.
And then Western University announced their theme : The Butterfly Effect. A small change can make a BIG Impact. That is what the Butterfly effect is. What if that was my chance? Afterall, this is what I was hoping for: give a TEDx Talk on disabled parenting and affect change.
So I applied.
And despite the fear that was starting to creep in (namely that ‘little voice’ that tries desperately to protect me, by convincing me “not to do” something), I hoped I would be chosen.
The last leg of the race
It first started with an email. That asked to meet me. In person or online.
I couldn’t believe it. Yet I knew – I knew we were a good fit.
The fear became a friend that doesn’t want to leave. Brian was there. Coaching me. Re-assuring me. Without knowing it, he was reminding my ‘little voice that wants to protect me’ that we were in this together. She (and I) was not alone.
I was interviewed, in my wheelchair, facing my computer screen, in a hotel room in Toronto. On the weekend I was attending a LIVE Grand Slam as the Reigning Champion. My ‘little voice’ was overpowered by the confidence of the scholar who knew what she was talking about. I could defend my idea. No problem. And no problem it was. I nailed it. I knew it. It felt right. All the speeches I had delivered for the past 18 months were my preparation. All the conversations with Brian got me to state clearly what I needed to say.
A week later, the email confirmed it: I was officially invited to speak at the TEDx Conference at Western University. I had now seven weeks to prepare.
Writing the Speech
Three weeks away from the year-end Holidays, I stopped everything I was doing, to concentrate SOLELY on writing my speech. With Brian’s feedback, it took me two weeks to write it. I have to say that it felt right. It flowed. I knew the content. What needed to be said. I knew it because we had been talking about it and clarifying it along each step – so the writing part was just a continuation of what we had been doing in the previous 9 months. Plus, I was able to pull inspiration from some of Brian’s clients, like Peder Tellefsdal, who delivered a speech on How to seek forgiveness when relationships are on the line that has over 1 million views!
I submitted regular updates to the TEDx organisers. But I didn’t need this for accountability. I was pumped. Even if I could hear the whispers from that ‘little voice’ of mine, I knew writing the speech would be the easier part.
Facing the Fear
The hardest part was luring – it was learning the speech. By heart. Because in a TEDx Talk, you are not allowed cue cards. A few slides maybe. But Brian was not recommending it. Fifteen minutes of talk that needed to be delivered in a compelling, authentic, uninterrupted, natural way. That was the challenge.
By then, I had three weeks. Reading it. Over and over. Tweaking words. Changing sentences. Making it flow. Recording it. Multiple times. Asking friends to stand in as pretend TEDx audiences. Letting the fear become my friend. Practicing and Practicing. Over-practicing. Reading each line with Lindsay, Brian’s associate. Marking pauses. Using tempo and rhythms to make my points. She knew what she was talking about – having theater experience and having delivered her own TEDx speech a year prior Escape the Beauty Propaganda Machine with Strategic Self talk, with over 285 000 views.
I was worried, but again, I got support from Brian and another of his clients, Jane, who has delivered a difficult speech on Giving Voice to Sibling Sexual Abuse , that has over 450 000 views. Jane texted me her tips and strategies for learning her speech, which were super helpful. Feeling the support from a group of amazing people who had gone through a similar process helped me believe that I, too, could do it!
I followed Jane’s advice and I started exercising on my handbike, listening to a recording of me delivering the speech. I cleaned my house listening to it. Cooking with my speech playing in the background. Yet keeping it a secret as I didn’t want to give my ‘little voice’ ammunition: if people only knew, it would make it real, and the fear would be able to stand strong. There would be a REAL reason to be petrified if people only knew… What I didn’t expect was all the encouragements and support I got when I finally shared it on Social Media, reminding me there are always opportunities to be found in our doubts.
It was time for me to walk those last steps of my journey with my head held high.
Proud and Afraid.
Overprepared and Ready.
One last Challenge before Game Day!
I was ready to go when I overheard that a BIG winter storm was coming my way. The storm would bring over 25 centimeters of snow in a very short amount of time. And the storm would travel via the same road I needed to take to get to London, Ontario, where I needed to be.
Official Warnings were issued: asking us to stay home.
But I couldn’t.
I wasn’t going to let a major snowstorm stop me from doing what I was called to do.
So to actually physically get to where I needed to go, I needed to plow through, one more time.
Getting to the Conference
I left one day ahead of schedule. On a Wednesday.
Texted my son in a hurry while he was in school. Telling him his older cousin would take care of him while I was gone.
My mom drove, as I didn’t feel in control. My stress level was so high, it would have been dangerous for me to drive myself. We drove ahead of the storm yet going straight for it. When it got bad, we stopped for the night, hoping the storm would pass as we slept. I also feared for a clear morning as my accident had actually happened the day after a storm. The sun melting the snow onto a pavement that was too cold which froze the melted snow into a thin sheet of ice – creating black ice: the culprit of my losing control over my vehicule.
But the storm was still raging in the morning and for two hours, my mom had to fight her way through a blizzard, fearing to be hit by sixteen-wheelers who were driving way to fast.
I was on the passenger seat, meditating, as I could see all the cars in the ditch – including a sixteen-wheeler that had engulfed a road sign.
The drive was excruciating.
Yet in a way, it was also liberating.
A mirror of my eleven years as a paraplegic.
A mirror of the fear I had felt in the seconds before the impact with a pick-up truck on my way to work 11 years prior.
Past the fear – was the deliverance.
I got right on time for the rehearsal evening on Thursday. After a few issues with accessibility (at my hotel), I managed to get to the Hall at Western University. I got familiarised with the stage, met the staff and together we verified that all was accessible to me. They were very kind and had thought of every details.
I knew I needed to get to bed as early as possible, so when it was my time to present, I tried the stage, said the first part of my speech and stopped. I didn’t want to jinx anything – I knew what I needed to do and all I needed was to deliver the speech – not at the rehearsal, but on Game Day. I needed to relax more than I needed to practice.
In addition, the previous two days travelling in the snow had been difficult on my nervous system. Reliving over and over and over my accident. Feeling the weight of all my losses. Looking back at my journey with awe and emotions. Determined to deliver a speech I was hoping would make all disabled parents proud.
Hopeful that everyone would see the lessons:
- that each perspective is ESSENTIAL in our understanding of our world.
- That we are NOT useless as disabled people – we are useful – in part by the different perspective we bring.
In a World where we need more solutions, we are one group that can help.
I got to my room – took my shower and went to bed.
That night, I turned back and forth in bed. I could hear sections of my speech in my head and thoughts such as “what comes after this word…” , “what is after this section of the speech”, … I saw myself move on stage, connect with the audience.
My brain was rehearsing all on its own. Preparing me for the Big Show.
Asleep, yet perhaps awake enough to be aware of what was going on in my head.
Rolling onto the stage
When I woke up – I was laser focused.
I knew what needed to be done.
This is the upside of a good preparation!
When I got backstage, I needed to wait for 45 minutes for my turn to come. And that is when my ‘little voice’ became HUGE in my ears – SHOUTING – telling me to get out of there.
Again, meditation is what helped centered me.
Breathing in and out and focusing on the feelings and sensations I was feeling, but as if I was separate from them.
I was doing a fairly good job when my eyes were closed, but each time I would open them, my heart would start pounding in my chest LOUDLY and my little voice would get louder too. I needed to find a way to work WITH the ‘little voice inside my head’. So I spoke with her (me).
And I said (inside my head – as I meditated):
“I know you are scared. And I know why. You don’t want to look like fool or fall flat on your face. You also want to do well and represent parents with disabilities. I get it. But WE are not going anywhere. We are actually REALLY going ON STAGE. WE are not turning back. So why don’t you work with me instead of trying to convince me to leave – something I am NOT going to do. Instead of telling me all that could go wrong, why don’t you help me remember what I need to say. Help me be in the present moment and enjoy this wonderful opportunity. Help me show people what they can learn from disabled parents.”
When I was done. I was ready.
I was called on stage and I delivered the best speech I could deliver.
I was in flow.
My little voice didn’t speak.
She was there supporting me.
Making me notice how people were engaged with my talk.
Making me see the smiles, and the tears. I was touching people.
My little voice didn’t have to say anything, because I knew EXACTLY what to do, what to say, how to say it. And I knew that – because I had been well coached and prepared.
The speech was part of me and all I had to do was share it with the World!
Post Talk Marketing
My brain was shut for two weeks following the talk. Nothing could get in. The intensity of the preparation of the previous four weeks had gotten to me. I couldn’t think. Couldn’t read. And I slept. A LOT.
Brian told me we would meet a couple of weeks after. And we did – to strategize the different ways to tell people I did this. To ensure my message got to as many people as possible.
I prepared emails, wrote posts, stories and blogs that I could share.
And while I waited – I prepared the stage. Ready to share the link to the speech.
I did everything by the book – followed every advice Brian gave me. I shared on social media. Got some traction. But still no talk was shared. I told myself: maybe they are waiting for the best to go last. They must have a reason. But you never know. And doubts creeped in again: maybe they don’t think it is any good? But I wouldn’t have felt so proud after… my little voice would have told me if I failed. Believe me. She would have! But she didn’t. She was proud!
So I waited.
Past the post marketing strategy.
Past the emails.
Past the Hope.
I continued to plan my life. And I met with Brian in Connecticut to work on other projects.
We talked about it.
He reassured me: surely the talk would be released. At some point. I shouldn’t get discouraged.
That evening, I received a text. From Brian.
That is how I found out.
It was OUT – on the Editors’ list – which meant it was being SEEN.
20 000 views in the first 24 hours!
My message is getting out there!
The 6 months wait was worth it!
Now I hope it changes people’s perspective on who parents with disabilities are.
What have I learned through it all?
- Be afraid but work with your fear. It has a purpose and it can work with you to achieve your goals.
- Get clear. Clarity and Simplicity trumps everything.
- Get a coach. A good one. One with experience, talent and know-how. Not everyone can pretend to be a TEDx Coach. Get the Best to Be the Best you can be!
- Speak from your heart. On a topic only you can speak about. You are the mentor that can teach that specific lesson to us all.
- Be True. Be Authentic. Be Transparent and share the most powerful stories that will resonate with us.
Would I do it again?
YES. A 100%.
And I might. When the time comes.
I have at least one other Idea Worth Spreading.
YES. A 100%.
There is tremendous power in sharing our stories. Especially when we have taken the time to reflect, learn and grow from them. We can all be someone else’s mentor and inspiration. And we are.
So why not reach and impact more people?
I encourage you!