September 7, 2017

Behind the Sheen of a Tedx Talk.

If we could shout out, at the top of our lungs, an idea for the whole world to hear, what would it be?

What truth lies deep within—something we truly believe could broaden people’s perspectives and make the world a better place?

For me, it was sex.

The opportunity to shout it out came as an invitation to speak at a TEDx event in Singapore.

From the outside, the chance to speak at TEDx looked amazing. Friends cheered me on with, “Oh wow—so proud of you, Erin!” and “So inspiring and cool!”

On the inside, I felt sick.

I’m no stranger to public speaking, but TEDx was at a whole new level.

Having watched Brené Brown’s talk on vulnerability many times, I understood the power a well-executed less-than-18-minute-long talk has to change the world.

The change I seek is for my future children to grow up in a world where sexual wellness is a normal part of life—a world where shame and awkwardness aren’t attached to sex, but instead confidence, joy, and extraordinary connection.

I didn’t want to f*ck it up. I didn’t want to ad lib away precious seconds. I wanted every word to land with intention.

One would think that an 18-minute talk on a familiar topic would be easy, right? But when we’re passionate about a topic, the challenge isn’t to fill those minutes—the challenge is to distill our topic into One. Single. Idea.

Fast forward to July 15th. After two months of uncomfortable self-reflection and soul searching, I walked onto that red dot on stage and shared my truth. I’m really proud of the uncomfortable journey and hard work that led to that talk.

Every talk that day was amazing. Everyone spoke their truths. And, under the sheen of a TED style talk, behind the signature red dot and dark background, and behind the well articulated eloquence is a human being.

Which means—really—anyone can be up there. Even you. Especially you.

I’m sharing what I learned in the hopes that we will all throw our hats over the fence and put ourselves forward to share our ideas.

Because who knows—our idea could be the very one that makes a difference in somebody else’s life. That’s the beauty of ideas spreading.

Before believing the little voice in your head that says, “But I don’t have that idea just yet,” or, “One day, when I’m ready,” keep reading. I challenge you to look again. Because the idea worth sharing is there. And you are ready to share it.

1. Let’s ask ourselves: What is the cost for someone who is not aware of the idea?

We often focus on why the idea is important. Just as compelling is asking what the cost is of not spreading this idea. This is what my speaking coach (shout out to the amazing Lexie!) asked me and it blew my mind.

For me, the cost was the continued shame, embarrassment, and unnecessary detriment that is common in relationships and within ourselves when it comes to sexual wellness.

The cost is the world that I dream of for my future kids.

When framed this way, there is a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before. It stops being about why this idea is good (and by extension, is the idea good enough), and truly starts to be about why this idea is worth spreading.

2. Now, chill. The first idea is not the idea to spread. It is a clue.

I started with approaching sexual wellness from our love of food. As I considered why sexual wellness was important to me, and reflected on the experiences and memories that shaped my journey, a word kept bubbling up.


“Oh no,” I thought, “my idea is changing! Does this mean that it isn’t good enough? Am I not clear about what I want to say to the world? Should I not do this?”

Whoa, that escalated quickly, eh?

I pushed myself to explore what bubbled up—pushed through the fear that I wouldn’t reach clarity.

As I moved from one version to the next, the idea started to take a clearer form.

Each version was a clue to the next evolution. It took hours of saying the words out loud and being aware of my reaction to refine it down to a distinct, single idea.

3. Trust that you are the only who can deliver that one single idea.

Self-doubt will be there. Thoughts will come up like, “Who am I to be sharing my idea?” Or, “Who am I when XX has won numerous awards in her field?” And, “Who am I to be up there?”

TED has guidelines on what can and cannot be shared (i.e., no motivational and self promoting talks, and no pseudoscience).

But, the beauty of a TED talk is that it is not meant to be a lecture. It is not a presentation of a doctorate research. It is not a competition of credentials or who knows more.

It is a platform to spread ideas—ideas rooted in each individual’s unique experience that brought them to this very point in life.

The idea you share only exists because of your life experience.

Trust that no one else can share your idea because no one else has lived through your unique experience.

4. Remember this: We are human.

We are not perfect. We will screw up.

Every speaker that day fumbled. Some fumbles were not obvious. And—yay—the lovely TEDx organizers edit the videos to a version that best communicates each awesome idea.

Remembering that I am human helped me get past the fear of f*cking up. Don’t get me wrong, the fear was still there. But it helped me to realize the bigger picture. I was present to the idea that this was bigger than my need to look good—that this talk was for them, not me. This talk was for the world I want my kids to grow up in.

And I did f*ck up. I blanked about five minutes into my talk. Blanked as in my mind went empty and I could not, for the life of me, remember the words that came next. Luckily, I had discussed this scenario with my speaking coach who advised, “Just smile and breathe.”

So I smiled and breathed for what felt like forever, and the words came flooding back. To the audience, it felt like a really dramatic pause. To my family and husband who were watching on livestream, it was a super nerve-wracking five seconds.

I don’t know if the organizers will edit that part out. I trust that they will do what’s best for the idea to have its full impact.

I don’t know what your journey to the stage will look like, but I can tell you this. The two months I spent completely outside my comfort zone, pushing through the evolution of an idea that carried so much meaning to me, has fortified my passion and my calling for sexual wellness.

Deep inside each of us right now, there is an idea that will fuel our life’s calling. Stop overthinking and take the leap! We never know whose life that very idea will change.


Author: Erin Chen
Images: Rosie Bailey Stevenson/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Sonee Singh; Editor: Catherine Monkman

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