Facing my Fear (i.e. STO Talks)

After a bit of internet research, it seems that public speaking is one of the top 10 biggest fears. In general, I enjoy public speaking especially if it’s a topic I’m passionate about.  However, put that event at my alma mater (St. Olaf) and you’ve just taken this to a whole new level.

It’s not a secret that I have avoided going back to ‘the hill’ for the last 20 years (there is something about planning your 5 year class reunion that doesn’t leave a desire to frequent campus).  In fact, I normally get a severe stomach ache as I drive up to campus. I have this irrational fear that they will see me, realize I never finished a test (paper, project, etc) and strip me of my degree, on the spot.

Late last year, I was asked to speak at this years STO Talks event.  STO Talks is modeled after TED Talks with the speakers ranging from professors to alumni to students.  The focus for this years event …

  • challenge the audience to think critically and make a positive impact in our community
  • challenge our audience to become catalysts for effective change
  • share your journey which brought you to where you currently are

This was PERFECT considering the career change journey I am on.  I was excited (& scared) to share what I was learning about privilege, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and our responsibility as people with privilege to be part of the solution (spoiler alert, we all have privilege at some level so we all ALSO have responsibility to find solutions).

But, how to introduce this topic in 8-12 minutes, with an energetic delivery that asks people be introspective and commit to change?

So, back to my internet research. I learned (thanks to GoodLeadership) that powerful presentations have 4 ingredients:

  • Meet somebody new
  • Heard something unexpected
  • Direct involvement/participation
  • Helped shape the meeting

I took a different approach with my talk. Luckily, I was the last speaker, could draw on all the previous speakers AND, I figured people needed a bit of a shake up.

First up?  Everyone stand up! We did a privilege exercise, if you haven’t done one, try it. While not perfect, it is humbling.

Next, I asked them to share their results with the person behind them (NOT with someone they came with).

Then, I shared a quick recap of what I’ve learned about privilege, how I’m pushing myself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and why I believe its important to participate in solutions, even if they don’t directly impact my social sphere.

Finally, I challenged everyone to take a learning/idea from STO Talks and make a commitment to do something, one thing, anything … and had them share that with the person behind them again.

AND, I gave everyone a “what is possible/what is not acceptable” poker chip as a reminder of their commitment.

So, how’d I do on meeting the 4 ingredients of a powerful presentation?

  • Meet somebody new – have them share their results with the person behind them
  • Heard something unexpected – what privilege really is
  • Direct involvement/participation – privilege exercise
  • Help shape meeting  – poker chip give away

Pretty good!  I hit all 4 ingredients, got them up and moving, left them with something to think about and … most importantly, made it through the whole event without a stomach ache and with my degree intact.  Success!

Oh, and the bonus for the day … one of the other presenters was Tina Rexing of T-Rex Cookies (pictured with me above).  She and I worked at Target together and have biked the MS150 on Team Target. Her talk was inspirational AND she brought cookies!!

If you want to get an idea of the variety of topics at STO Talks, you can see the Sunday speakers here.  (I’m at 1 hr and 18 minutes, Tina’s at 31 minutes)

Thank you St Olaf for helping me tell my story and face my fear of ‘the hill’.