That just about says it all. But it certainly doesn’t tell the backstory.
I think I’ve been speaking in public since I was about ten. Rarely do I get nervous. My TED talk was different. Maybe that’s because you know the status given to TED talks. Okay, so this wasn’t for the TED conference, but for a mini-TED, or TEDx, as the college-related events are known. Still, the people who speak at these events have set the bar really high.
That could explain why I was nervous and afraid I would forget my “lines” when I got on stage. But I didn’t, and this is probably why. When I got the invitation, it was mid-February. I had another speaking engagement a month away. The two events were nothing alike, although there turned out to be some overlap in the topic. Still, I began brainstorming right away.
Without spoiling it for you, let me just say the invitation came because of my story, as told in my memoir, Sister of Silence. Because of the way I try to get people to realize we must act differently. Steve Garguilo heard that story and suggested I speak at the TEDx Connecticut event. Steve was a huge help throughout, even though he’s several time zones away in Switzerland. He helped me to focus, and urged me to let my talk reflect what I’m passionate about. As a result, this is not like any talk I’ve given before, so I hope you’ll watch it at YouTube. (And please rate it or comment afterward.)
This talk really did take a village. A fellow writer friend, Diane Tarantini, was among those villagers. She helped a lot, and read every revision. By the time I left for the Hawaii conference in March, I thought I had it nailed. Even while I was gone, I continued revising. By the time I returned, TEDx Connecticut College was three weeks away. Diane suggested we do a dry run with some other writers. I practiced daily at home until then, with an audience of one. I thought it was good enough. But this was a TED talk, so good enough wasn’t going to cut it. Sure enough, the dry run showed my weak spots. A local arts spot donated space to practice and writers Diane, Dorothy Ours, Buddy Guthrie, and Ted Webb gathered round to listen. (My husband was the only non-writer among us.)
Their feedback was invaluable to what turned out to be one of the best talks I believe I’ve ever given. Which goes to show the importance of not isolating yourself, when you’re working on a creative project. Or of being so afraid of falling on your face, you don’t even let anyone else hear your ideas. Feedback is crucial, and lets you walk away with a work product that’s as good as it gets.
My husband and I boarded the Amtrak in Cumberland for an entire day’s ride to New London, CT. That gave me time to edit and rehearse some more, as well as a chance to relax. (Which I really needed, since I’d been working nonstop on my talk for what by then felt like months.) From the minute we arrived, students on the TEDx Connecticut College team became like the apostle Paul: they were literally whatever I needed. Chauffeur, host, midnight-errand-runner-extraordinaire, cheerleader, coach. You name it, they became it. Aditya, Amy, Ryan, Gabriella, Morgan, Benedikt, and others I’m sure I’ve forgotten, were all wonderful.
We arrived late Thursday for Friday’s rehearsal. That’s when I did forget part of my talk. But what’s most interesting is this: I was telling a story and when I became that character, the minute I opened my mouth, out came this southern accent that I never even thought to incorporate into the talk. It wasn’t something I planned to do; it just happened. All of a sudden, it’s like I grew up in Texas, not central West Virginia. Because here, people don’t have that much of an accent. Certainly not like our southern neighbors.
The day of the event, I walked into the auditorium to see a beautiful TEDx stage. Everything was in place. Team TEDx had outdone themselves. I was torn between wanting to hear the other speakers and wanting to wanting to polish my words again and agin. But I forced myself to relax and enjoy everyone else. Until lunch, when I grabbed a few bites and then went to practice. The next thing I knew, the tech crew was fitting me for a mic and a minute later, I was on stage. I don’t even remember what I said. I just know it went better than I expected—even for my high standards.
I didn’t learn until after we arrived in New London that many of the TEDx team were graduating seniors. That means they had one month left to finish their schoolwork and prepare for graduation. Which made what they did, and the level of attention they gave to all the speakers (and in some cases, the speaker’s spouse or other family member), even more impressive. It’s obvious these are young people with an exceptional work ethic, who take pride in what they do.
That’s because that’s what TED is all about: sharing ideas and striving for the best. So when the event ended, Aditya told us we could mull over our theme and even change it, before the video went live. Which is what I did, but only after putting out a call for ideas. Originally it was “We Must Act on Red Flags” but at the brilliant suggestion of Diane, it became “Silence Isn’t Golden—It’s Red.”
As it turns out, especially in view of the Cleveland story that broke last week, that’s the perfect title for my talk.
Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live.
Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”