On the night of rehearsal for TEDxYouth@NIST 2015 I get handed a phone from another organizer and I hear a soft voice on the other end.
“Hi Tosca, I just needed to talk to you. I really am not sure I can do this. In my profession we don’t really talk about our personal lives, we represent companies and their products. I am used to speaking in public- but this is a real risk.”
“It’s ok Praya, I get it. Tap into that vulnerability you feel. In that high-risk area is the realness that will connect you to the youth you want to inspire. When you step out of being a model, an actress, or an Instagram celebrity you become real to kids, and you hold the power to inspire. Let yourself stumble, let yourself take a pause, let yourself be you.”
As a TEDx Organizer I often am faced with having to choose the right words, at the right time. Students sometimes come to me as a tornado of blind confidence. That beautiful thing we often witness in international schools, where children are inherently risk-takers. They tumble into meetings or try not to show up for dress-rehearsals. They tell me, “Ms. Tosca, I got this.” But just as frequently there are also the speakers who are quiet and shy, worried that their ideas and voice won’t really matter. Convinced that they are not worth the time on the stage. It is my job to choose my words carefully. To be loving and kind, to be a teacher, a coach and a guide. Even so, I have seen the most confident of youth speakers walk off the stage, and the meekest become mighty when in the spotlight.
Sometimes, I am approached by adult speakers that think that the TEDx stage is a place to vent frustrations, persuade others using big data, to garner respect with flashy gadgets and absorb admiration for flawless speaking. But the most viewed talks on TED and TEDx are not necessarily the ones that have the fanciest graphics or the most confident speakers, the ones that resonate with us are the ones where we feel the vulnerability of the speaker.
Praya has a massive following on social media and the beginning of her talk you can see her navigating what she ‘should’ say to those millions of followers. She has her guard up, she is talking like a spokesperson for the school. But at about half way, you see the change as she slips into what she is passionate about, what she really wants to say. Her voice stops wavering, she compels us to make compassion and purpose the drivers of our lives. She admits not knowing all the answers, that she is still finding her way, she admits it is difficult to talk about her own ideas on the stage, she urges students to make their voice strong but kind, and we listen.
Within one day, Praya’s talk was viewed nearly 50,000 times. In the political and cultural context of Thailand, Praya’s message; to have a voice, and to work for change is a tremendously powerful idea worth spreading.
In her 2010, TEDxHouston talk Brené Brown discusses the power of vulnerability. Dr. Brown tells us that the one thing that keeps us from connection is the fear that we are not worthy of it. Her solution to overcome such fear is through courage and compassion. Compassion not just for others, but for ourselves. Dr. Brown states, “[Those with self-worth] were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were.”
The TEDx stage is a place for vulnerability, courage and compassion. On that stage we can transform and find our voice.
Apply to be a TEDxYouth@NIST 2017 speaker here.