Did you know that speaking in public is the most common phobia of all? And although I do it for my living – and have done so for more than 30 years – this does not mean that I find it easy. I don't. And yes, I still get nervous and especially so when a gig has lots of firsts. By firsts, I mean, things that are new to me.
Imagine then my anxiety doing a TED talk last November. Lots of unknowns and truly out of my comfort zone...
The only Englishman on a bill of twelve Dutch presenters. A debut venue in Breda, Holland. Plus a talk that I had never given before - nor even said out loud - discounting to myself that is, on more dog walks than even a hyper fit Staffordshire Bull Terrier actually wants or needs.
Stand-up is often said to be the hardest job of all, and it can be, but it is made easier (or doable) by having knowns and chiefly tried and tested funny material or jokes. Words that if recited in the correct order, will make people laugh out loud. Which creates a safety net for the comedian and why doing new material is usually a comedian’s greatest challenge - and why anything new is usually carefully positioned within a stand-up set.
So, an entire presentation then (or talk) that is completely new (untested) is a foreboding prospect. Not that I was intending my TED talk to be anything like a stand-up set (funny!) but I did include some moments of levity and which I hoped might resonate. After all, given my profession, there are certain expectations on me.
And as such, the pressure on me mounted as I deliver my talk and without any reaction from my audience whatever. Language issues? Unclear message? Just boring? All of these and more?
Not me anyway and on-stage is not the time for such an inquisition.
With hindsight I don't blame my Dutch audience. More realistically, my expectations were too high and based on how I am usually received when standing on stage with a microphone.
But this is a hard assessment to make in-situ and especially so since in my mind I had built up the size of this gig. It is being recorded, which means it is indelible, so almost like live television and not something I am used to anymore since I haven't done stand-up on TV for more than 20 years. And given the size of the Ted platform, this gig is potentially my biggest audience ever. No pressure, then.
All of which is playing on my mind as I stand in the spotlight, wrestling to remember and deliver the rest of my talk. Hoping that my mouth won't dry or my tongue start emitting those tell-tale pops. The silence of my audience is because they are rapt, I assure myself, determined not to speed up which is so often the death knell of any speech.
And in this instance and unusually for me, I cannot be accused of being ill-prepared.
Never before have I written and rewritten something as many times and then practised it over and over. In preparation, naturally, I watched other TED talks to get a feel for the height of the bar. An immediate relief then to watch some talks that are rambling, ill-conceived and frankly awful but then galled by some of the better and more proficient speakers. None more so than the English academic, Sir Ken Robinson and his talk – “Do schools kill creativity?”
Number of views seems to be the barometer of a successful TED talk. Clicks being the online currency and what delineates one talk from another.
Well, at the time of writing this post, Sir Ken can boast of having 18,185,142 million views and counting...
...of which I am responsible for a healthy number of these views because it is such a good bloody talk. Engaging, provocative, reactionary - it is the perfect TED talk. Damn it, it is also blinking funny, with some huge laughs and even rounds of applause in a few places. The utter bastard! And my talk loosely covering similar ground, unflattering comparisons are likely, surely?
Which is why I spent so much time working on the bloody thing. Rewriting and re-thinking constantly. Deliberating on the tone and how much to reveal.
And despite all this, quickly in to delivering my talk (for the very first time, remember) my hopes to rival Sir Ken are quickly scotched.
I call Nikki afterwards. She was meant to accompany me on the trip, and I am delighted now that she couldn't. She can watch it online or maybe, I will get lucky and it might never be released. That's how I tend to deal with trauma; by entering a state of complete denial.
So last week, when I saw mentions on twitter and elsewhere that a Dominic Holland TED Talk is now available, my mouth instantly dried. "Ah, shit, so I really did do that talk didn't I..."
I haven’t watched it myself and probably never will. But I must say - so far, so good. Nikki, my boys, family and some friends have all tuned in and with a thumbs up.
You can watch it as well and decide for yourselves. If for no other reason than to enjoy seeing a professional speaker under immense pressure and expending enormous energy trying to keep his shit together. Which it seems I managed because no-one has noticed my discomfort as yet and so I needn’t have flagged it up here – but for the fact that my musings on this page will always be honest and heartfelt.
How successful a TED talk it is – only time will tell – but for now and at the time of writing this week's post, I have just passed 1,000 views – so Sir Ken can sleep easy in his expensive bed with I imagine, Egyptian cotton sheets.
I am genuinely grateful to the good people of Tedx Breda in Holland for inviting me along. Thank you, Ingrid Vaessen and her lovely family, for hosting me.
Our lives are much more colourful and interesting when we add a degree of danger to them. By taking the odd calculated risk or two. For me, agreeing to do a TED talk and particularly on this subject was certainly a risk. But one I am glad that I took.
Which you can now watch for yourselves by clicking below...
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