Have you ever had that experience where you're talking to someone and you get the sense that s/he is looking over your shoulder to see if someone more important might be around? I have and it's a terrible feeling. The speaking bubble over that person's head reads, "You're a good pit stop at this party but I think I see one of the cool people coming through the door."
One of the lessons that emerged from my TED experience is about connection and conversation. I believe that the person in front of you is the most important person in the room - even if that person is 1500 people. That belief informs two of my speaking rules:
#1 - You can't script a conversation
#2 - The only peope who matter are the people in the room (which is why I always ask for the house lights to be high enough for me to see people and why I rarely allow my talks to be taped).
Ironically, my plan was to break both of these rules at TED. I tried to memorize my talk and my plan was to stay very aware of the fact that the talks are filmed and never, ever go away.
As it turns out, my rules have seeped into my very being and once I got on stage I forgot everything that I had memorized and didn't think once about the cameras. I didn't even go through all of my slides and hit my "six essential points" in the order I had planned.
It became a conversation and those don't happen in a vacuum. Conversations are a back and forth - a give and take. There's no way to control where they're going. Scripting a conversation assumes that your conversation partner won't have anything to say. It assumes that you don't have to listen. I know. I script conversations in my head all of the time.
I can have an entire discussion with my husband without him even being home. When he walks in the door I'll say, "We had it out over the schedule for the weekend. You actually loved my new plan." He'll usually respond with something like, "I knew I was worn out for a reason. Now stop talking to me when I'm not here."
It's just so much easier!
The night before my talk I got an email from my friend, Nilofer. It simply said, "Have fun. Don't worry about going off script. Just talk to us - the people in the room."
I thought, "Damn it! I know she's right but that means giving up lots of control." A conversation from the stage feels like teetering on the edge of chaos.
For better and worse, I had fun, basically forgot my script, and just tried to look folks in the eye and have a conversation.
It doesn't matter if we're on a stage, sitting at the table with our family, checking out at the grocery story, or at a party - the people who matter the most are the ones right in front of us.
That means putting down our cell phones while we check out so that we can engage with people and say, "Thank you" or "How is your day going?" It means not glancing over someone's shoulder to see if someone more important or interesting has walked in. It means connecting.
It means vulnerability and engagement.
I'm here and I'm all in. You matter to me. Our connection matters to me. It's why we are here.