Don’t ever write yourself off

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?

Who knows?

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…





21 thoughts on “Don’t ever write yourself off

  1. Julia R says:

    Don’t worry, Dom, I am also very afraid of public speaking but you did the talk better than I could’ve ever done! I hope the audience will give you a better reaction next time. Big fan of your blog!

  2. Sydney says:

    I watched the talk twice on YouTube and I found that I could relate to what you talked about a lot, especially with my sister having impeccable emotional intelligence but being a late developer. I loved your speech and got a lot from it. I also saw the humor in it and was surprised by how unresponsive the audience was! I saw the humor between the serious moments and was surprised that people didn’t laugh! Well, if it means anything, I enjoyed it!

    • Isabella says:

      I I saw your video on YouTube and I liked it a lot, I did definitely not noticed that you were uncomfortable on stage. It was a really good to talk and you should definitely do it again if you get the opportunity:)

  3. Pamela says:

    I did listen to the talk and I did enjoy it. As a parent and a teacher it is important to not only help your children achieve in school as far as academics but also teach them how to be good people! Sometimes it’s up to me as a teacher to teach my students manners! It shouldn’t be only up to me, but I do because I see the importance of teaching kindness and gratitude and just how well can they read! On another note, just finished ‘A Man’s Life’. It was amazing! Now I’m reading ‘Only in America’. I’m about half way through it! The hair incident at the christening was hilarious!! Blizzards conditions allowed me to stay home and enjoy a good book! Back to work tomorrow!

    • Stacy says:

      Saw that video this past week while at work and thought you did an amazing job. I’ve always been afraid of speaking in front of people. Oddly enough, my kids too have that anxiety. I just tell them to do their best and you will be able to achieve anything. Again, it was an amazing speech.

  4. Terry Nolan says:

    My son has been “flagged” for being behind in reading, and your talk readjusted my perspective on his development. He is a summer baby and barely made the cutoff date for public school. I had forgotten that might be contributing. I can also see he is becoming a kind and thoughtful boy to everyone around him, for which we are grateful. Thank you for your wonderful talk.

  5. Mandi-Sue says:

    I really enjoyed your TED talk. I chuckled at quite a few of your comments and they all resonated with me. We home educate and so the community we spend a fair amount of time with do have a similar view – that academic measures are not the be all and end all. That helping a child find their own talents and developing those talents is more constructive than enforcing they get 5 a-c grades in subjects they may never find useful again. The strange out come of this is that many Home Ed children, when not pushed and not forced to do set subjects or hit set targets, end up hitting those targets themselves at an earlier age or reaching the same goals via a completely different angle.

    Having been the wife that had to nag her husband to get out of bed for a job he detested (but we desperately needed the money) whilst searching for another job, I know that the happiness level of all family members can certainly impact on everyone else! After that period of time we have always reminded the children to do what makes them happy, because the strain on us on a family was surprisingly high at that time.

    Having well rounded children, who are individually educated, well mannered, very social and enjoy exploring life is certainly easier for me as a parent because they are happy and pleasant to be around and at the end of day that’s much better than then earning millions but being miserable and/or people no one wants to associate with.

    Thank-you for your excellent TED talk ……May be next time you’ll get a more receptive English speaking audience!!

  6. Lorraine says:

    Hi Dom. I watched and really enjoyed the talk. I can relate to the content on many levels particularly manners and becoming all round good human beings. I thought the audience were tough, they didn’t laugh when I did but I thought they absorbed the salient points. I have watched it twice and did remark on insta – apologies if not appropriate but I really related to the content. I have received Eclipsed and am thoroughly enjoying it. Love your style of writing. Have a great week Dom ☺️

  7. Emily says:

    I don’t normally watch TED talks, but when I saw that you had done one, I just had to watch it. Regardless of the topic. I am probably responsible for a large chunk of the 1,000 views you have received. I very much enjoyed it and took to heart several of your points as I found pieces of myself in your story. Thank you for the openness and the honesty as I will be watching that video when my state of mind requires it. Blessings to you Dominic and to your family.

  8. Elizabeth B. says:

    I replied to you on Twitter my thoughts on it, but just wanted to add a few more thoughts. It’s not a bad thing that you care about how well it went or didn’t. All it reveals is that you care. Maybe your audience was expecting something different. Maybe they’re just weird (those dang Hollanders!) or maybe you had more influence than they let you see.
    Don’t let this be the end of your Ted talks though. You have a gift for speaking to people whether you are trying to be funny or not. Be open. Give the advice. Talk about your failures, your experiences, your lessons. That’s what makes you relatable to your audience. I personally enjoyed your talk, because growing up I had friends whose parents wanted to live through their children by forcing them to try everything and be everything they couldn’t be. Those parents didn’t know the damage they caused later on in their lives because they were never taught how to handle rejection. So when life hits them, they fall down flat and man, the rest of us have to deal with trying to fix them!
    So your audience was cold. But they’re not everyone. Remember that. Keep on speaking, you do more good than you realize.

  9. Heather says:

    Dom, I thoroughly enjoyed your TED Talk. As a mom of 2 boys – 1 classified as “gifted” with a high IQ and 1 that is a “regular” student. I agree with everything you said! We tried to raise them the same while still paying attention to their individual strengths. We taught them please, thank you, hello and goodbye and we disciplined them the same. We now have a very well adjusted 20 and 15 year old. Kudos to you and Nikki for raising such fine young gentlemen. You, sir, get a standing ovation from me!!

  10. Faaiz says:

    Hello Dom,
    I found your Ted Talk very inspiring. Especially for young kids who are often confused and feel isolated. This is a very good thing. And I hope it not only reaches to the audiences on stage but to people around the world that I’m sure many could also relate too. Thank You.

  11. Dom (a different one) says:

    I watched your talk, thoroughly enjoyed it – and chuckled at the bits that (I hope) were intended to be funny – I guess they must have been a difficult crowd! Great to hear your advice too!

  12. Alessandra says:

    First thing first and maybe wrong platform but thank you for Open Links. Very grateful, will start it soon.
    Second I can’t stand public speaking and always afraid of messing it up and how I look and how I am perceived. Even if school I’d stand there not able to utter a word and mumble… Can’t hear you! Louder! Articulate! Bundle of nerves… Rather just run away. But yea when I know the topic well I can stand my ground but it ain’t easy. Well done! Am sure you’ll be asked to do more! … But are you willing to do more? Wish I could see you in Chichester next Saturday. I hope I can catch you later during the year. 🙂

  13. Evelin says:

    Excellent talk and absolutely spot on! Also, not quite without any reaction from the audience. I think that is exactly how they are supposed to react, is it not? The talk is not a comic act so I would not expect anything else. And by the way, thanks for the parenting tips, I shall use them on my rascals aswell 🙂

  14. Liz R says:

    I watched the talk as soon as I saw that it was available. As an American woman and mom who’s probably around the same age as you, I found it really insightful and entertaining.

    I’m with you, though – as I watched, I thought it was weird that the audience wasn’t reacting to the things I was finding most funny and interesting. I thought maybe it just had to do with the fact that I couldn’t actually see the audience most of the time, so I was just missing something, but now I see that you noticed it, too.

    I can understand how disconcerting that would be, but I have to say, you didn’t come off as nervous at all. I thought you did a fantastic job. I’m always impressed when somebody can just stand up and speak that well for that long without notes or reminders because I swear, the older I get, the harder it is to cram anything longer than a five-item grocery list into my head with any kind of reliability.

  15. Regina says:

    As a teacher, I always find it ironic that I am incredibly nervous when doing any type of public speaking. I recently had to address the school assembly on a topic that was near and dear to me. I had no problem coming up with the reflection: It was nerve wracking delivering it to the same students I see everyday and half of which I teach/taught. So I sympathize. You were, however, very calm and collected in your delivery! And your pattern of speech is quite beautiful to listen to. You make the harmony of the English language very clear. I enjoyed it.

  16. Beth says:

    That speech was brilliant! Confidence is a word that is commonly and widely used, but no one seems to reinforce its definition. Everything you mentioned in the presentation reminded me of my little brother, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, and believes he is too stupid to do anything, therefore deciding not challenge himself. CONFIDENCE should be the personal medicine to boost their self esteem! Anyone and everyone should be using CONFIDENCE daily.

  17. Rachel Conrad says:

    I know that this is a little late, but. . .
    I think that you did a wonderful job with this TED talk (very professional and engaging), and maybe the reason why the audience seemed a little bit “dead” was because they were so enrapt with what you were saying- I know I was.
    I have had this TED Talk saved at the top of my watch list on YouTube for a couple of months now. Whenever I’m feeling a little down or excluded, I watch it to inspire me to stay true to my morals, manners, and beliefs. It really helps me understand just how close success- or happiness, I should say- really is.
    Thank you for having the courage to do something as frightening as public speaking, because your message has really resonated with me and many others, I’m sure.

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