I was honored to be asked to present a TED Talk last month in Traverse City, Michigan.
I thought about the message that could be delivered that would do justice to all that I have spoke to that have changed my life since I started making documentaries. A friend helped me with a couple or slides of some of the incredible heroes that have dedicated their lives to standing up for the voiceless, the forgotten and cast aside. Being that I had never been asked to talk at anything where the time constraints were so tight, or so strict, I prepared more than I had in the past for the 15 minutes.
I wanted to seize the opportunity; to tell people about how they could do better, about how small moments can make big difference. As I prepared I found it difficult to get it down to the fifteen minutes as I wrote notes, anecdotes, and a few lines that I thought would grab the attention of the 1,000 people who would be watching live. The pressure was on…could I do this, could I seize this opportunity to really express myself, my message and the relevance of my work in 15 minutes.
As the day got closer, I was still dragging in new thoughts and sentences, struggling to figure out where I would edit, what would resonate, the tone at which it should be delivered to strike the right chord. It was exhausting, though I never outwardly wanted anyone to know that I cared about it, as I thought that caring and failing would be far worse than being seemingly indifferent and failing. (I know this sounds so ridiculous but it is an ego thing that is not easily shaken, and is mostly a defense for times when feeling insecure.)
Finally it had come. I was on the final leg of my flight from Detroit to Traverse City and was on the phone with my friend Chip. We were talking but I was really thinking about my schedule, the sound check that I had that day, the talk…my god the talk ran through my head like Carl Lewis—trying to make it a bit faster but still making it impactful. Then, in a moment when I stopped to actually listen to what Chip was saying, I heard “Man, just speak from your heart—tell your story, that is what will be most impactful.”
I hung up and got on the plane. When I got to the sound check I said I would scrap the slides that I sent in… I would just stand on the stage with a handheld microphone and tell the story of how I got here, the struggles, pain and tears that people had shared with me that had changed me. The difference and opportunity that I saw for me to help and the generosity that had been extended to help me do it.
After all of the preparation, all of the editing, rewriting, and practicing—I scrapped it all and stood on that stage and told the easiest story of all—mine. It was the abridged version, as I still only had 15 minutes, but it was the way it had been from the very first time I was asked to speak—holding back tears as I could see the faces and hear the voices of those I hope my films help.
It wasn't perfect, it showed all of my flaws, as a speaker, a storyteller and as a man—and that was best message I could have hoped to deliver.