By Wendy Crawford
Back in late February of this year, I received a phone call from my sister-in-law, excited because she had recommended that I be a speaker at a TEDx, Traverse City, Michigan. The night before, she had been at a party and met a previous speaker and he was looking for potential nominees. Although, I appreciated her enthusiasm and support, I was wondering what was expected of me and could I pull it off. For those of you not familiar, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. Depending on the location, some TEDx conferences recruit speakers through nominations and others may nominate themselves but must go through a rigorous process to be chosen.
After sending my biography and going through three different interviews over the phone, I was accepted as a speaker. I was so honored but at the same time, I had mixed emotions as I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and the anxiety started to kick in. Two of the people that interviewed me had been previous speakers and both had said that it was an amazing experience but also pushed them to their limits. Both of these men were heads of huge companies and so I thought if it was a stretch for them, how was I going to do this? I did public speaking years ago when I was first injured as I was a victim of a drunk driving accident but in a way, that was easier because I was just telling my story to students and community groups and answering questions. This was different as I was speaking with incredible movers and shakers AND I was to create something that shifted the way people think. I'm not an astronaut discussing my latest voyage to another planet nor a scientist who has created a world changing invention!
One day I had an epiphany and decided to Google "How to do a good TED talk" and came across a very helpful video. My take away from that was that an effective speaker, is passionate about the subject and speaks from the heart. I knew that my journey has been fairly unique but I wanted it to be more than that and then a thought came to me – I was having a difficult time because I kept comparing myself to others instead of just being me and listening to myself. I realized that we all do that at points of our lives and thought maybe I was onto something! So I started to put together a framework and each day while I was walking the dog or watching television, ideas would pop into my mind so I would tap on Siri and leave random thoughts on my phone.
During this long process, fate would have it that a former college professor contacted me just to say hello which was a gift sent from heaven. She was always one of my favorite teachers and in fact, we had become good friends until I moved, she had children and we gradually lost touch. We went over my ideas and she gave me wonderful suggestions and a much needed boost of confidence. I was feeling good at this point until it got closer to the day. We were to arrive in Michigan two days early because the day before the actual conference, we had a rehearsal on stage.
When I arrived to the auditorium, there were a few people scattered about and I was taken to the forefront of the stage. I saw all the empty seats that I knew would be filled the next day as it had sold out and I also knew it would be simulcasted to another theater and two high schools. The lights came on and fear hit me. Although I will was advised not to memorize my speech, I felt like it was necessary in a way, to get your points across. I started to fumble and kept looking at my notes and what little confidence I had, started to go down the drain! I struggled through it and when I finished said “Thank God that’s over!” with such a huge sigh of relief that everyone started laughing and told me that was probably not the best way to finish when I was doing it live, the next day.
When I left the stage, I bumped into the next speaker who was about to do his rehearsal. He was a hockey coach, a New York Times best-selling author and professional inspirational speaker. He asked me if I wanted any advice which made me think that I must need it so I agreed! He said that no one in the audience would know if I forgot something from my notes. In fact he also said “If you think that you will remember everything – forget it! That train has left the station!” He said my story was what was important and just speak from the heart. After speaking with him, I finally believed that I could actually do this and a huge weight was lifted off me. It's funny how people are placed in your life at the perfect times and we don't even realize it.
So the next day I went on the stage and even though I was a bundle of nerves, I somehow got through it. Afterwards, I was so glad that I did it! I was definitely out of my comfort zone but so happy that I pushed myself.
This is really a compilation of suggestions from others and my ideas, combined. I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who supported me. I'd like to give a special thanks to my dear sister-in-law for believing in me, my friends who had to listen to me being stressed out at times and to my patient husband for helping me with the video portion. (I'm so bad at technical stuff!) But my biggest thanks goes to all of you mobile WOMEN out there! I knew that the support from my community has made a difference in my life but it wasn't until I sat down and started writing that I realized, that you have been one of the most significant influences of my life. Without the advice and support of my mobile friends, I think my journey thus far would have been much different and I’m fairly certain that emotionally and physically, I wouldn’t have been in the wonderful place that I am in now.
I find it incredible that often you can meet another woman who has a disability and suddenly be able to bond with them, even though you may come from very different backgrounds. Only they can truly understand your hardships, challenges and struggles. When you have someone else to share these experiences with, it is comforting and motivating because you can learn how they were able to overcome obstacles and move forward. I cannot count how many times that I ended up laughing over something that was originally, completely devastating or embarrassing. This was not always the case, as you will see when you watch my talk. I think of the women that may be more isolated and do not have the peer support and my heart goes out to them. My hope is that they utilize mobileWOMEN.org to be able to reach out to others and get that vital support.
I encourage you to use our Facebook page to reach out to other women. If you don't feel comfortable posting something for everyone to see, feel free to send them a personal message. I find for me, dealing with my disability is an on-going process and there is a learning curve. There are others out there that have already experienced what you're going through and have managed to come through it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, if you seek it and allow it to exist. I promise you, it will be life-saving and life-changing. We are all in this together. I am so grateful to each of you and look forward to doing great things as a community!
To watch my talk entitled "Solving the Beauty Equation", please go to: