I’ve auditioned for exactly one thing before in my entire life.
It was a tryout for the basketball team, and I was in 7th grade. My school was a small one — five years later, I graduated with less than 25 others, half of which had been my classmates since 1st grade. In other words, my odds of making the team were good despite my lack of talent and less than marginal skill. At the end of the tryout, two teams were stocked and only two guys didn’t make either team: me and another boy. My fate was likely sealed when, during the tryout scrimmage, I found myself all alone with the ball on a fast beak. A couple of dribbles, and I was in the lane … where I jumped and exhibited my complete inability to execute an uncontested layup successfully. I remember the ball clanged off the underside of the rim right back into my face; whether that is what actually happened or my brain’s artful retelling of the emotional memory, I cannot say.
Now, this morning, I am hours away from an entirely different audition. Tonight is the first night of auditions to speak at the TEDxDayton conference later this year. From approximately 130 applicants, less than one-third have been invited to audition; of the auditions, less than half will end up on the TEDx stage in October. Thankfully, the judging criteria will be based on having an “idea worth spreading” and the ability to deliver it publicly in a compelling way; making a layup won’t be part of the judging criteria. (That is still a hit-or-miss proposition with me.)
Like that layup, though, this audition’s concept is deceptively simple: three and a half minutes on a stage to give the audience a sense of what your topic idea is in a way that makes them want to hear the rest of the story.
Three and a half minutes?
I have used periods of silence nearly that long in closing arguments before to illustrate a single point.
Three and a half minutes.
Filling speaking time has never been a challenge for me. The art of Brevity, on the other hand, is my white whale that I am forever trying to capture. This is why I prefer to use Twitter over Facebook: the 140-character limit forces me to use words economically. When I first started this blog, my goal for each post was 500 words or less. Through a concession to current realities, that ceiling has been pushed up to 750-1,000 words, because brevity…
I have been thinking about, working on, and mapping out my topic ever since the first call for speaker applications went out in April. So, when a friend asked me yesterday what I was planning on speaking about, I should have been able to rip off a concise and coherent five minute summary. Instead, I babbled for well over 30 minutes in a fit of circular statements, incomplete sentences, and long pauses that initially look like deep thought until they last long enough to make clear I’m just lost at the station where my train of thought has left me.
This is yesterday … THE DAY BEFORE MY THREE-AND-A-HALF MINUTE AUDITION!
Driving home from work, waves of self-doubt washed over me: The Resistance had found a beachhead, and was advancing on my psyche with all of the thoughts, doubts, and fears that are most unhelpful in trying to prepare for an audition like this:
- “Who are YOU to be trying to do this?”
- “Your ‘big idea’ is neither big nor new.”
- “You have no data to support the idea that what you have to say is even true beyond your own personal experience. Personal anecdotes are not TED talk material.”
- “This is a vanity project that will benefit nobody but your own sense of self-satisfaction.”
Yeah. Nobody said The Resistance fights fair. In fact, its calling card is the inventiveness with which it fights in the most unfair of ways. From Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art:
Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.
Though the self-assurance that has filled me for the last two months has utterly evaporated, the only way to defeat this psychological menace is to call its bluff and press forward anyway. I’ve got eight hours left to find my confidence, focus my ideas, and grab Brevity by the scruff of its neck and get him to come with me. Any minute now, the Panic Monster should be waking up and kicking my creative brain into gear.
Meanwhile, this post is now over 900 words long.
See what I mean?
Three and half minutes…