How I Learned More From Giving A TEDx Talk Than I Ever Did Watching One

Imagine the weight of a secret story you have kept for 10 years. A story about a pivotal point in your life that opened your eyes to a new way of viewing your world. A story that you kept locked away–never forgotten, always present.  Now imagine you publicly sharing this secret story for the first time in front of an audience of hundreds and on a stage streamed to thousands. Imagine the emotions that you would feel: the nerves, the excitement, the anxiety, the relief. All these emotions signify a momentous event full of energy.  In life when there is an abundance of emotion and energy, that tends to signal for a great learning opportunity as well. Taking the stage to display your hidden skeletons would definitely qualify as one of those rare learning opportunities.

It’s been seven months since I gave my first TED talk at TEDxBerkleeValencia. On the TEDx stage I shared a story I had kept secret for ten years. While I learned an immense amount from preparing and delivering my talk, I learned just as much from my interactions with viewers after the event.  As a result, I came away from the experience with two valuable lessons. The first is a lesson on how working for a greater good is always better than working for personal gain. The second was a lesson on the strength of vulnerability.

Before I took the stage, I was apprehensive to share such a deep and personal story with an audience full of people I had never met.  It was as if I was giving a piece of myself to the world and hoping the world wouldn’t abuse it or judge it unjustly. To be honest, I almost didn’t give the talk. I was so nervous of being judged for a near mistake. Fortunately, what drove me to walk onto that stage was when I realized that this talk wasn’t about me. Sure, I was going to talk about an event that happened in my life, but really it was bigger than me, or at least that’s how I viewed it.  It was about the message I was trying to spread. It was about the children. It was less about what had happened to me and more about those who could feel inspired or helped by my delivering this talk. My story was simply a medium to illustrate the idea and spread that message. This change in perspective filled me with the courage needed to follow through with giving the presentation.  I realized that I needed to deliver this talk not for myself, but for those who needed to hear this story to alter how they view life’s adversity which would hopefully encourage children, or their teachers, to embrace the assets adversity can present.  It was also at this point that I noted the first lesson my TEDx experience would teach me. I began to understand how much more powerful doing something for a greater cause is compared to doing something for only your self interest.  I doubt I would have been able to muster the bravado to orate my talk had I not approached it with a bigger purpose behind it.  

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Now, almost half a year later, I still keep this fortified lesson at the forefront of my work. I find that when you are able to connect a bigger idea behind the reason you take on a task, you become more motivated and are able to accomplish so much more.  It’s almost as if you trick your mind into thinking that you can’t fail or deliver subpar results because your success at whatever you are doing will affect more than just yourself.  While you can let yourself down in the pursuit of an accomplishment, most people will give extra effort to succeed in order to not let down others.  This then leads me to the second lesson I learned regarding the power of vulnerability.

Often times vulnerability is considered a trait of weakness. For some reason, history has instilled it upon the minds of society that being vulnerable should be characterized as undesirable. I was filled with angst prior to TEDxBerkleeValencia from the thought of standing on stage and narrating one of the most hidden events of my life, opening myself to judgement on a story I have never made public. Presenting myself in such a vulnerable way made me feel susceptible and overwrought.  However, once I gave the speech I had a wave of people come up to me after I stepped off stage and tell me how incredibly powerful they found my talk.  Throughout that same day I had many audience members tell me how they began to tear up during my story and how they found the message inspirational.  Even days after, I continued to have several people email or tweet me online with similar remarks.  Initially, it had me a little surprised.  People were immensely touched and I began to think why?

I noticed a consistent theme amongst those who had reached out to me post the TEDx event.  All talked about how inspired they were by me being so honest and vulnerable on stage.  They would tell me how encouraging it is to see someone open themselves up like that to illustrate a bigger message.  And that’s when I realized the second lesson my TEDx experience taught me: displays of humble and honest vulnerability can be just as powerful as unflinching bravery.  I began to see how a person willingly presenting themselves as vulnerable in the right context can have immense power.  It conveys to people that it is ok to experience non-alpha emotions and show an empathy-inducing side of yourself.  With my story, my display of vulnerability showed people that it is ok to feel weakened by life sometimes.  It allowed me to illustrate how even at times when you feel weakest, you have an opportunity to flex strength by not allowing yourself to be overcome by emotion and continue thriving through the tough times.  Vulnerability allows you to connect with people of all backgrounds, because even the most confident and unabashed person didn’t always possess that esteem.  After my TEDx speech, I now understand that being able to display yourself as vulnerable is just as important as portraying confidence. In the business world it allows you to relate to those who may work under you, work with you, or above you. It is a common disposition that allows us to connect on a human level, away from titles or tax brackets.  

As a TEDx speaker, you prepare for your presentation thinking that you will be educating the audience on your topic.  Ironically enough, I would argue that as a speaker you end up learning more from the overall experience than what the audience will learn from you.  At least I know I did. My experience had me alter the way I viewed some ideas, such as vulnerability, and even alter the way I approach my work by connecting larger purposes to my craft.  In a way, the experience had me change the current of how my mind normally flowed in order to deliver a speech that touched many.  However, it wasn’t until months after that was I able to connect the dots on how the events of my experience taught me so many lessons.  I believe that’s the beauty of TED.  It is a concept so encased in the highest ideas and scholastic thinking that as an audience member, producer, or speaker you can always expect to do at least one thing in participating in these events: learn.

Alán Hensley is a music business entrepreneur and graduate of the Berklee College of Music’s Global Entertainment and Music Business Master’s program.  After immigrating from Mexico to the United States with his family, Alán’s humble beginnings have inspired him to take an active role as a social activist for immigration rights and helping empower children from adverse backgrounds.  He attended the University of the Pacific for undergraduate school where he became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Today he is Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for the Oakland, California, based music start-up Plural Music as well as an active DJ/producer.

If you would like to learn more about Alán’s latest work, or would like to contact him, visit his website:workbyalan.squarespace.com