The Pop-up Talk Journey (in more than 3 Minutes) by Liz Lian

When I opened the email from TEDxBasel, I laughed out loud. A 3-minute pop up talk. I had toyed with doing a TEDx talk in the past, but had let that idea go….

 Liz Lian's 3 minutes Pop-Up Talk

Liz Lian's 3 minutes Pop-Up Talk

Yet I was intrigued. Within the next 24 hours, I decided to sign up. I went online to complete the form and hit my first obstacle - the title of my pop up talk. Ooph! That required some thought. I didn’t even know what I was going to say yet.

Over the next days, I found snippets of time to ponder what I would talk about - on the way to pick up my children, in line at the grocery, while brushing my teeth. I realized that, to distill my big idea into three minutes, I needed a shortcut. I needed a universally understood metaphor, so I did not have to spend precious time explaining details. Finally, it came to me - it takes a village.

Two weeks after my initial attempt, I signed up to become a pop-up speaker.

I soon realized three minutes was not enough time to address my idea in full. A three minute speech is one page, double-spaced. I struggled to draft a speech that clearly made only one point. I started to get nervous. TEDxBasel was now only one week away, and I had to finalize my talk and memorize it. To dial back my stress, I told myself, if I wasn’t ready, I could simply back out. Ironically, I realized I needed a village, my own community of supporters, to make this speech happen.

Monday I completed the speech and reached out to trusted critics - my husband, en route to Mexico, my single brother in Copenhagen - for their thoughts. My friend Sara offered to watch my two-year- old for a couple hours Wednesday morning. That gave me time to make final edits and to begin memorizing in earnest.

Thursday found me muttering to myself at every spare moment. By Thursday evening, I finally felt comfortable with what I wanted to say. Still, I wanted to practice standing and speaking with a live audience. I tried rehearsing on my two-year- old, but she looked at me strangely and said, “Mommy, stop doing that!” So, I texted Sara to come over Friday morning and be my audience. I was very glad I did. It gave me the chance to overcome that initial nervous, am-I- going-to- get-this-right? feeling, rehearsing in my dining room in front of my audience of one.

Saturday, the morning of TEDxBasel, arrived. I quickly shared my talk over breakfast before leaving my jet-lagged husband with the kids. While on the tram to the Musical Theater, I kicked myself for not thinking of encouraging anyone to come watch the pop-up talks. I arrived early, to get a feel for the space and layout. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised to see Cindy and Sandra, new friends whom I knew were coming to watch their friend speak. As we chatted, I learned they were here early to watch me; their friend was an official TEDxBasel speaker, not a pop-up talk speaker. My heart soared. I would have familiar faces, friends among the audience.

I found a seat to enjoy a coffee and became so engaged in conversation, I didn’t even hear the announcement calling pop-up speakers to the stage. Fortunately, Sandra came over to find me, and I rushed over to join the circle of speakers.

As the ten pop-up speakers circled up to review our lineup with a volunteer, I could sense the palpable curiosity and excitement among us. Now, we had to prepare to be on deck, to take the stage as soon the last speaker had left. While trying hard to focus on the speeches before me, I kept my eye on Michelle, the speaker before me, so I wouldn’t miss my spot. And then…Liz Lian.

This was it! Onstage, I was incredulous at how many people had amassed in this corner of the foyer, to stand and listen to ten brave souls speak. I felt intoxicated with the moment. This was success - I had found the courage to share my idea and put myself out there.

Now, I just had to deliver my three-minute idea. Adjusting the mike, I saw Cindy and Sandra right in front, smiling encouragingly. To ground myself, I waited a few seconds, looked out over the growing audience, then started, “My first year as a mother…” As I spoke, I was drawn to the heads nodding in understanding; I began to enjoy sharing my idea.

Part way through, I looked up and noticed all the listeners perched along the spiral stairs. The words of my speech continued to tumble out while I sought to take in the many attentive faces, to create a connection with my listeners. And then, the three minutes were over. I headily stepped off the stage and joined the supportive community - of friends, fellow pop-up speakers, volunteers and audience members - I discovered along my pop up talk journey.

What I was wholly unprepared for was the bread and depth of responses by individual audience members approaching me. An older Swiss mother shared how my speech had moved her to tears, as she recalled her experience living in multiple countries. A young woman aspiring to be a mother and a married couple planning to start having children wanted to know how to build modern villages. A father admitted how he and his wife stopped after one child because of their first parenting experience. Many - parents, non-parents, married and single - shared their belief we should do more to talk about and support the parent experience.

I was so moved and grateful to hear how my idea resonated with individuals, it almost overshadowed the pop-up talk winner announcement that soon followed. Of the ten pop-up talks, I won as the audience favorite to go to the main stage that afternoon!

I felt so overwhelmed - I ran out to grab a quick lunch. I returned to find a TEDxBasel volunteer relieved to finally find me, so we could make arrangements for a backstage tour and discuss what to expect on the main stage. It all felt a bit surreal as I hadn’t really thought through what would happen if I won, besides speaking from the main stage. When I arrived for my scheduled slot, I kept expecting that heart pumping, butterflies-in- the-stomach moment, to arrive, even as I heard my name announced and then walked out on stage into the lights toward the microphone setup.

The largest surprise for me that afternoon was how comfortable I felt speaking in the main theater. Standing on stage, I knew that a large number of audience members had already voted for my talk. I felt their support and wanted to acknowledge it. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my message again.

 Liz on the main stage

Liz on the main stage

Now I was holding a more powerful space, offered to me by the audience and volunteers of TEDxBasel, a space that gave me confidence I had an idea worth spreading.