What would you do if you completely froze on stage in front of hundreds of people? I decided to do that on purpose.
I stood on the side of a stage, moments away from getting up in front of 200+ people. The woman who was speaking before me asked me: “what are you going to talk about?” To which I confidently responded “I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet.”
Let me rewind a bit and set the scene for you. A few years ago I traveled to Orlando to speak at a conference. This used to be very familiar territory for me (both the city of Orlando and speaking at conferences). But this particular talk was supposed to be a 10-minute “TED style talk” about something new and unique.
Fun aside: I’ve given two actual TEDx Talks. Here’s my most recent one for your viewing pleasure:
Earlier that week while preparing for my trip to Orlando I kept moving the “work on 10-minute talk” calendar event around my Google Cal. I didn’t just move it once, I actually moved it four times. Upon dragging it for the fourth time I finally said to myself, screw this, I’m just going to wing it!
So there I am. Stage left. About to walk up in front of a sizable audience of people with absolutely no idea what I was going to talk about.
All I knew is that my 10-minute talk wouldn’t have anything to do with my normal speaking stuff (IWearYourShirt, BuyMyLastName, marketing, yadda yadda).
Instead I decided I want to talk about three things: Finding courage, happiness, and gratitude.
My name gets called, I hear (and see) people clapping, and I make my way to the stage. During the final steps to the stage I was still working out the details of what I was going to [try] to entertain this crowd with…
Find courage in small doses
Anyone who gets up on stage in front of people, any in capacity, has a very similar fear: What if I forget my lines and it’s dead silent?? (And what if that happens if I’m also not wearing pants???)
I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket, flipped open the stopwatch, and pressed the start button. All the while, over 200+ faces looked on in bewilderment.
As the seconds ticked by I could feel my heart racing. I didn’t say a word. I just stood on stage, looking out into the audience, and occasionally put one finger up to let the audience know I wasn’t losing my mind and that this was on purpose.
15 seconds ticked by and felt like minutes. 20 seconds went by and I could feel my pulse racing. 25 seconds and then finally, finally, the stopwatch hit 30 seconds and I hit the stop button.
I let out a huge sigh of relief (and the audience did too). I proceeded to explain that I wanted to talk to them about three things: Courage, happiness, and gratitude. I also asked them to help me remember those three things because I had just decided to talk about them about one minute prior to that moment on stage.
I went on to explain that the reason I chose to stand in front of them for 30 seconds (of agonizing) silence, was to face a fear that every person that takes the stage fears. Instead of waiting for a moment like that to come to me, I decided to muster up some courage and embrace that moment on my own. After that 30 seconds, I felt more alive and invigorated than I had in a long time.
I asked the audience to think of small courageous acts they could do in their lives. Little things that would give them the same invigorating feeling I had just felt.
For you, the reader, where can you embrace moments of courage in your life? Especially ones that relate to fears you have? I’m willing to bet if I ever forget what I’m talking about while on stage, I’ll immediately remember those 30 seconds of silence I forced upon myself (and an unsuspecting audience) and be able to recover or snap out of it much quicker.
(Note: I wouldn’t recommend trying my 30 seconds of silence if you’re going up on stage for the first time!)
Create happiness where it doesn’t normally exist
After my little 30-second stunt I’d like to say I transitioned perfectly into the topic of happiness, but truthfully I had completely forgotten what I was going to talk about next. I asked the audience and they quickly reminded by shouting out, “Happiness!” (That in itself was kind of awesome.)
In 2015 I noticed I had a lot things going well for me, but for some reason I still felt kind of unhappy throughout my day to day life. I don’t remember exactly who I heard of it from (or where I read it), but I remember stumbling across someone talking about starting mornings off being proactive instead of reactive. Specifically, not rolling over in bed and checking all your notifications, emails, and the news. Instead, do something for yourself. I think they were talking more about it from a process and productivity angle, but I chose to see it through the lens of trying to fix my happiness problem.
I decided to give it a shot. I made the commitment that when I woke up, I wouldn’t immediately reach for my phone. Well, honestly, I would reach for my phone and make sure I didn’t have a missed call or text message from anyone in my family saying their houses were on fire. Morbid thought. I know. But hey, I’m being honest here. After allowing myself to check for morbid messages, I would leave my phone next to my bed and try to find a moment of happiness.
Where would I find happiness where it didn’t normally exist in my life? Calvin and Hobbes.
As a kid I was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes. I owned every book Bill Watterson put out. I clipped the strips out of the actual paper. Heck, I filled notebooks with my own renditions of Calvin building killer snowmen. Calvin and Hobbes was deeply rooted in my soul as my happy place.
Knowing that, I pulled a few Calvin and Hobbes books out of the attic and would start flipping through them while making my coffee in the morning. There were no emails to read. No social media updates to scroll through. No chance of negativity creeping its way into the start of my day.
Back to me standing on stage telling an audience of strangers about my childhood: I shared with them how much of a profound impact this small change in my morning routine made. I could legitimately feel myself becoming happier each day. It cost me nothing and it only took 5 minutes every morning. I still do this morning ritual years later.
“What’s your happiness moment?” I asked the audience. I’ll ask you the same question. What in your life can give you a happy jumpstart to your day? We all deserve to live happier and more fulfilled lives, it just takes work to get there.
Gratitude comes in all (unexpected) shapes and sizes
I knew my third topic, but I quizzed the audience anyway. They were on top of it and yelled “gratitude!” back at me. Which, looking back on it, was also a fun thing to hear hundreds of people yell out loud.
I asked the audience to all pull out their phones, tablets, phablets, laptops, whatever device they had on them. I think I dropped a flip phone joke in there too. I gave them a few seconds to fumble through their pockets/belongings and get their device in hand. Kind of counterintuitive to what you want people to do when you’re up on stage in front of them, no?
I could see a look of confusion on their faces but I told them to trust me.
I told them to open up whatever mail application they had on their phones. All their heads dropped and then popped back up. Then I told them to compose a new email to a family member, spouse, best friend, someone they really cared about. Down went their heads and then back up. Then I told them to put a smiley face in the subject line and write “I am grateful for you” or “I love you” or whatever sentence seemed appropriate for them to write that showed gratitude in the body of the email.
Then I told them to hit send.
At that moment I told them that 200 people had just sent notes of gratitude that could have an incredibly profound impact on someone’s life. I shared with them that I was in a pretty bad place in 2013 and I remember getting an email from a friend of mine that said simply “Jason, you are awesome, don’t ever forget that.” That email had a really strong affect on me. I knew my friends and family loved me, but it’s an entirely different feeling when it’s from an unexpected source at an unexpected time.
I finished my 10-minute talk by telling them that the simple message of gratitude they just sent may have an incredible impact on someone. It may, and I know this seems silly, change someone’s life. But that’s what little moments of gratitude and thanks can do.
I’d love for you to send a note of gratitude to someone right now. You don’t have to write much, just a sentence of thanks or love will do. It’ll take you five seconds, but those seconds may do more for someone than you could ever imagine.
I share the story of this talk in the hope that you will embrace small moments of courage, happiness, and gratitude.
Be courageous. Find your morning happy place. Share some gratitude.