The day I came undone for TED 1


Phyllis and the TEDx signI’m no stranger to performance. I’ve done it all my life in one way or another.

…when I sang Hopelessly Devoted to You acapella at my primary school talent contest – not out of any great need to highlight my naked vocals, but because the sound system packed up just as I took to the stage.

…when I ‘performed’ the role of a Credit Officer for a major department store – convincing my colleagues I was comfortable with finance, no really.

…when I performed a showcase of the virgin club at London’s Theatre Royal. My audience? The heavy hitter venue owners who would decide which shows they’d take with them to the Edinburgh Festival.

And yes, on the Foundis show, the men, the talk of testicles and prostates, pubic areas and blindfolded sex… not a problem, let’s talk about it. No performance anxiety here.

But then TED called. And my chutzpah went on hiatus. My initial elation at being invited to do TED fluctuated between,

“Wow! I’m going to talk at TED!” Cue girly squeals, petite fist-pumps in the air.

And the far more guttural, expletive-soaked,

“Wow. I’m going to talk at TED.”

If you don’t already know, TED is the big, fat holy grail for speakers, performers and life’s general show offs with smart ideas worth spreading. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and over the years it’s attracted some of the planet’s greatest communicators from a dizzying array of life’s disciplines. Professor Brian Cox waxed lyrical about super colliders, Bono mixed good news with poverty and there’s even been some guy called Paul who talked about the six ways mushrooms can save the world.

The variety of ideas relentless, the cool required to pull off your talk, icy.

Thing is, people make the mistake of thinking, fabulous, I’ve been invited to speak at TED therefore I’m some kind of amazing. Possibly. But this is not the time to chill on your laurels. Spotlight – of any kind – is a privilege, never a right. So I knew that I had to prove myself – again. And with these chatterings dominating my thoughts, I sat down to write the talk.

The topic was ‘the lightbulb moment’ and I knew I needed to dance with intimacy. Sex and death provided the melody since, in my opinion, orgasm and mortality are the grand originators of life’s most incandescent personal revelations. So I went back through the journal I kept at my father’s deathbed. As Dad was dying, I was writing. I read through my notes and new grief welled up, unwelcome dejavu. Not what you’d call fun. Or conducive to keeping your TED cool. But I persisted…

Then there was that little issue of getting my staged orgasm approved by the TEDx event director. You see in an attempt to illustrate my lightbulb origination theory, I needed to ‘come’ on stage during my talk. Yes.

For real – or fake. My orgasm would be simulated. Nothing gratuitous. All in context. And subtle – well about as subtle as one can be in tight leather jeans and red suede stilettos.

So a few weeks shy of T Day, I walked into the office where the buck stopped and the decision to let me come – or go – would be made. Thankfully, I met with a wonderful, wise and sassy woman who – after what felt like a mini-performance and job interview rolled into one, she said,

“Yes, yes, yes.”

Then it was back home, riding the high of validation and ready to rehearse a few fake O’s in the mirror. Fine in theory. But totally bizarre in practice. We’re talking one eye open, looking at your climaxing reflection, giving yourself silent direction, um no, not like that, too many facial contortions, you look constipated not aroused, pissed off not pleasured, too slow, too fast, no, wait, don’t keep doing what you’re doing… and it goes on.

In the meantime, as I cycled through my universe of foul and fabulous emotions, the ever-supportive, beautiful event organisers checked in via email and phone.

“We’re so excited – just two weeks to go! How’s it going?” They chirped.
“Wow, two weeks? Fine.” I’d say, “Tweaking my talk now. A little nervous…but fine, fine.”

Then I’d hang up and label myself, phony, flake and any other ‘fff’ word in the offing.

One week before the talk. I slipped silently into hibernation – which, when you have two small boys and one big boy still needing regular hugs, chats, kisses, oh and food – is a tiny, teeny bit challenging.

When TED eve dawned, I finally came up for air – and a few well-earned (real) orgasms. Well a girl’s gotta keep limber. And then… after weeks of emotional ping pong, T Day arrived and I happily surrendered to the superficial – the hair and make up. What a genuine relief to have hot irons press the frizz in my hair down flat. It’s the little things when the big things are whisking up your stomach bile.

Arriving at the venue, a jittery calm took over. I chatted with the speakers and performers. Some wanted to talk. Others didn’t. And when they did want to mingle, I escaped to the toilets for last minute rehearsals. I was scheduled to speak at 1:40. Right after lunch. Perfect. And I tried to enjoy the impressive TED spread but couldn’t. Instead I sucked on a pouch of organic apple mush for babies – which the vegan butterflies in my stomach had ordered.

So, lunch done. Audience settled in their seats. I dashed back into the toilets, raced through my talk again. Internal organs flipped and flopped. Fear tickled and teased and then it dawned on me. I was giving my power away. Standing there in the cold, disabled toilets, I was allowing the unknown to torture my confidence and fool me into thinking I was a fake.

So with my nerves still jangled, only this time on a much shorter leash, I walked outside and sat in the sunshine. A few minutes later, I stood backstage, feeling an excited sense of peace and a ‘let’s just do this’.

Like most things in life, the lead up always, always sucks. But when you’re in the thick of the moment, present and awake, all you can feel is high. I rode the rollercoaster that was my talk, laughed and cried and smiled with my audience. I flicked from slide to slide like I knew what I was doing and then when it came time for my orgasm, I closed my eyes and…and…and…

Phyllis and William BoothOkay, some inside knowledge for you now… it felt like an eternity, oohing and ahhing, panting and moaning for a largely silent audience. Oh. No. They’re too shocked, too confronted, turned on? Nonsense – not enough foreplay. So all I could think was, pull out! Pull out! Abort mission!

And so, I did.

Breathless and relieved, I opened my eyes and that’s when I saw him, Mr William Booth, staring down at me from one of my slides. Sadly he peaked too soon.

You see, Mr Booth’s slide and quote were meant to come up after my O – not during. He had convened over the entire thing and I winced at the realisation that I had just come under the watchful eye of a 186-year-old preacher man.

Oh well.

I guess history has a way of repeating itself because… just like that little girl who sang acapella at her school contest, undeterred, I was hopelessly devoted to feeling the blahs and the blues and coming all undone with Will and TED and the whole world watching.

My mojo hadn’t deserted me after all.


See more photos and watch my Ted Talk HERE.


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One thought on “The day I came undone for TED

  • spollydolly

    She clicked the heels together of those slutty red suede stilettos three times. Her half-closed eyes flew open and she realised that she was on the TedX stage in all her glory for the whole world to see. Her lips parted as she breathlessly moaned, “I’m home!
    I’ve come…home.”

    You sparkle! X