“Great. Now tell us the story without this.” Said Marcus as he took my iPad from me.
So I did. I went back to the beginning and told the real story. Marcus stopped me after a couple of minutes and turned to the other 25 people in the room and asked them “What was different this time?”
“It sounded more natural.” Said one.
Marcus said, “Yes, and?”
“He sounded more authentic.” Said another.
Marcus said, “Yes, and?”
“He used the words mental health.” Said someone else.
They were right. I had. I’d skirted around the phrase. I’d tell people ‘I hadn’t been very well.’ Or I’d say I was ‘suffering from anxiety’ – but the words ‘mental health’ weren’t used. I’d been open about my challenges, but, I had been reluctant to use the phrase ‘Mental Health’.
It’s a bit like an elderly relative that finds it impossible to say the word ‘Lesbian’ without doing one of the following.
That last one takes a bit of explaining – so to assist you I have recorded an audio sample.
Saying the words ‘mental health’ in a room of 25 people felt good. It felt liberating. So I made a decision.
I was due to give a ten-minute talk at the Content Marketing Academy Conference in Edinburgh. I’d prepared the presentation months ago. It was a good presentation. But, it wasn’t good enough. It didn’t tell a story. It didn’t tell my story.
A week before the conference, I started the process of creating an entirely new talk.
I slept surprisingly well, but as I made my way to the venue, I felt I’d made a mistake. I thought my talk was now too self-indulgent. 8 of my 20 slides were about me. Was that too much? Maybe I’d missed the point entirely.
I got there early. A few kind people asked me how I was feeling. I told them honestly. I was excited and more than a little bit frightened. Here’s the thing. I’m a fan of Ann Handley and following her was intimidating.
But, as a fan, I didn’t want to miss her powerful keynote. So, in a strange way, Ann’s very presence relaxed me. When she started speaking, my nerves evaporated. She was funny, engaging and her ‘Bigger, Bolder, Braver’ message gave me the confidence that the content of my little talk was fine. It felt like Ann Handley was giving me permission to be me.
As I made my way up to the stage, the sight of so many faces I knew relaxed me. Something happened to me. It was weird. I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. I got into my flow, and I shared my story. The delivery was unlike anything I’d rehearsed. The first five slides were pretty intense, but then I shifted gears and shared, what can best be described as a witty anecdote.
Hearing people laugh was like a drug. I got into my flow. I ad-libbed more. I reacted and engaged more with the audience. There was even a classic ‘panto’ moment. And, yes, I swore. But I don’t believe I crossed the ‘Handley Line’ (™ Mark Schaefer).
I loved every minute on stage.
When I finished my talk, I turned and hugged Chris, who had joined me on stage. He said ‘Look at that Kev.’ and turned me to face my friends. They were standing up and clapping.
It happened in that split second that I turned to face Chris. I missed the moment. I have never felt emotion like it. I thought I was going to cry. The genuine warmth was incredible. When I walked off stage, I was met by some great friends who were in tears. I didn’t expect that. I apologised. Naturally.
I’ve never been hugged so much in my life. The reception I received was beyond anything I could have hoped for.
I felt drained and emotional.
The biggest lesson I learned was this – telling your authentic, filters-off story can change your life. That’s how significant that 10 minute stage time was for me. It has changed my life. And it will continue to change my life. I have the confidence to tell my story. And I have the desire to add a ‘Speaker’ page to my site as well.
There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. And there is nothing wrong with telling 120+ people that I have suffered from mental health issues. I am not alone.
I wouldn’t have delivered that talk without a few key people. This isn’t meant to sound like an Oscars acceptance speech, but I support it does come across like that. But stick with me – this is important.
Firstly, I want to say thanks to Chris Marr for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. Chris, your ongoing support means so much to me.
I want to thank Marcus Sheridan for his amazing World Class Communication Workshop. Marcus, you gave me the confidence to tell my story my way.
Thanks to the Content Marketing Academy Community, who have been a massive support to me as I’ve gone through the process of figuring stuff out.
Thanks to the #TCMA2016 conference attendees, many who didn’t know me. Your warmth, support and, yes, hugs were so appreciated.
Thanks to Ann Handley for relaxing me and for her ‘Bigger, Bolder Braver’ message, Mark Schaefer, for his ‘Be More Human’ message and to Amy Schmittauer for her ‘You have to let people see you’ message. Incredibly powerful.
Thanks to my family and my friends for you love and patience. I know it hasn’t been easy for you, but I couldn’t have got through the last couple of years without you.
And finally, thanks to Jamie. Sharing the stage with you was an honour. You were the star of the show. I love you.
I'm a storytelling coach and writer.