When I was selected to speak for TEDxGreenville, I knew my life would change. I had no idea how or why, but I was certain that I was embarking on something that would impact me forever. I chose to speak on a topic that was shocking and definitely not a feel-good issue – but it was important and relevant to our community. I chose to talk about human rights.
But let’s back it up. It all started with a happy hour at On the Roxx with a fellow Leadership Greenville alum. I was on my usual rant about social justice, domestic violence and the inequities in our justice system when Josephine Salley McMullen said, “You should consider speaking for TEDx! I’ll nominate you!” And she did. I was honored and excited, but a bit skeptical of actually getting in front of people and speaking about it.
I received an email several weeks later congratulating me on being nominated to speak at the TEDxGreenville Unzipped conference! My first thoughts were, “I’m in! Hooray! Oh crap! Now what?” I did not realize that I was going to enter a competitive game-show-like process and had to make it through several tough rounds before I was really IN. I was intrigued and definitely inspired to push my idea through. Although not very competitive by nature, I became completely driven to be selected and find a way to stand out from those in the process with me.
Steps to Selection
With the help of my program team representative, Scott Gould, we began shaping my talk, my pitch, and really focusing on the message. This was such a daunting task! How could I take such a broad spectrum and whittle it down to a singular idea with major impact? Lucky for me, Scott was an amazing coach and successfully led me through each round.
I remember having a cold and having to do my 3-minute pitch video … stuffy nosed, tired, three hours and a gazillion of takes later, I had it…just to be told I left something out and had to do it again! Noooooo… but redoing it was a major pay-off and I finally got the call saying I got it! I was selected to be one of the speakers for this exciting event. I was floored!
Then began the real work with speaking coach, Deb Sofield. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from her because she is truly the best at what she does. She groomed my talk into the polished, concise, TEDx-worthy presentation it was – and I’m so grateful.
I was feeling very unsure about myself the night prior – I had another major event that week, I was tired, and I felt unprepared. Deb and I were skyping before the pre-party and I expressed my feelings of unreadiness, and she simply said to me, “Marie, you’ve got this – don’t be nervous, turn off this computer and go to that party!”… And I did just that. All nervousness and insecurity left me. I knew how lucky I was to have Deb as a new friend in my life.
The Big Day
There is nothing that can describe the energy of the BIG day… April 11, 2014. The Kroc Center was just buzzing. I felt great and very confident (thank you, Deb!), and was riding on the electricity in the air! I was so excited for the other speakers and performers, even more excited to have so much support present in person and online that day. I felt like everyone did such a great job — from the volunteers and vendors, to the engaging activities being offered, to the organization and flow of the day. It was overwhelming to be a part of something so huge.
When I hit the stage and stood in my little red circle, I felt nothing but calm (well, that HUGE clock counting down my time was definitely trying to mess with my Zen, but overall, I felt pretty good!). I delivered my talk as rehearsed and knew, could actually FEEL, the effect I was leaving on the audience. I have never felt so empowered before. I had this opportunity, in 12 minutes, to impart knowledge on folks about my day-to-day life as a victim advocate for the underserved, marginalized, and discriminated who have suffered the most brutal of crimes with little to no justice. I used a compelling story of one of my actual victims who was kidnapped from her doorstep and brutally raped by several men – in GREER. I could feel the shock in the room as my story unfolded.
Afterward, I was humbled by the positive response I got. So many people asked, “how can I help?” and “what can I do?” – I raised a lot of awareness that day. I got many people thinking of their own biases, judgments, and the kind of community they wanted to live in, raise a family in, work in. Mission accomplished!
When my video was released, it took me days to bring myself to watch it. I didn’t want to see myself and critique it to death and hate how I looked on camera. But when I finally sat down to view it, the only feeling I had was pride. I was so proud to have accomplished that! I have shared that video with many and I’m not shy anymore about making people watch my talk. It was easy to see that this experience did, indeed, change my life – in so many positive ways. I found confidence in speaking openly about difficult issues, I was able to engage people about the things I am passionate about, and I made long-lasting friendships and memories.
As an update, I have since transitioned to a new job with Pendleton Place – still working with families and serving victims. However, before I left SCVAN, the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network, I had the absolute honor of successfully getting my client, the woman whose story I shared in my talk, her green card! To see someone come full circle — in that moment of horrendous trauma and crisis in the awful emergency room the night of her assaults, to reuniting her family, to obtaining legal permanent status in this country — is the greatest testament to the work I did. This was a very happy ending to what started out as a very tragic, dark topic. I am so thankful that the Unzipped event provided me with a platform to share my client’s story, my passion, and this idea worth spreading!
Watch Marie’s talk below, and browse the TEDxGreenville 2014: Unzipped Flickr album for more pictures of Marie, fellow presenters, attendees, and volunteers.
Don’t miss TEDxGreenville 2015: HeadVROOM on Friday, April 10! Tickets go on sale February 27.