GSB Student to Guest Speaker in 6 Months

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker in JD Schramm’s Thought Leadership class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Returning to campus was truly a surreal experience. Just a few months ago I was sitting in a classroom hanging on to every word of lecturers and guest speakers thinking that they must truly have it all figured out. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d ever be the one in the front of the classroom trying my best to say something helpful to the students in front of me. While I definitely don’t have it all figured out yet, I’m glad I was able to share what I have learned in my journey thus far. Who knew that a simple 9 minute speech in the communications department could lead to so many opportunities. Below are some of the questions the students asked and how I answered. Enjoy!

What has your journey been since you first delivered the speech in the program in February?

Since I delivered the talk to my classmates in February, the journey has been quite unpredictable. After my talk, JD showed my video to the TEDx Stanford organizers to see if they would be interested in having me present this talk at the conference — they were! So in April, I delivered my talk on the TEDx Stanford stage. It was fully edited and posted on YouTube end of May and that’s when things really took off. Within 24 hours it garnered thousands of views and notable media coverage, particularly Huffington Post and BET. That lead to an interview for the Stanford GSB Alumni Magazine which was reposted by Junot Diaz and shared over 100 times. This then lead to my most recent opportunity to be featured on The Round, a new show launched by BET/Centric. It is a speaker series that features inspirational black women giving TED-style talks on motivational topics. I gave a talk there similar to the one at TEDx. That should air in a month or two and I’m looking forward to where that leads me next!

What is it like being considered a thought leader?

Thought leader is a title I’m still not used to — which is kind of ironic given that I spoke in a thought leadership class. I remember when in one of the sessions in the public speaking program, JD mentioned that we’re all thought leaders now on the topics we’re speaking about. In my head I thought, “Absolutely not! I’m just giving a casual presentation to my classmates. No one else will be interested in this!” Fast forward to 8 months later when I saw a family friend who told me that he watched my TEDx talk in class at Cal State Northridge — the professor was using it to teach a class on multiculturalism. All this to say, whether I like it or not, I’ve become a thought leader. While I feel equal parts scared and excited, I mostly feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to the thought leaders that have come before me to push the conversation forward in the topics I’m passionate about — women, race, and equality.

How did you handle/think about any negative backlash that you received from your talk?

One of the other speakers on the panel gave a great answer to this question. He said that one of the best ways to get people to engage is to be controversial and thus, he looks for opportunities to take a bold stance. I couldn’t agree more. I got just as much negative comments as positive for my talk. On the one hand, it was to be expected. Race and gender are still considered controversial topics so whenever anyone takes a stand in that topic, be prepared for the internet trolls to tear you down. That didn’t bother me as much. What was a little unexpected was the comments surrounding how I looked and what I wore. Comments like, “Her weave is horrible!” and “Her dress is way too tight and short for a TED talk!” Though it bothered me at first, I’ve come to accept that being objectified for your looks just comes with the territory when you’re a woman. Though it sucks, I’ve learned to ignore it. Despite the negative comments, I wouldn’t do anything differently about my talk. I believe that if people are arguing about your ideas, that means you’re stating something worth saying — so don’t be afraid to take a stand!

How do you decide how personal to get in your talks?

I actually think about this topic a lot. My talk wasn’t intended to be this personal. The original draft was much more facts driven with lots of data and research. However, when I did my first run-through, the overwhelming feedback I got was this: “Less facts and figures, we want to know about YOU and how colorism has personally affected YOU”. I have to admit, I was really nervous at first. I thought to myself, “Am I really going to bare my soul and deepest insecurities to all these people?” Even writing the talk was a bit of an emotional journey as I had to dig deep and confront emotions that I had long since buried. I was terrified to share something so personal with such a broad audience but seeing people’s reactions made it all worthwhile. It moved people. My vulnerability enabled me to connect with a broad audience. People of all races and genders approached me to tell me how much they resonated with what I said. After the panel, a student came up to me saying there was a topic she really wanted to write a speech about but was worried it was too personal. I was also surprised to hear that, according to JD, the majority of people who end up not doing the public speaking program are nervous about speaking about too personal of a topic. Well, through my experience I have become convinced of the power of vulnerability. So to all those out there with a message or story inside you that you’re afraid to share, I say, step into the uncomfortableness and watch how many people you inspire!