This is the image I drew that my friend had created on our t-shirts!

Reclaiming Space

The Adventure of Doing a TEDx Talk

On September 28th, 2017 I had the great honour of doing a TEDx talk at TEDxKitchener.

It was one of the best nights of my entire life! It took months of preparation and a lifetime of stories to put it together, though in the end, I only chose three of my own and two others from my mother and my daughter, to talk about the body shaming experienced by fat people each day.

In the spring a friend encouraged me to apply to the process. I didn’t even think about it. I just did it. I didn’t even have to think about the topic. That was clear to me as well. It was something I have never spoken about publicly though it is close to my heart. You can watch it here…

One of the best things about this journey was that I did it with one of my closest friends, Nada Aoudeh. You can see her talk here:

It was so wonderful to have her by my side through this and in particular, on the day of the event, when we went early, had our dress rehearsal and went for a lovely lunch in Waterloo and then…then we spent the night in the green room avoiding everyone and watching the clock countdown until it was first Nada’s turn to go on stage and then mine.

To prepare for the talk, I followed all of their instructions which the organizing team of Andrew Bieronski and Jamie Raeburn sent out to us throughout the process. I read every article I could on the topic including the whole site page on TED.com, the TEDx Organizer Guide.

I called on friends like spicylearning (My Brother is Autistic) and Will Gourley (No child in grade 1 dreams of living on the streets) to help me get my head around what to do. I also had support from Bob Kline who did a talk at last year’s TEDx Kitchener, called Kids These Days at Jamie’s suggestion. I was panicking about memorizing my talk. Memorization isn’t my strong suit and I needed help! Nada had told me that she recorded her talk and listened to it and then practiced in front of a mirror. Up until a few days before her talk, no one had heard it except for her! Bob told me that he thought he knew his talk and then at the dress rehearsal his mind was blank. This wasn’t particularly comforting given that our dress rehearsal was the day of the talk whereas his was the week before! So I had to get to work.

Luckily, I have an in house coach — my daughter, Rachel Ecker. She is a drama major at a Toronto school in her graduating year and has been in many performances as both an actor and a director so the poor child knew my talk as well as I did! She helped me practice lines that made me tongue tied and edited with me so that it would be as concise as possible.

During the summer, I enrolled in @IDEOU’s course, Storytelling for Influence, to help me hone my skills and refine my talk. I highly recommend the course to anyone who is preparing a talk, going for interviews, or simply trying to refine a message.

The coaching offered in the course, and the clear process for defining your story blueprint, helped me see through the extraneous material to get to the clearest point.

I also read two books by Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology and Resonate. Her TED talk, The secret structure of great talks, is well worth the 18 minutes!

I read as many articles as I could, listened to podcasts, and two key books through the summer that helped me understand that not only was this issue real, but it was experienced by so many — Lindy West’s, Shrill and Roxane Gay’s, Hunger.

When I began writing the talk, in July, I had my application notes and ideas in my head about where to begin. I struggled at first to get the ideas down because there was so much doubt about even sharing this part of myself. Jamie was my coach all summer and gave me feedback as well as praise for the topic which kept me going.

I remember there was one day in particular when I decided I was going to get the first draft done. It was about 20 minutes at that point. I read it to a friend who helps me edit all of my writing, Mark Strong, over the phone. I cried through the whole thing. I had to stop to catch my breath and so that my eyes would clear. It is amazing how tears feel different in my eyes. I read an article a few years ago about how tears that are shed under varying circumstances, actually appear drastically different under a microscope. What I have noticed is that when I cry for different reasons, they also feel different. These tears stung my eyes so badly that I couldn’t continue reading it to him. I knew this was the message I had to share.

Fast forward two months and the day had arrived. My husband, Jeff Ecker and my two kids, Rachel Ecker and Max Ecker took the day off and came to see me.

What I didn’t expect was the amazing group of educators and friends who came to see Nada and I! There were teachers from different schools where I had worked. Friends and colleagues from the Curriculum department in our board and beyond! A few of my closest friends were there as well. They all took the day to be with us and without my knowing, Mark Strong had made t-shirts with my art on them for many people who were attending! There were friends from my work at Ontario Principals’ Council, superintendents from our board, and some of them brought their kids as well! It meant the world to me to have so much support.

Amazing support from friends (My BFF Forever, Frankie, Lindsay, Lisa, Rita, Kelly, Cam, Paul, Aneta, Rashma, Neelam, Heather, Davida and Mark), family (Jeff, Rach and Max) and colleagues from the York Region District School Board (Mandy, Rashmi, Debbie, Ayesha, Pam, Hatty, Amanda, Neelam, Rashma, Cecil, Lax, Lynne, Camille, Sanjee, Royan, Paul, Justina, Royan, Jon, Rita). It was so incredible to have so many people there to support Nada and me through this exciting evening. It is a reminder that even when things seem complicated, there are amazing people who are there for you…no matter what.
Left: My husband, Jeff who was so proud of me that night. He puts up with my time away from everyone as I find new and exciting ways to express myself and share my thinking with the world. Right: My friend, encourager, person who seems to believe I can do anything, Lisa Borden. Oh and did I mention that she is the mind and creative vision behind my website, DebbieDonsky.com? Check our her website here.
The most extra person I know, Mark Strong, with my friend and co-TEDxer, Nada (left) and me (right).
Left: Neelam (the friend who dreamt that I was on the TED stage two years ago and was met with a simple guffaw from me with Rashma Beharry and Mark Strong..the two dear friends who have edited every blog I have ever written and are always there to encourage me. Centre: Two of my oldest friends, Davida and LIsa. Right: My friend Royan Lee who has encouraged me to take risks by applying to TEDx in the first place, do sketchnotes, and be courageous in expressing myself online with my wonderful kids and husband. They were thrilled to meet each other as I talk about Royan all the time at home (Well maybe Rach and Royan were thrilled to meet each other!)
Standing on the infamous red circle in front of an audience of 2000 people!

When it was my turn to go on stage, my legs felt weak, like overcooked spaghetti. It is funny because as I walked out, the first thing you hear me says is, “Oh, good. I didn’t trip!” Anyone who knows me, knows that I am cautious (I can hear Lisa Borden laughing and saying, that’s the understatement of the year!) and I think they thought that I said that because there were a few steps to go down on the way to the infamous red circle but it was that my legs felt like they were going to buckle under me.

As I reflect on that moment, right before I went on stage, I thought about Jamie. She was there. I needed water. She found some. She told me I was going to be great. It made me think of the scene in Annie Hall right before Woody Allen’s character goes on stage and he is so nervous that he is babbling out of control. I am sure I was equally anxious. The stage manager tells him that she thinks he’s cute and the goes out and nails it! Jamie was my Alison Portchnik except she just told me I was going to be great!

Last year I took an online course with Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle called, The Wisdom of the Story and as much as I enjoyed the course, I don’t think I really got it until I did this talk.

Sketchnote I drew from the Brené Brown course, The Wisdom of the Story.

I stood there, in front of 2000 people, and told my story. I told them about the experiences of shame and humiliation. I told them about the disrespect and pain. I told them about the moment when I felt the most degraded and yet, finally took a stand and fought back — at age fourteen.

Now, at age 48, I told everyone about what this teacher did to me and not only did I rewrite my ending, I rewrote to the sound of the only standing ovation of the night!

Walking off stage not realizing that the whole place was giving me a standing ovation and then coming back to witness it. I didn’t stop shaking for about 12 hours after this. The positive energy that came my way was truly one of the most incredible moments of my life.

I had started to walk off the stage, not knowing what was happening behind me until the host of the evening told me to turn around and see what the cheers were. I turned around, stood at the podium and it was in that moment that I realized my story was different now.

Taking a bow as the audience cheered while I shared the most humiliating stories of my childhood.

Now, it was my turn to take a bow! I cannot express the pride I felt in that moment. The understanding of everything I had done to arrive at that moment. The belief that rewriting an ending was possible if you are just willing to be vulnerable and courageous.


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