Once I heard about the possibility of speaking at Health:Further on August 24 to over 1,000 healthcare professionals in Nashville, TN, I wanted this keynote BADLY. I wondered:
“What would it feel like to present in front of 1,000 people?”
The challenge excited and terrified me. 300 people was my biggest audience yet. Also, I noticed that there weren’t any patients speaking at Health:Further, and it was important to me to bring at least one patient perspective to this conference that aimed to bring various healthcare stakeholders together to collaborate.
Once I secured the keynote spot a month before the conference, I was nervous and unsure what I would present to this large audience of healthcare professionals and hospital system executives. I wanted my speech to be moving and fun, but also with tangible takeaways. I settled on two key messages:
1. The importance of prescribing SOCIAL SUPPORT for people with chronic invisible illnesses
2. Engaging patients as PARTNERS in improving healthcare and medicine
Arriving in Nashville around 5 a.m. ET without sleep or my nighttime medication, I found a quiet spot in the airport to begin memorizing the flow of my content. Around 7 a.m., I went into the airport bathroom and changed from my yoga pants into a fancy dress. I fixed my makeup and hair best I could before catching an uber to the Music City Center conference center.
At 9 a.m., I was on the Music City Center’s grand ballroom stage for a practice run of my speech. I didn’t feel good, I was forgetting my lines, I felt small on the huge stage. I looked out at the empty seats and shuttered thinking,
“How will I do this in front of 1,000 people?”
Although my adrenaline was strong, sleepiness still crowded in over my skull a few hours before my presentation. I tried to find a place to nap, but to no avail, so I pushed on through without a nap. I took a bit of effexor to ward of any impending cataplexy.
Just before my presentation, I stood backstage and listening to the two presenters before me – two awesome healthcare advocates, Dennis Boyle, partner, Design for Health, Ideo; and Damon Davis, director, Health Data Initiative, HHS Idea Lab.
Somehow, standing backstage, my nerves melted away, and oddly, I walked on stage calm and confident.
Once on stage, time stood still, and for 23 minutes, I felt like I was FLYING.
I took my time, I paused, I hit my transitions perfectly and evoked all the emotions I’d hoped. It was totally surreal, as if I’d known forever what I would say and hadn’t agonized up to the last minute. As if I hadn’t flown overnight and was running on no sleep. As if speaking had always been so easy and natural…
Of all the very kind reactions I received, I think my friend Kevin Clauson’s tweet was my favorite:
“REMRunner’s presentation did what a powerful one does: it makes people thoughtful, encouraged and slightly uncomfortable.”
I cherish this and all the wonderful connections I made at the conference. The long hours of preparation were NOT photographed, but it was very worth it! I only wish you all could’ve been in this room to experience how much awareness was raised for narcolepsy and chronic invisible illnesses. You were definitely with me in spirit.
Thank you to conference organizer, Andre Blackman for hosting this fantastic event. Thank you to Dennis Boyle for recommending me for this speaking engagement. I met Dennis through Stanford’s Medicine X, we worked together in a fantastic brainstorming session at the White House/MedX workshop in June. So when Dennis was invited to give a keynote at Health:Further, he recommended me to the conference organizer. I’m so grateful for this amazing support of my efforts and patient speakers being included in healthcare conferences.
Flying home that evening, I was totally exhausted beyond belief, my eyes were puffy, my brain foggy, joints sore and achy. But I’d answered my question.
So, what does it feels like to speak to an audience of 1,000 people?
To be honest, it felt the same as 300 people. With bright lights and a large stage separating me from the attendees, I couldn’t see or get a feeling for their reactions, so I just had to project my energy as authentically as I could and hope they were enjoying my speech. I suppose that’s the scary part about speaking, the not-knowing-what-they-are-thinking. It’s vulnerable but there’s an artistry and power to it that I totally adore. And with each speaking engagement, I grow a bit more confident in my voice and message.