Culture,  The Latest

Process and Emotions Behind Giving a Personal TEDx Talk

Trigger Warning: Rape, Mental Illness

Sharing my TEDx Talk “Relationships After Rape” at Hamline University on April 5, 2019 was an extremely emotional experience for me, but I am glad that I did it. On May 8, 2019, my TEDx Talk was published on its YouTube and social media platforms. Ever since then, it feels like I have been living with what my boss calls a “vulnerability hangover.” Nothing rang more true for me when she said that to me after I was explaining to her what emotions I have been dealing with since the release of my personal and vulnerable talk. 

I chose to give this talk. I could have changed my mind. I could have submitted a different worthy idea to TEDx during the application process, but no, I chose to speak about my rape and its traumatic side effects. I chose to speak about this tough topic because the misconceptions, stereotypes and overall “he said, she said” bullshit NEEDS. TO. END. People need to understand that rape is a traumatic event that affects a survivor for the rest of their life. However, it affects every survivor differently.

I wanted to give a TEDx talk ever since I realized they existed. I loved listening to the podcasts and watching the videos of the new ideas worth spreading. I knew I wanted to do one but I never thought it would actually happen–well, maybe not this early in my life. But it did happen! 

In October 2018, Hamline announced that it would be hosting its first TEDx Talks, stating anyone who is affiliated with Hamline can apply to give a talk. The Hamline affiliation can be a current student, alumni, staff, or faculty.

When I found out that Hamline would be hosting a TEDx event and that I was eligible to apply because of my 2017 alumni status, I was ecstatic and nervous. At first I wanted to give a talk about disability, I just did not know what angle I wanted to come from. I talked this over with multiple people including friends, family, and mentors. With all of the rape survivors stories and the #metoo movement growing on social media and the news, I thought it would be a perfect topic to talk about, given the social and political climate. Reading uninformed articles and comments blaming the survivor and praising the rapist has been such a heartbreaking and disgusting thing for survivors to see. Survivors need support and love.

Somehow, coming up with the title was the easiest part for me. Writing the application was also not as difficult as I thought it would be. The application was due sometime in beginning-middle of December 2018. I submitted it a few days before the deadline.

A day or two before the Christmas holiday, I received an email from TEDxHamlineUniversity saying that they had narrowed the talk proposals down to the top 30 and mine had moved onto the next round! They said they would get back to me by the end of January.

At this point, I knew that, whether or not I was chosen to speak, I would publish an article based on my talk if I were to have given it. I still wanted to get my message out there somehow.

On January 23, 2019, TEDxHamlineUniversity informed me that I was selected to speak! I was told they had chosen 12 speakers out of 90 applicants. I was feeling every sort of emotion after receiving this news. I was excited, nervous, scared, thrilled, baffled, undeserving, energized, determined, and panicked. At this point, I had a first draft because I had a whole month to work on it, knowing I was going to publish it as an article if I had not been chosen.

On January 29, 2019, my speaker buddy, Professor of Legal Studies Leondra Hanson, reached out to me. I had Professor Hanson for my Senior Seminar class in the Spring of 2017 at Hamline. Professor Hanson shared the TEDxMinneapolis talk “Stop Training. Starting Talking” she gave during summer of 2018. Watching her talk was very helpful for me. She gave me some more perspective on this issue. I highly suggest watching her talk and listening to what she has to say about this important issue as well.

I shared multiple drafts of my talk with so many different people. I wanted to make sure that my talk made sense and had a clear message. I am incredibly lucky to have many people I trust to share something so personal and vulnerable.

The writing process for this was mentally taxing for several reasons. I did not know what I wanted to share and what I did not want to share. I knew that I only had only 16-18 minutes to share my story and my advice to help survivors cope with the trauma of rape. When I write, I tend to reflect on whatever it is I am writing about and what I want to say. There was no way around being triggered and having flashbacks to my traumatic experience of being raped and all the details surrounding that night and the days, weeks, and months following.

I started my first draft a few days after I submitted my talk proposal. My first draft was a stream of consciousness so I kept it to myself. I wrote everything I could think to write. It felt like I was vomiting my emotions and thoughts about my experience and rape onto this draft. I do not remember how long my first draft was. After I finished my first draft, I revised and edited it daily  for a few weeks. Then I found out that I was actually going to give the talk, and I was confident enough to share my draft with mentors, friends and some family. I received the most helpful feedback and encouragement. 

My friend from Hamline, Jasmine Lee, destroyed my draft and reorganized my second draft so that it actually made sense. Jasmine also gave a talk and I edited her drafts. Her talk “The Meme-ing of Life” is truly hilarious and sweet. We read and eventually practiced performing our talks to each other. It was truly helpful for me. I honestly do not know how well I would have done without Jasmine’s help. Thank you, Jasmine for your support and comedy relief that helped me get through the emotions of my talk by encouraging and supporting me.

My drafts started long and over-detailed, but became precisely what I wanted and needed to say in my TEDx Talk. It was quite the emotional process. I shed a few tears and went even further into the dark void of my mind. This is my emotional truth. I have many people that remind me of how impactful my words and thoughts that I chose for my specific talk actually are. I need those reminders when I am in that dark void. Those words of encouragement go a long way to help survivors, like me, inch closer out of that void. 

I received countless emails from TEDxHamlineUniversity asking for drafts, personal info, guest info, photos, and other critical information for them to publicly describe their amazing public event. We had to sign a release form and sign up for a dress rehearsal time for April 3. All the speaker’s final drafts were due by March 1. They wanted the speakers to start working on memorization for the final month of the writing and drafting process. Oh, the nerves that came with submitting my draft. TEDxHamlineUniversity thought my talk was empowering to say the least. It was truly amazing to have their support.

March 30, 2019, five days before I gave my talk I took my first Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), I did not do well. I was so focused on perfecting my talk that I did not allow myself to study as much as I wanted to. I did get a lot of studying in but clearly not enough practice and studying. I have never been a good test taker and the fact that I still took it five days before I give a serious and vulnerable talk about my rape–is brave. I still plan to study and retake the LSAT and eventually go to law school. 

After I took the LSAT, I dedicated myself to knowing, memorizing, and performing my talk. To practice saying those words out loud, so many times was extremely draining yet empowering for me to get comfortable saying them. I had a few people help me during this process. I held a private talk rehearsal that I held at my cousin’s place and a public rehearsal on Hamline’s campus. Both rehearsals were helpful for enhancing my performance. Thank you, everyone who came to one of my rehearsals you helped me gain confidence in myself and my ability to share my story. 

I gave my official TEDx Talk rehearsal on April 3, 2019. I performed it on stage with lighting and a microphone–it felt even more real. My nerves got more intense because I was the first person to give my talk at this rehearsal. It felt good to have finished that rehearsal, I had a few people watch and listen to it and they only gave me positive feedback and thanked me for sharing my story. I was reminded by a few close mentors and friends that what I was about to do was going to have a positive impact. As a rape and trauma survivor who has constant PTSD flashbacks and a past of self-harm–I really needed to hear those things. All rape and trauma survivors need to hear that they are worthy and doing their best. Most importantly, survivors need to know they are loved and heard. 

Another major aspect to giving a filmed talk is that I had to figure out what to wear. I wanted to make sure that my outfit was giving a statement. With all our women in politics wearing white to honor the women’s suffragette movement, I decided that wearing all white with a few buttons on a nice white blazer would be perfect for me. I ordered too many buttons off of Amazon, that I had to narrow down to two buttons. It was a tough decision but my buttons said #metoo and #Ibelieveher.

Each of the speakers were given one guest ticket. My guest ended up being my best friend Anissa. My mom, however, also ended up being my second guest. I asked last minute if my mom could come because she was able to get off work for the event. Thank you mom and Anissa, for giving me all of your love and support on such an important and vulnerable day. 

My feels were all over the place on the day I gave my TEDx Talk, April 5, 2019. I was planning on sitting through all 12 talks but my anxiety would not let me. The talks were broken down into four sections and I was scheduled to perform mine in the third section. I listened to the first section and most of the second section. When I was not sitting in the audience with my mom and Anissa, I hung out backstage in the green room with the other speakers and my friend Jasmine, who performed her talk in the second section. I just needed to be moving around and my nervous bladder brought me to the restroom way too many times. 

TEDxHamlineUniversity Speaker Badge

Photo Taken By: Shelby St. Pierre
TEDxHamlineUniversity Speaker Badge
Photo Taken By: Shelby St. Pierre

The day went at the perfect pace for me–it was not too fast nor too slow. I was soaking up every minute of it. I was making conversation with fellow speakers, getting to know a little bit about them and having a few laughs before each of us performed our own diverse talk. The second section had ended, Jasmine and the others did an amazing job. 

It was time for our intermission before the third section. I could feel the nerves coursing through my body–in my finger tips, in my toes, and across my chest. With butterflies in my stomach and my nerves going crazy, I stepped out onto that stage and tried to take it all in. I paused and said my first word “rape.” I remember that tough moment–how I was shocked that after all of my rehearsals this was incredibly difficult to say and hear myself say it in front of over 100 people and a camera. I then faded into a dissociative state. I only remember bits and pieces of the rest of my talk.

I remember seeing my mom try to stop the tears from streaming down her face when I started to talk about my rape. I did not have the chance to give her a rehearsal, but she had read a draft only a few days before I gave the talk. I know her witnessing some of the worst parts of my mental illness has been difficult on her too. I love you, mom. Thank you for continuing to love and support me.

I remember seeing a few people in the audience nod their heads and take down notes when I was sharing ways to help survivors heal after their rape. I felt heard. I felt acknowledged. I felt like I mattered. I attempted to pause and took a deep breath before I said my final line about it being only four years since my rape. I had thought about adding that line the night before my talk. I had to ask a few others advice about what they thought. They loved the idea and helped me write the perfect line–too bad I totally butchered it. At least, I got my message through.

Shelby St. Pierre, Amy St. Pierre, and Anissa Peppersack
Photo Taken by Autumn Vagel
Shelby St. Pierre, Amy St. Pierre, and Anissa Peppersack
Photo Taken by Autumn Vagel

My TEDx Talk was published on May 8, 2019. Since then I have had over 650 views and two comments on the video. I found my talk in a playlist called “Story of encouragement,” made by another YouTuber. I have also gotten many comments and support from family and friends that have seen my talk. I think this is an excellent start to spreading awareness about the effects of rape.

Knowing that my message will get more views and shares as time goes on gives me hope that we can start giving rape survivors the support and love they deserve.

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