It was back in November that I was first contacted by the Tedx Kings College London Team with regards to doing a talk at their Beyond The Genes event. I remember it well. I was in the throes (well, throws) of full on morning sickness and feeling dog tired and awful. But the conversation sparked a huge excitement in me and I had absolutely no hesitation in committing 100%.
I had heard of Ted. I didn’t *exactly* know all about the organisation but I knew there was a cult following in America and that the talks are highly regarded. I also knew that the speakers are renowned as legendary and provocative. Bill Gates, Bono, Jamie Oliver can be counted as some of them. What an honour to be asked, especially by Kings College, and, more importantly, what a platform to raise awareness.
I excitedly told friends and it quickly became apparent that the more clever and well read amongst them knew instantly of Ted talks and were really interested. Eek! It added both to the pressure and the excitement. The event was not until April. Plenty of time.
Time slowly ticked and I didn’t really give my talk much thought. Occasionally I would remind myself that I should really get on with it. The whole event was titled “Beyond The Genes” so I knew I had to get across my personal experience of this. After all, that’s why I had been asked to take part. But I also knew I had to give a belter of talk. A once in a lifetime chance to get the message right – with a GLOBAL audience. As March approached and the list of confirmed speakers were released, I started to feel a sense of panic and pressure. Professors, Doctors, CEO’s, Olympians … little old me.
I sketched a draft. Then resketched it. It didn’t flow. It was terrible. All over the place. The balance was all wrong. Scrap it, start again. Brain freeze. There was a LOT of headdesk deskhead moments. I doubted myself but I knew I had to do it, after all, if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing.
I decided to have a break from it. Then we were given a deadline for our slides to be submitted. I laid awake for many nights panicking, but, as most people do, I work best under pressure, and I cracked on with the slides – before writing the draft. It was just what I needed. The photos and references gave me an immediate structure and journey to base my talk around and the draft started to come together (with about two weeks to go!).
I got to a point of being happy with it, although in awe of the other speakers, at least I knew my talk couldn’t be disputed. No science to it, just my experience and honesty. I did a practice run for Simon in the front room the night before (more embarrassing than the real event if I am honest).
And so the day arrived. The day that had once seemed so far away in the future. I was as prepared as I ever could be, with no idea whether my talk had substance or not. I boarded the train and off I went to London.
The venue was on the embankment. Big and corporate and imposing, I felt very little. Meeting with the other speakers was a huge boost, realising that even the super clever ones were nervous. Some of the speakers were used to this kind of thing though, water off a ducks back.
I wasn’t on until the afternoon so it was difficult to fully relax. And then it was me. My turn. My introduction. eeeekkk!
I wandered (waddled) across the stage without tripping over, no idea if any words would come out when I wanted them to. But they did. And, although ridiculously nervous, shaking and breathless, I found myself talking. Emotional at times, but taking huge confidence from the silent concentration and interest from the audience.
At the eleventh hour I had decided to go note free – to allow myself to be ‘free’, especially with my hands, and to not get distracted or confused if I lost my way. It was a brave decision and I am proud I made it. Although in my fear of going over the strict allotted time limit of 18 minutes and being chucked off stage, I ended abruptly and missed out my key, parting message. Which was along the lines of:
“I am not naive enough to think that our journey will always be such an enriching and easy one. Seb is still only 5 and carries a very endearing quality about him. People are interested in him and I see the affect he has on those around him. He is currently my most effective tool in changing attitudes. However, adulthood is a different ball game. There is a lot of awkwardness surrounding learning disability and adulthood. It was recently reported that 9 out of 10 adults with a learning disability have been the victim of a hate crime, some recent high profile cases include the mother whose daughter was taunted repeatedly. She reported it to the police several times but nobody acted. Clearly desperate, she took her own life and that of her daughters. There was also a case in America of a young man quietly sitting in a cinema waiting for his carer to collect him. He was manhandled by security and suffocated. To death. Rosa Monckton has spoken publicly of the discrimination her teenage daughter has recently received and just a few weeks ago I read the most shocking article about a new wave of ‘mate crime’ where a young man with a learning disability was befriended by another boy. And then abused.
9 out of 10. NINE. OUT OF TEN. I am no mathematician but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the odds are not good. For my son. It is a sad day when you hope the day you die, your child does too. But that’s how I feel often. And this is what drives me. With a passion. Through inclusion in schools, in media, in communities and society, I hope we can breed a new generation of acceptance. Remove the fear, remove the stereotypes, remove the stigmas and teach our children that we are all individuals. First and foremost. All of whom deserve to be here and treated as equals”
But in my flurry of nerves and lack of notes and panic of going over I missed it out. Only I know that and I could have kept quiet but it was my key message!
Anyway, I finished what I DID say and made it clear I had ended. I walked across the stage, nervous to gauge the reaction but sooooooooo relieved it was over.
Buzzing on adrenaline, I was approached by a few members of the audience, all keen to speak to me. It was amazing – and some of them were crying too I think it went ok.
So I did it. It was, without a doubt, one of the single most scary things I have ever done, but I did it. And I am genuinely so proud of that. The video is difficult to watch without being self critical , but I hope with all my being that it makes a difference, or an impression, however small, and most of all offers faith to any new parents out there feeling the unnecessary fear that I did and……..
… I will be ETERNALLY grateful to the editor of the film who left the wolf whistle in the I got at the end !!!
TEDx includes the following statement: Caroline White is a working mum living in Bath with her husband Simon and her two boys Seb, aged 5 and Dominic aged 2. She hit the headlines in late 2012 (including the front page of The Times) when, after a plea from her on their Facebook page to represent ‘difference’, Marks &Spencer used her eldest son Seb in their Christmas TV advertising campaign. Seb has Down’s Syndrome. Caroline’s passion is to raise awareness of the condition and help to shift outdated perceptions surrounding disability whilst championing inclusion and making ‘different’ normal.