I have never enjoyed public speaking. The idea of standing in front of my peers, teachers, and random audience members while communicating my thoughts articulately and eloquently always seemed daunting to me. So, as I sat in my seat, nervously waiting to give my TED talk, a surge of anxiety-induced adrenaline rushed through me.
My heart was racing inside of my chest, my knees were weak, and my arms were heavy. My mind was rattled with thoughts that my topic would not interest my peers, that my humor would fall flat, or, disaster-scenario, that I would completely forget my speech. I was very nervous but excited with the prospect of sharing my message with the Huang Fellows. As I continued to fiddle with the creases in my dress, the words of my three-minute speech tumbled through my head. I attempted to appease the growing thunder of noise in my head by honing in on, instead, the words of my Huang fellows.
One after one, my peers stood up and delivered a three-minute message of the topic of their choice. The walk that each Huang Fellow took from his or her seat to the front of the room was met with applause and hoots and hollers of encouragement. There was always some nervous laughter from the speaker as she/he made it to the front of the room and tinkered with the clip-on microphone. Sometimes the speaker would have an accompanying photograph on a slideshow; other times, there would just be a black slide with the individual’s name in the top left corner. Whatever the case, as the speakers moved into their prepared remarks, it was their job to grab our attention and help us see the world in a slightly different way (the purpose of any TED talk) in the next three minutes.
As I sat and listened to my Huang fellows, I was inspired, motivated, and enlightened by their speeches. I learned about why one of the Fellows pursued Alzheimer’s disease research with such vigor; the development of new tools to detect cervical cancer in developing nations; and how one Fellow’s childhood dream of becoming Morgan Freeman metamorphosed into a passion for biomedical research, particularly prosthetics. They listened to me speak about society’s inclination to shy away from speaking openly about menstruation, despite the fact that over half of America’s population is female. And I watched as one of the Fellows, whose clothes were on the forefront of current trends, explained how the clothes that people wear can change the way they perceive themselves. Another Fellow – a classically trained musician – described how individuals with synesthesia have a completely different perceived reality when listening to music. Time and time again, after those 180 seconds were over, I found myself amazed by the new information I learned about the Huang Fellows.
Despite all the time we spent together in the ten weeks over the summer, the TED talks offered us a unique opportunity to intentionally listen to our peers speak about a specific topic they were interested in. Unlike the other communication projects this summer that focused on our research and labs, we were given the reins with the TED talks; we could talk about any subject we wanted, as long as we kept the talk within the three-minute time limit. It forced us to think about topics we were passionate about and in 180 seconds make it our own.
After the last TED talk had ended, the Fellows and I stayed behind to congratulate each other on jobs well done. There were smiles and hugs and as I looked around I reflected on the fifteen TED talks I had just heard. I thought about the stories shared and the passions enthusiastically described. I could not help but ponder the implications of such effective and genuine communication. In a day and age where social media is king and texting and emailing are some of the most common types of correspondence, there is power in the ability to communicate in speech what is important to you and why.
We have been given power through our individual stories and unique passions, and we are responsible for sharing it effectively with others. For me, this was one of the core lessons learned over our ten weeks as Huang Fellows. In the beginning of the summer, our lectures were focused on the narratives in science and how they are significant. As we moved into the latter half of the summer, we learned about science communication. The TED talks provided us with the platform to combine both of these skills – the power of storytelling and the skills needed for effective science communication. After all, the purpose of our program is to look at the intersection of science and humanities. A point that was touched upon over and over again was that science does not exist in a vacuum. There are many moving parts that affect it, and the implications of science do not rest in the scientific community. Therefore, effective communication is necessary to bridge the gap between scientists and the public.
These are the lessons that I will take with me as I step into my sophomore year of college. I am better able to speak boldly and accurately on issues which I am passionate about. I may not always have the entertaining shouts of encouragement from my Huang Fellows whenever I speak in front of a crowd, but I carry with me their honesty and courage.
Jamie attends the Trinity School of Arts and Sciences and plans to major in biology or evolutionary anthropology with a minor in English. As a Huang Fellow, she wants to study the significance of narratives in medicine.