Tess Vigeland, former host of U.S. public radio's business show, Marketplace Money, gave the speech in 2013 at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. And the title pretty much tells you everything: "What the Hell Are You Doing?! A Serious Stare Down the Barrel of an Ordinary Life."
The speech--almost 40 minutes--is more like a romp than a hand-wringer. It also became a springboard for her path forward, because the audience of 3,000 included an editor from Random House. Eleven days after the speech, Vigeland had a book contract. That book became Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want, a great read that includes the speech at the start--and if you get the audiobook version, you'll hear a live recording of the speech that started it all.
Vigeland's speech is an exercise in real vulnerability. At the time of this speech (and, if you read her book, you'll find, even now), she didn't know what she was going to do. So she's doing and trying many things, and speaking openly about them here. The speech covers her feelings, how others reacted, and why this kind of independent life can be such a challenge. Near the end of the speech, she says:
But I guess what I would tell you – wherever you are on your career timeline – wherever you are in your relationship with this thing you do for a living – is that you have to give yourself permission to grieve the end of something. And sometimes you have to work really, really hard to find what’s next. I did NOT think it would be this hard. Maybe I was naïve. And maybe it’s not this hard for everybody… certainly I’m not the first one to jump without a net… and plenty of people move among jobs and careers and go from one thing to another and they’re good at all those things and they relish it. Good on ya if you’re that person! But don’t worry about it if you’re not.
And by the way… next person who tells me to “just make it happen!” gets a punch in the face.One of the things Vigeland discovered after this speech: She got offers to chair and moderate conferences as a paying gig, something she hadn't contemplated in her mix of career options. What can you learn from this famous speech?
- You can be a role model even when you haven't figured it all out. Maybe especially then: For everyone who thinks your public speaking must be polished, perfect, and have all the answers figured out, there's the reality that most of us in the audience need to hear more about what comes before that, when you're struggling to figure things out. Vigeland did that over and over again in this speech. No wonder it's become a well-loved peek into job and career questioning. That kind of connection can only come with real vulnerability.
- Speaking into a microphone can be a great networking tool: As Vigelund learned, speaking to a live audience is a special kind of networking, one that landed her a book deal. The editor likely noticed the crowd's high level of engagement and Vigeland's successful speaking style, humor, and honesty. And then the talk itself became a core piece of content for her book, blog, and other vehicles. Every time you speak, you really don't know who may be listening.
- Work with the audience when the Q&A doesn't go as planned: Early in the talk, Vigelund goes into the audience to play reporter, asking people whether they've made a leap or considered it. The first few people who respond turn out to be experts of sorts on the questions she's asking: One works to help people transition their careers, another has leapt to reporting on personal finance, just like Vigeland. She clearly didn't expect to find audience members *that* focused in her areas of expertise, but she has fun exchanges with each one, and keeps moving until she finds someone who hasn't figured it all out yet. If you're planning to incorporate Q&A into your presentation, make sure you have your own Plan B when the answers don't quite fit your vision of what was going to happen.