How Monica Lewinsky overcame her nerves while facing 1,000 people to talk about shame

Monica lewinsky ted talkScreenshot/YouTubeMonica Lewinsky on the TED stage.

A few minutes into her 2015 TED Talk, Monica Lewinsky lets out a sigh.

It’s subtle enough that if you’re not listening for it specifically, you’ll likely miss it. But Lewinsky remembers that sigh as the moment when she just knew the talk would go well.

Lewinsky was on stage to talk about shaming and online bullying — two cultural phenomena that made her life a living nightmare when the “Lewinsky Scandal” broke in 1998.

In the hours leading up to the talk, she told TED curator Chris Anderson, she was a nervous wreck. Anderson includes a long quotation from her in his new book, “TED Talks,” in which she describes trying everything from power posing to breathing exercises to calm her nerves.

But perhaps the most effective antidote to Lewinsky’s anxiety was a subtle trick she used in crafting the talk itself: She relied on one story she was confident would land well with the audience. When it did, she was finally able to relax a little.

Here’s Lewinsky’s story:

The night of my speech [at the Forbes 30 Under 30 summit], a surprising thing happened. At the age of 41, I was hit on by a 27-year-old guy. I know, right? He was charming and I was flattered, and I declined. You know what his unsuccessful pickup line was? He could make me feel 22 again.

The audience laughed and applauded — and Lewinsky sighed in relief.

Here’s another strategy Lewinsky used: She wrote “THIS MATTERS” on the top of the first page of her talk (she read from notes placed on a music stand).

In an interview with Business Insider before an event at the Rubin Museum of Art, Anderson said shifting the focus from yourself to your content and your audience can help reduce some of your anxiety about public speaking.

“It’s about what you’re saying,” Anderson told us.

In Lewinsky’s case, she reminded herself that her nervousness about getting up on stage wasn’t nearly as meaningful as her desire to help other people struggling with harassment and shaming.

Those two strategies combined helped Lewinsky avoid letting her anxiety get the better of her — and deliver a successful talk that could potentially change people’s lives.

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