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How to Amplify a Teenage TED Talker

By Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D.

As April is National Donate Life Month, I’d like to share this quote from a brand-new TED Talker:

“The number, and variety, of people that will be affected by your (actions) is mind-blowing.”

Who is this visionary speaker? Meet 15-year-old Emily Thomas.

Emily took the stage a few weeks ago for, what we can imagine, will be the first of many public speaking events. She was simultaneously terrified and elated. The lights were bright. Her mom and dad were among the 100 people in the audience. And, her two college-age brothers had traveled back to Pittsburgh to see their baby sister.

And, she hit it out the park!

Her topic was organ donation. She implored the audience to “check the box” for organ donation on your driver’s license, because …

“When you’re an organ donor, the last thing you do on this Earth could possibly be the most impactful thing you did in your whole life. Think about it. The very last thing you ever had the opportunity to do has the chance of being beyond comparison to anything you have ever done throughout your entire lifetime! Simply checking that ‘yes’ box gives you the chance to save lives. Basically, you are giving permission for your organs that you no longer need to be used to give to other people who need them. One single deceased donor has the potential to give the gift of life to eight people. You can save up to... Eight. People’s. Lives.”

Winning with head and heart

Emily used data and highlighted her beliefs to win our heads. But she won our hearts when she introduced us to a patient waiting for a liver at a UPMC hospital in Pittsburgh. He was a father of three and was very sick. He had pigmented skin and tubes connected to him. The man, with just a few weeks left to live, got a lifesaving liver transplant from a deceased donor. Over the span of the next year, he improved rapidly and even got to celebrate his 50th birthday. He was very lucky.

Emily went on to reveal that …

“According to the Center for Organ Recovery and Education, there are over 123,000 people currently on the waiting list. Of that, 21 of them died on Sunday waiting for an organ, 21 more people died on Monday waiting. And today if you check that box, that number won’t be 21 because you have the ability to lower that number. You will save eight of those people. The impact you will make in someone’s life is enormous.”

Her whole family was crying (yes, even her 20-year-old brothers). Why? Because, the patient she described who received that lifesaving liver transplant was her father. He had had three transplants: one when Emily was two, one when she was 12, and the most recent transplant was last March.

“On March 12, 2018, my dad received a kidney from my mother as a living donor. They are both here today! If it wasn’t for those three heroes, my dad would not be alive.”

Yes! The audience gasped. It was Emily’s first mic-drop moment, and I am positive she’ll remember this feeling for years to come. I am particularly proud of this young lady for two reasons. First, her mom, Rachelle Thomas, is my right-hand woman at DDI. And, that big heart (or kidney in Rachelle’s case) obviously has been passed on to her Teenage TED Talker daughter, Emily.

Second, I had been asked to help unleash the potential of the next generation by giving Emily some coaching tips for this scary, big-stage presentation. We had fun shifting the story for greater impact, working on owning the stage with arm movements and body language, and involving the audience. Bottom line: it was the most rewarding experience I have had in a long time!

Right after her talk, Emily wrote me a lengthy text thanking me for my help. She shared,

“I even did a Power Pose (thanks @AmyCuddy) a few minutes before I went on and felt more confident than ever.”

In my book, Your First Leadership Job, I talk about the fact that, “Leadership takes place, each day, in the smallest of ways.” These small mentoring moments affect not only the individual, but also their family…and even eight strangers in that audience who were convinced to #DonateLife themselves.

Emily and I have two questions for you.

First, “Did you check the box?” You can register to be a donor today. Second, "How can you amplify the voice of women and girls?" Make a pledge to super-power your network and be a coach, mentor, or sponsor to a high-potential teenager, co-worker, or team member in this coming year.

Want to check out Emily's talk? You can watch it here!

Read more DDI blogs, research, and client stories on the importance of coaching.

Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D. is DDI’s chief executive officer and co-author of Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others. She is also co-author, with Fortune Magazine writer Ellen McGirt, of the forthcoming book, Amplify: Power Moves for Women & Their Allies to Ignite Change.

Posted: 09 Apr, 2019,
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