It's just as well that I haven't read David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, because this presentation I gave last week on lessons learned from the excesses of running 100 miles in a past life would have been besotted with footnotes.
(Pause to read: David Foster Wallace, "Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise", Harper's Magazine, Jan. 1996.)
For our MGT 5315 Leadership Communications I class, we were instructed to give a 4-minute "TED" talk to the class about... actually I didn't read the assignment, so I'm not 100% sure what the framework was. But: 4 minutes. Essentially nothing. The question for me was: should I recycle the Apollo 11 presentation I gave over the summer at Venture Cafe? Or go for something different.
Let's talk about a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again: running the Western States 100.
Honestly: 4 minutes isn't enough to say anything about anything, so I just pulled together a few lessons learned from the race, then threw some away, pared it down some more, then let 'er rip.
It's no good posting my slideshows here (eh, pdf, here you go) because I do what I think any humane person ought to do: rip out the content like old wallpaper. It's an experience. You've got to be there. It requires gaging the audience like a barometer, then—somehow—adjusting the talk as it goes. Each audience environment comes with its own terrain, and if you can feel the contours of that terrain you can find different approaches to where you want to go—you can even find different places to go. I don't understand it. It's some alchemical process that transforms anxiety into rocket fuel.
I very much enjoyed telling a story that I never get to tell. (#2: F*** gear.) Somewhere around mile 15 or 20 or so, someone who I was passing, one of the multitude who confuses the things you run with and the run itself, asked about my shirt:
"Is that a cotton shirt?"
"Is that OK?"
The best part is the deke at the end. Start off with some high quality TED-cult content (#6: Don't quit)—which is all very well, good advice, etc.—and then waiting until the audience leans that way and edging it back for the score (#7: Quit). Which, by the way, is better advice. How many people in the world give you the "never give up" speech without any context whatsoever? These people don't have your best interests at heart. I only dropped out of one race, the 2012 Ozark Trail 100, at mile 50, though if ego hadn't gotten in the way I would have dropped out when I should have at mile 37, saving myself weeks of recovery on a bum leg. Never quit. No. Never never quit. Quit in context. Live to fight another day.