Presenting with Compassion:

How my TEDx talk about compassion and self-compassion gave me a chance to practice!

Dr Stan Steindl

Have you ever had an event coming up that is exciting, but also terrifying at the same time? A trip away, a social occasion, a talk that you have to give in front of a large audience?

Recently, I had the great honour of presenting a TEDx talk and the whole thing scared the bejeezus out of me. Luckily it went fine in the end, but looking back, it was a great example of how self-compassion can play a powerful part in helping us through tough or scary times.

The Gifts of Compassion

Before I go on to describe how self-compassion helped my journey to giving a TEDx talk, I need to provide full disclosure: I wrote a book called The Gifts of Compassion: How to Understand and Overcome Suffering, which is all about using Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) to help manage difficult emotions, such as anger and anxiety, shame and depression.

It’s a good book (even if I say so myself), and yet it still took me a lot of work to use self-compassion to get through the whole lead up to the TEDx talk. Even though I “wrote the book” on self-compassion (well, at least one of them), the whole experience showed me just how tricky self-compassion can be, and yet how profoundly helpful it can be when you keep at it.

The TEDx Journey

So, the TEDx journey began being accepted into the event, and then having to prepare a script. The idea was to write a script, have it reviewed by the TEDx curatorial team, edit the script on the basis of their feedback, have the script approved…and then memorise the script word-for-word! 

And this last bit was the bit that I found most scary!! My script ended up being about 1800 words, 16 minutes of talking, and I had to try and remember it.

stan cft, Compassion & TEDx

What flashed through my mind was the time when I was performing in front of a large audience when I was about 20-years-old. I was playing guitar and my girlfriend at the time was singing—Body and Soul, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton, music by Johnny Green, and an arrangement full of extensions, inversions and other tricky chords by me. Which was my first mistake.

In the middle of the performance, I completely forgot where I was up to, stopped producing anything that resembled music, and made a right fool of myself. I can still feel the embarrassment and shame whenever I think about it to this day…over thirty years later!

So, of course, when I thought of memorising a TEDx script, I immediately imagined myself going blank in the middle of it and being overwhelmingly embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed. Tough stuff.

Our Tricky Brain

The human brain is a funny thing, and very tricky. We have a reactive threat system; always on the look out for danger and threats, ready to fight or flee the threat. And the biggest threats for humans? Social threats!

It’s scary, at a very primitive level, to imagine being judged, disapproved of, rejected or ostracised from the group. Back in prehistoric times, if we were cast out into the wilds alone, we were most likely dead. The whole purpose of the threat system is protection and keeping us safe! And so we have a finely tuned radar for social threats, with powerful self-conscious emotions, such as humiliation and shame, never far away.

And so it was for me when I was on my way to presenting a TEDx talk. “What if I forget my lines?” “What if I say something stupid?” “I’m hopeless at making memorised speeches!” “I’m such an idiot, why do I do this to myself?” “It’s all going to go wrong.”

Pretty unpleasant ways to relate to myself, huh!

And remember, I wrote a book about self-compassion!

Another part of my work is that I often run Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) courses. These courses, developed by Drs Chris Irons and Charlie Heriot-Maitland, involve 8 sessions helping participants learn all about compassion and self-compassion, and how to cultivate a more compassionate life. Luckily for me, there is a strategy that comes straight out of CMT that I was able to use to help me through the anxiety and self-consciousness in the lead up to the talk: PDA.

The Compassion PDA

PDA stands for Pre-, During and After, and is a useful tool for dealing with threat activating events that you know are coming up. And the idea is that you reflect on the perspective of your threat mind Pre-, During and After the event, and then try to reflect on the perspective of your compassionate mind, and see what the compassionate part of you might have to say that is caring, supportive and helpful to you along the way.

Here’s my PDA from the threat mind’s perspective:


•  I’m never going to learn this!

•  I have a terrible memory.

•  I’ve never been good at rote learning things.

•  What if I forget?

•  What if I can’t do it?

•  What will everyone think of me?

•  I will be a complete failure!

•  Oh no, do I look too nervous?

•  What are people are thinking of me?

•  Maybe they’re bored.

•  Maybe they think I’m a fool.

•  When will I lose my place?

•  I’m going to lose my place any moment now!

•  Only focus on mistakes.

•  I should have done better.

•  I should have practiced harder.

•  I wish I had never agreed to doing that darn talk.

•  I feel embarrassed and ashamed.

•  I proved I’m a failure.

The way we relate to ourselves can have powerful effects on how we feel and what we do. Sometimes we think that this kind of self-talk will motivate us, but it often only serves to make us feel less confident, less optimistic, and less motivated.

And different people can find the one or other of the Pre-, During or After the most difficult, so have a think about which one might be most difficult for you. For me, it was a lot in the Pre-. I was so caught up in the anticipation of the event, pre-occupation really, and the anxiety and pre-emptive shame of it all. So, I managed to follow my own advice and activate the part of me that is wise, kind, strong and courageous: my compassionate mind.

Here’s my PDA from my compassionate mind’s perspective:

•  Hey, I know this is scary and you worry about how it will all go. At the same time, this is such a great opportunity and something that is really important to you. You know the topic very well, you talk about it all the time! The format of a TEDx talk is a bit different to what you are used to, but you are committed to putting in the work required to get there. Perhaps the next step is to seek support and advice from friends and colleagues, create a plan that you feel happy with, and then methodically work through the plan. You know that you always work well when you approach things nice and methodically.•  Your soothing rhythm breathing will be your most important asset. Don’t forget to breath! If the threat system activates, activate your parasympathetic nervous system to help yourself stay strong, grounded and calm. Remember, there are a lot of people rooting for you, both in the audience and around the world. People have shown so much kindness and encouragement that you know you are loved…no matter what happens! Worst case, if you lose your place, there is the TEDx prompter in the audience! She’ll get you on track. But you also know that staying calm gives you an excellent chance to be at your best.•  Afterwards, it will be a time of great relief and also relaxation. Don’t plan for anything much, after the talk is done. Try to give yourself some affirmations about what went well. And when people give you positive feedback, try to take it in! Remember, even if there are a couple of stumbles or even losing your place, it will come across as even more authentic and genuine, rather than being too rehearsed or polished. Not making mistakes is fine too! But imperfections make it all the more real. And whatever you do, try to connect with a feeling of satisfaction. You did it! And that is amazing and worth every ounce!

All of this helped a lot. For about three months I practiced my talk, and I also practiced my compassionate mind, creating a body posture that was upright yet relaxed, a warm and friendly facial expression, a supportive, kindly tone of inner voice with which I related to myself, and a breathing rhythm that was slow, steady and soothing. I would try to relate to myself with reassurance and encouragement, staying calm, composed and confident, and keeping myself going.

When the day arrived, the soothing rhythm breathing was definitely an asset. It’s funny how, in an anxious moment, we really do forget to breath. And so taking a nice slow, deep inhale, and then steadily exhaling, helped to keep the threat system just a little at bay.

And you know what? I was fine. Of course I was. The talk definitely wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be. When I approached all of this from my compassionate mind’s point of view, then I was able to really connect with the satisfaction and joy of being a part of the whole thing. It was a wonderful day, and I received a lot of kind, appreciative comments. And the next day? Well, for the first time in several months I was able to wake up in the morning and not have to rehearse my talk!!

See what you think about all this. Do you have something coming up that you are noticing a bit of anxiety or self-consciousness about? Can you identify what the threat mind is saying about it all, perpetuating the difficult emotions that go along with that? And can you start to practice self-compassion: validating, reassuring, affirming and encouraging yourself?

Good luck! For me, self-compassion often makes all the difference.


Dr Stan Steindl is a Clinical Psychologist at Psychology Consultants Pty Ltd, and Adjunct Professor at School of Psychology, University of Queensland.

He is also co-director of the UQ Compassionate Mind Research Group, and convenor of the annual UQ Compassion Symposium.

Stan has over 25 years experience as a therapist, supervisor, trainer and researcher.

Stan’s research interests are in the areas of compassion and compassion-based interventions, and especially the role of cultivating compassion and self-compassion in the context of trauma, shame, self-criticism and clinical disorders, as well as promoting psychological well-being.

He is the author of Compassion in a T-Shirt: The First 35 Scripts (2020), The Gifts of Compassion: How to Understand and Overcome Suffering (2020), The Gifts of Compassion: Personal Practice Workbook (2021), and Compassion in a T-Shirt: Another 35 Scripts! (2023)

You can watch Stan’s wonderful TEDx talk here



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