How Anyone Can Become a TedX Speaker with Cathlyn Melvin

Do you dream of standing on a TedX stage but feel like you’re not ready? That you’re not good enough? Or that your story isn’t worth sharing?

Do you dream of standing on a TedX stage but feel like you’re not ready? That you’re not good enough? Or that your story isn’t worth sharing? In today’s episode, Cathlyn Melvin, messaging expert, copywriter and self-confessed socially anxious introvert shares how anybody can secure a TedX spot! Cathlyn shares her journey from acting, through law school to the speaking stage!

In this episode we chat about:

Finding little pieces of joy in every day.

Cathlyn’s journey to the TedX stage

How she become a TedX coach.

How anxiety and introversion can be overcome with practice.

Demystifying TedX talks

And so much more!

Connect with Cathlyn:

Cathlyn Melvin is a messaging expert whose insight has been featured via TEDx, Thrive Global, Fempreneur Online, Much More Media, The Writing Cooperative, and other outlets. With a degree in theatre performance and over a decade as an actor, director, writer, editor, and educator, Cathlyn draws on her diverse experiences to help mission-driven experts design and deliver their world-changing messages through TEDx coaching and done-for-you copywriting services. When she’s not writing or coaching, you might find Cathlyn baking something delicious made of chocolate or reading in the sunshine with her very snuggly and loudly purring cat, Tucker.


(02:01) Cathlyn shares her journey from a background in theatre to copywriting and TedX coaching by finding little pieces of joy.

(07:17) Securing a TedX talk and becoming a TedX coach.

(10:45) Why you could become a TedX speaker too.

(14:34) Overcoming anxiety and introversion to become a speaker.

(17:49) What inspired Cathlyn to give a TedX talk.

(23:00) Cathlyn’s experience of going to law school.

(27:19) Sharing with others how to do a TedX talk, making the unknown, known.



tedx talk, tedx, people, coaching, feel, business, called, theatre, step, life, actor, ted talk, law school, speaker, talk, hear, clients, message, copywriting, teams


Cathlyn Melvin, Paula Shepherd

Paula Shepherd 00:01

Hi, I'm Paula Shepherd, I went to college to get a good job and make a lot of money. Back then, no one talked about doing what you love. And while I successfully climbed the corporate ladder, I felt like there was something missing. So I left the seemingly comfortable corporate world at 40 years old for the freedom of full time entrepreneurship. Today, I get to help ambitious women go from entrepreneur to competent CEO of their lives and businesses. I created this podcast to share what I've learned with you to make your journey just a little easier, and to connect you with other incredible business owners who took a chance on themselves and who they are becoming. So whether you're just getting started, are all in or just when you hear friendly voice. Come on in and sit with us. Now, let's dive in. Welcome to another episode of The confidence sessions. Talk about confidence. Today's guest is Cathlin Melvin, she is a copywriter and a TEDx coach. And I am absolutely honoured and thrilled to have her here we met through a PR programme called impacting millions with Selena Sue, and have maintained touch she has the best emails, so you're gonna want to snag her link to get on her email list at the end of this episode in the show notes. But, Kaplan, thank you so much for being here.

Cathlyn Melvin 01:36

Thank you for inviting me. I'm super excited to chat with you today.

Paula Shepherd 01:40

You have the best, most upbeat, joyful personality that just shines through everything that you do. It's it's truly contagious. But I am wondering if it was always that way, and what you were doing before you were doing copywriting and now TEDx coaching?

Cathlyn Melvin 02:00

Yeah. So I think that, as an adult, I have always been a person who looks for little pieces of joy. I think that there have been times in my life where that has been harder. And times in my life where that has come more naturally. And I spend not, not a lot of energy, but I like to notice things. So like, I will go out on a walk. And I if you if you look at my Instagram, which is not a business, Instagram is just my personal one. It is full of photos of little lizards, and flowers, and other things that bring me joy that I experience in my life that I want to share with other people. And so that's yeah, that's just sort of how I live and I'm so glad that that you feel like that comes through. So you asked me what I was doing before I started this business. And my background is in theatre. So I studied classical theatre performance. That's what my degree is in. And I spent a little over a decade working as an actor and a director. And during that time, I also co owned a national touring arts education company, where we sent educators out to communities all across the United States, and they would put on original musicals with kids. So that's what I was doing before I made the shift. And it really happened sort of organically, because when I started that business with my co founder, who still runs that business, we in the theatre world, there isn't like a C suite. But there's an executive director and an artistic director. And so I took on the role of the artistic director and I was doing, I was overseeing, you know, costume builds and set designers and all of those artistic teams. But I also wrote everything that needed to be written for that organisation. So I was writing scripts and music and the lyrics, but also learning how to write emails and write website copy and that sort of thing. And so I started going to workshops. I lived in Chicago at the time, so there was a lot of availability, like a lot of access to educational experiences. So I was taking workshops in SEO and in social media and all of that. And that's really what led me eventually to starting this business as a messaging expert, which I have been doing since 2019.

Paula Shepherd 04:44

And do you do it solo? Do you have a team?

Cathlyn Melvin 04:48

I am solo I in my previous business, like I said, I was managing teams and it just it wasn't my favourite part. So right now, I am really enjoying I'm being a solopreneur. And just being with me and working with the teams of my clients, but that's sort of, there's a degree of separation there. And eventually, I imagined that I will at least bring on like, an assistant of some sort. But I don't know that I will ever bring on like another writer, my clients really like to know that I'm the one who's doing the process. And it works well for me. So for at least, yeah, I

Paula Shepherd 05:34

think the most important thing I just, I like to give everybody a perspective and kind of understand because we have guests on the show that have big aspirations to have a team and maybe to step aside the way that you did, and allow somebody else to own their strengths and their power and their brilliant ideas and leadership in a way that maybe just doesn't feel as good to you. But then we also have amazing solopreneurs, like you, who are still forging a path, who still have an amazing message to share, and make it possible for other people to believe that they can do this too, without having to be the manager, the leader, the, you know, the people, Wrangler, all the things that come along with, with owning a business, right? And I know that you've stumbled into, I mean, quite, quite naturally, through your own TEDx talk. Your next, your next endeavour of TEDx coaching. All right, so I did have the pleasure of attending one of your original, kind of, I don't know if it was a it was just a complimentary TEDx coaching experience with you. Yeah. And it was very eye opening. For me, I did a little bit of research myself as I am growing my speaking career. But now it's kind of taken off for you. What I really have what, okay, how does this happen? How did happen? How did you get that TEDx talk? What made you want to be a TEDx talk coach on top of doing your day to day as a solopreneur. So a couple of

Cathlyn Melvin 07:18

things, one, the work that I do is all about taking the message that is on my clients hearts, and getting it out into the world and into the minds of the people who need to hear it. And so that's what I've been doing for years as a copywriter. And that's really what TEDx is about, too, is getting that message that you believe isn't an idea worth spreading into the minds of the people who will go out and spread it. And so the TEDx coaching really fit nicely under the umbrella of the work that I was doing. And I had way back as a high schooler been a competitive speaker, that was my sport of choice. So

Paula Shepherd 08:02

she's refer to it as a sport.

Cathlyn Melvin 08:06

And it was a competition, you know, it wasn't athletics, but it was it was a sport. And I competed all the way up to the national level in several categories. And that was really my thing. And so that was, I think, like the foundation of years later, 20 ish years later, having this Tenex coaching business. And it really started to sort of slide into place when I was getting ready for my TEDx talk to come out online. And I was sort of engaging my community. And you were part of that, to spread the TEDx talk around the internet. And as I was having conversations with other entrepreneurs, about my TEDx talk, I started hearing people say, like, I want to do that. If I can get a TEDx talk, will you coach me. And I just thought this feels so aligned with the work that I'm already doing. It feels aligned with my my mission to help people spread their messages. And then I also had this experience as a competitive speaker. And then I actually throughout my college years, I coached high school speech and debate. And then I went on to be an actor and a director, and a writer and an editor. So it's like this lovely suite of skills. That sort of perfectly helps guide people through that process.

Paula Shepherd 09:46

I sometimes think when we look at TEDx talks, it feels for some people so out of reach, which most everything does until you do it. Right. But for people who are listening inning. I think that there probably is this thought this idea that story that because you are naturally good at this, and because what have you trained for this for a long time, that of course, you would get a TEDx talk. And this isn't something that even with a coach, because they're not a natural actor, they haven't had those those skills ingrained in them, they haven't had the type of practice that you have, that now that they're in their 30s for a lot of my clients 40s 50s that it's too late for them to learn these skills. And that's just not in the stars for them, would you? Well, how would you rebut that

Cathlyn Melvin 10:43

thought? There are so many ways.

Paula Shepherd 10:47

All of that. Tell us all as all of them.

Cathlyn Melvin 10:50

So one is that TEDx isn't about being a super polished professional speaker. It's not about being like the way that you might show up if you were pitching in corporate or something like that. It's very conversational. It's very relaxed and casual, in fact, for a long time, and this is not directly related to like speaking quality. But for a long time, TEDx had a rule that men couldn't wear ties, because Oh, right. And they actually they switched out of that because there were some men who were like, but but I love ties. Ties are great, and it doesn't have anything to do with like, I'm dressing up in a business suit. But that's something that that the organisation really strives for is is human connection through a talk. They don't call it speeches, they call they want you to call them talks. So that's one thing is that like, you don't need to compare yourself with like looking at the TED talks that are given by Bill Clinton, or Shonda Rhimes, or like these these big name people, you can come in as yourself and share your message. So that's one thing. Another thing is something that people often don't guess about me is that I am what I call a special combo platter of introverted, shy and socially anxious. So I have those three things working against me. And like you said, I have had a lot of training and I've had a lot of practice overcoming those things. But I think that for a lot of people they can be overcome, like it is, it is scary for me to get on a podcast interview, it makes you

Paula Shepherd 12:55

me. So we're gonna just celebrate the hell out of you right now that you're on this podcast. And I'm going to just say, here's a just a moment for me. I mean, I mean, people that are just listening, my eyes got really wide when she was saying that because it is a it truly is a representation of the perception that we all have of other people and and how we placed that on them. And how I have even coming into this podcast have placed you on this pedestal. Kathlyn here you are on your pedestal as this amazing TEDx talker, you know, and you are an incredible person with so much vibrance and joy and personality and charisma. And yet here you are telling us that you have this social anxiety and this introversion and that seems like a recipe that doesn't bode well for a speaker and an actor somebody who's putting themselves out there the way that you do. How the heck did you decide that? Did you do Did you speak did you get into all of that when you were younger? And and continue in it because you enjoy that ideal of feeling uncomfortable and moving past it? What? Like what is inspiring you to continue knowing what we now know about you which thank you for courageously and vulnerably sharing that holy cow blown away.

Cathlyn Melvin 14:28

So I started doing theatre I did my first community theatre play when I was in sixth grade. And I the note that I got constantly for three years like even into my professional theatre life was that I was too quiet that I needed to speak louder speak up and that's something that you know, I I worked on stretching my bravery muscle and getting bigger and louder and vocally and physically. But I think that that experience doing theatre when I was younger, was really a stepping stone to being able to come out and be a speaker, because acting performance often actually attracts introverts, which usually surprises people. But there there are a lot of us in that profession. And I think that a lot of that is because it has to be very thoughtful work. It is very empathetic work, you're literally stepping into the body of an of another character and living life. There's a there's a quote from an A an acting theorist, Sanford Meisner, that goes something like Acting is living truthfully, under imaginary circumstances. And so as an actor, when I step onto the stage Kathlyn doesn't exist. So that is actually very freeing. No one's looking at Kathlyn, no one knows that Kathlyn is there, you're just watching the character. And so I think that that's sort of like a gateway into then getting on stage and actually being Kathlyn. And being in that really vulnerable position of sharing my own message and my own ideas. So yeah, I think that that absolutely sort of forged the path for me to be able to do the competition that I did in high school, all the way up to the work that I'm doing now.

Paula Shepherd 16:48

Oh, my gosh, that's brilliant. All right. So you, were going to take a couple steps back here, because you got into your TEDx talk and tell everybody what the name of your talk is.

Cathlyn Melvin 16:59

It's called the brave leap sideways. Yeah, and

Paula Shepherd 17:03

it's really good. It's really good. Yeah, it's fantastic. I remember when you were asking us to help you promote it, which kudos to you self advocacy, asking for what you need, getting the support of your community, it's such a big, beautiful thing. And it's so hard for so many people to do. And now knowing what I know about you, I'm sure that it wasn't an easy ask for you to ask other people to support you. In this way, it kind of feels like oh, my gosh, Everybody look at me, for a person who doesn't enjoy that visibility, or finds it very difficult. I just, I can now only like now imagine how that must have felt for you. And here I was so excited for you. And what inspired you to to pursue this TEDx talk.

Cathlyn Melvin 17:48

So I had known for a really long time that I wanted to give a TEDx talk, like when they started coming out online in 2009. Ish. I recognised that the energy and the, the the mission was actually very similar to one of the categories of, of speech competition that I did, which is called oratory, and was, like, persuasive about changing people's minds on sort of, like, big picture issues. And so they started coming out online. And I was like, Man, this is like, this is this is what I was doing, and where I felt so powerful, and strong and smart and good at something. And so I kind of put that in the back of my mind that that was something I wanted to do eventually. And I didn't know really what I wanted to talk about until I had this specific experience, which was when I decided that it was time to leave the theatre industry. Even though I had been doing this work as a copywriter. I felt like I didn't have any marketable skills. And I needed to go back to school to be, quote, unquote, employable. And fast forward a couple years I employ myself, it's fine, whatever. It's good. I didn't need that

Paula Shepherd 19:22

you go back to school. You didn't go back. I

Cathlyn Melvin 19:23

did. I did for a short time. So I decided to go to law school. And I got into law school, I got a full ride academic scholarship. And I was there for seven months. And it was not the place for me. It there was a lot of like false urgency and false importance and pressure in weird ways, a total lack of autonomy. And so I really started to evaluate like, what, how do I want to show up in the world? What is the world that I want to create in the life that I want? Want to live? Can I do that while I'm in school? Or can I get through school, and then live the way that I need to live want to live as a practising attorney, and ultimately, I decided that that just wasn't going to work. So, seven months into law school, I dropped out, I gave up that full ride scholarship, I worked through a lot of feelings about being a quitter, or being a drop out that like shame of letting down my community that had been so supportive of that, of that shift. And so that was what really inspired my TEDx talk. Because I think that a lot of us grew up hearing that the most important thing when we start a thing is to finish it. And so we have this like, commitment issue, but it's not the kind of commitment issue that people usually think about is not being non committal, it's committing too much too hard. And so that's really what my talk is about. It's about how in across our lives, whether in our personal relationships or in schooling, or in our career, it can feel like we're on a treadmill that's sort of running on its own going too fast. For us, there's no stop button, and we feel like we just have to keep up, we just have to keep going. And really, there is an option to get off the treadmill, and it's scary. It's taking your brave leap sideways over that handrail, so you can land on the ground next to it and figure out what that next right path is at the right pace for you. Hmm,

Paula Shepherd 21:45

you know, I what you just said there, one, when the way that you were describing law school, I think is the way that many of us, myself included two decades in corporate America really feel that that rigidity, right, like, lots of masculinity, in terms of processes and SOP, SOPs and requirements, and not a lot of sovereignty, or, or false ability to be able to speak up right to an extent where people don't necessarily feel safe to do so. And yet, we're all for me, it was climbing the corporate ladder. So in, in a lot of ways I can relate to exactly what you're saying, except for you went from this very creative mind where you, you really were very flexible in your thinking, and you got to be a thought leader, and so many ways to here's how it is and and here's the pillars, and plus, here's the step one, step two, step three, and the only thing that you got to be creative about probably in those couple of months was what grey area, where's the grey area in the law, like that's, that's legitimately probably about as creative as you can possibly get? Well, and I had thought

Cathlyn Melvin 23:03

when I went to school that I was going to continue copywriting I was like, this is something I'll bring in some money, that's fine. I'll, it'll be a creative outlet, because I knew that I needed that. And what actually happened was, I was getting up at five in the morning, reading case books until it was time for class, attending class and then reading until I could not absorb any more information and going to bed. And that was why we do

Paula Shepherd 23:34

that. I'm so curious. So why did you feel like you and this is just for everybody listening? Because I know that they can relate? Like, why did you do that? Why did you get up in the morning and read all of that stuff before class. And then after class, you did more until you went to bed and this was your eat sleeping and breathing.

Cathlyn Melvin 23:52

Because law school has a thing called the Socratic method, which they kind of twist from what the Socratic method actually is. And what that means in law school is you sit in class and at any moment, the professor can say Kathlyn summarise the facts of this case. Kathlyn summarise this opinion or ask like specific pointed questions, and there's a lot of pressure to have that information like just at the ready so there was so much material and maybe I'm a slow reader, I don't know but there was so much material that I unless I spent all day every day, and like 10 hours a day, sometimes on the weekends. reading and taking notes. I couldn't consume all of the material that I was responsible for before I got into the class. us and just like waiting to be cold cold. So that was very motivational.

Paula Shepherd 25:09

Yeah, cuz I think the pressure there is one, if you get called on and you don't know the answer, how am I going to look? What are people going to think? Are they? Are they going to think I don't belong here? Are they going to think that I don't deserve this scholarship, or they read all of that, where it's almost like you were trying to own your keep and a lot of ways.

Cathlyn Melvin 25:29

Yeah, and most school professors aren't known. Like, I had a couple of couple of professors who were very empathetic people. But for the most part, law school professors are not known for their empathy. And if you do not give the answer that they want you to give, they're not required to be nice to you about it. So for someone who has a lot of social anxiety, and like speaking up in class was already hard. It was just it was it was so much of like, so in so many different directions of difficulty and challenge just in the in the concept of cold calling. So it wasn't it wasn't my thing.

Paula Shepherd 26:17

Yeah, and I, you know, you just you just like summoned visions for me, a Viola Davis in you know How to Get Away with Murder. Her standing there asking questions and like very cold and pointed. And that's exactly what I just imagined when you were talking about that. So here you are, you get rid of your you're like, I'm done with this, I can't do this anymore. And then you are you step fully back into copywriting. Now you're in your TED Talk, which you found so much meaning in this moment, to be able to move forward. What inspired you then to go from? I gave my TED talk, I feel really good about it. And I know that there are steps that were missing there with you, how did you do it? Right? How did you? How did you apply? Where did you find it? How did you get in? I'm so confused. After you did your TED talk, what made you want to share with other people how to do it?

Cathlyn Melvin 27:18

So part of it really was the experience of seeking it out for myself and trying I am very much an information gatherer and I asked a lot of questions of Mr. Ms. Google, that I could not find satisfactory answers to and I just sort of had to learn as I was going. And it felt like there wasn't a lot of accessible information out there. And so that's one thing that I really wanted to do is I wanted to create this accessibility because I think that there are a lot of people who feel like you mentioned way back at the beginning of our of our chat today, that it's out of reach, like, I would love to give a TEDx talk. But that's not for me, or my, I haven't been in business long enough, or I'm not, I don't have a book yet. So I shouldn't do a TEDx talk or all sorts of things. And then I think that there are people who either have given TEDx talks or who are part of like the organisational structures, who kind of want to get keep that and make it feel like it's, it's out of reach. And it's not that TEDx isn't impactful, like it can make a huge difference in your business and in your relationships. But there are 3500 TEDx events every year. If you can get a TEDx talk, you just have to know how to do it. And it's the how to do it that just doesn't feel very accessible. So that's one thing. And then also, my experience coaching students as speakers. I really loved doing that work. And so when people started asking me if that's something that I would consider, it had already been in the back of my mind. And getting those questions from my current colleagues just sort of solidified that yes, this is something that people want that people need and that they find value in. And I think I can do it really well. So that was sort of my whole thought process going into it.

Paula Shepherd 29:39

I love it. And I would agree, I think when you when you try to Google a few said Mrs. Google, when you get on there, there is there. It seems to be like there's so much information, but not enough that you can piece together something that makes sense even when you're searching on the website for a talk to Trying to find one that hasn't already passed can sometimes be really frustrating. Yeah, and you know, I've I've looked myself, I've worked with my own speaker coach to, to identify some things. It's insane, I do think in this world where we have access to so much information, how it seems to be so out of reach, but having somebody like you that's been through it, that helps people, one who don't think that they have the ability to stand on a stage to that don't know that they have something important to say that deserves to be heard. And three, have the pathway by working with you to get to that goal, to have that achievement to feel proud about it to spread their message, in a much more widespread and impactful way. It's just absolutely amazing. So tell me how that's going. How is your TEDx coaching going with your clients? Are they getting their talks? Are they speaking at events and booking them? Now? I'm gonna say yes, they are. But I want to hear about.

Cathlyn Melvin 31:13

So this is a still a fairly new service for me. And so I've been doing a lot of sort of like one off workshops and talks and things like that, and sort of helping demystify the process and getting people primed to start their own journey. So I have some people that I'm working with that are getting started and that I'm just, I'm super excited to have them share their ideas like people come to be, and they're like, I don't know, I this is sort of kind of what I want to talk about maybe, and helping them figure out like, what, what those key elements are of that sort of kind of general maybe to create their idea worth spreading. They're really clear succinct, to the point, I message. And just like feeling, feeling them light up about like, Oh, this is this is worth it. Like, like you said, it's just really fantastic. And I am super excited to see how that does continue to go.

Paula Shepherd 32:32

I love it so much. I'm excited to hear how this pans out for some of your clients. I know it is quite the process to go through. And there's lots of pieces and parts and steps. As I've said, for my own exploration, what is one big thing, one big thought or idea that you want to leave or activity that you'd love to leave us with today. It can be specific to your TED Talk, specific to messaging. You know, shout out to the introverts, whatever it is whatever's on your heart right now that you feel like we need to know, before we end this episode.

Cathlyn Melvin 33:07

So I think that the biggest mistake that I've seen people make in preparing for a TEDx talk. And I think this message is probably much wider, like, whatever project you're entering into, is not giving yourself enough time. So with TEDx, not knowing how much time it will take to write your talk how much time it will take to edit and finalise it, or to memorise it or to rehearse it up on its feet. Because these are things that as adults, like, we probably haven't had to give a talk like that since high school, some of us and our brains work differently, we memorise differently 17 than we do. And something that I've created in my my quest to put information out into the world is actually a TEDx planner, that tells you like, at a minimum, this is how much time to give yourself in this week, you want to do your first draft, and this week, here's what you're doing. And you can grab that at write cat planner, or IG ht planner. And it really just helps, like, remove the questions of like, Oh, my goodness, what am I supposed to be doing right now? What am I supposed to do next? So that's

Paula Shepherd 34:35

amazing, who doesn't love a good plan and who doesn't love a good template? We will link that in the show notes. So make sure that you grab that and start plotting out what your TED Talk could look like. And I think the more that you do that, I think it brings it to life and makes it more of a a realistic opportunity when you can start plotting all that stuff out. So thank you so much for offering that amazing resource to everyone. You Katelyn, thank you for being here for sharing your story for being so freaking courageous and telling us all these things that I never would have imagined you, helping us to debunk our own perceptions, and for just being an amazing thought leader in the world, too.

Cathlyn Melvin 35:17

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Paula Shepherd 35:20

You're so welcome. All right, everybody. I'll see you next week on another episode of The confidence session. Thank you for listening to this episode of The confidence sessions. I know there are hundreds of 1000s of podcasts and I'm so grateful that you chose to spend your time to date with me. Head on over to the courage forward slash podcast to check out the show notes from today's episode, and grab links to all the amazing goodies mentioned today. If you love this episode, as much as I loved making it, make sure you don't miss out on any future ones by hitting the subscribe button right now. See you next time.

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