Local woman gives TEDx Talk
BY TINA L. SCOTT
TED and TEDx Talks?
Before we jump into the local connection, what is a TED Talk or a TEDx Talk?
Back in 1984, an American-Canadian nonprofit media organization was founded by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks. The organization, TED Conferences LLC, posts international talks online for free distribution. They focus on “ideas worth spreading.”
TED is an acronym that stands for: technology, entertainment, and design. TED Talks are short influential talks distributed via video given by expert speakers on topics including education, business, science, technology, and creativity. Subtitles for the videos are included in more than 100 languages. With free streaming and downloading, the talks influence a worldwide audience.
As a nonprofit, TED partners with individuals to help share ideas globally and has included talks from politicians and scientists, comedians and actors, and many other individuals with important messages and ideas to share.
TEDx then was also created in the spirit of “ideas worth spreading” and supports independent organizers who want to create a TED-like event in their own community.
Local woman is inspired
Debbie Merkel, a Merrill native and social worker, with several other creative talents including singing and painting, first learned of TEDx Talks about 10 years ago.
“I was in therapy and my therapist suggested I listen to them for inspiration,” Merkel said.
She did listen and absolutely came away inspired.
“My next session with her, I told her, ‘Someday, I’m going to give a TEDx Talk,’” Merkel said.
That someday came on Sept. 30, 2022, and her TEDx Talk was recently released online where it is now available for global viewing at: https://youtu.be/z2o57MNH_Sw.
How it came to be
“I had been giving presentations on hope, and speaking at suicide prevention and awareness events,” Merkel said.
Merkel has been open about her depression and anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, and past suicide attempts, including one that brought her to the very brink of death. She also openly talks about the importance of therapy, self-care, and self-acceptance. And these days she draws on her personal experiences to try to help others, increase awareness, and prevent suicides.
She shared her dream and goal of doing a TEDx Talk with friends and family. In response, in May 2022, “my good friend and former co-worker, Lori Walsh, forwarded me the audition information,” Merkel said. Merkel sent in a proposal for her talk, was offered the opportunity to audition, and two weeks later Merkel learned she was one of 10 people selected to speak at the Sept. 30, 2022, TEDx event at Nicolet College in Rhinelander where her presentation was recorded and prepared for distribution.
The rest, as they say, is history. In this case, history captured on video and available worldwide.
“My talk is about hope,” Merkel said. “There was a time when I lost hope. I share my story, explain what hope is and how to obtain it, and how to ignite hope in others.”
“I want to inspire others and make a difference,” she said. “And, I want to break down barriers.”
“There is so much stigma and shame when it comes to mental health. I want people to know they are not alone.”
Utilizing the TEDx platform enables Merkel to share her story and message of hope with a huge national and international audience, extending her reach far beyond what she could do on her own.
Merkel’s family supports her public speaking and her sharing via the TEDx Talks platform, but initially it was hard for them. Her husband, she said, was afraid that by her sharing her story and being vulnerable, that she would get hurt.
“This is definitely a vulnerable thing to do,” Merkel said. “Brene’ Brown said it best when she spoke of the ‘vulnerability hangover’–that sense of shame and fear after taking a big risk.”
“It is hard. I still worry what people think.”
But she knows now, “that in order for me to live an authentic life, I have to be true to myself,” Merkel said. “I would love to not have had to live my life with anxiety and depression. I wish I didn’t have to struggle with eating disorders most of my life.”
But in the end, “I wouldn’t change any of it,” she said. “I am who I am today because of everything I have experienced in life.”
Now that the TEDx Talk is “out there,” “I’m proud of myself for accomplishing another thing I wanted to do. And I’m excited to see what’s next in my future,” Merkel said.
In the last year, Merkel presented at two state conferences and at the 2023 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conference. There she spoke on: “Sharing Your Story – A Key Towards Healing and Recovery”.
In recent months, Merkel has been sharing short messages of hope, inspiration, affirmation, and encouragement via short reels on social media platforms.
“I’ve been sharing reels on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and a little on YouTube,” she said. “My intent, again, is to raise awareness, share mental health tips, and have fun while I’m doing it.”
“Mental health, unfortunately, is a very difficult subject for some people,” Merkel said. “I’m sharing parts of myself, my journey, chapters of my story- so others don’t feel like I did. Alone.”
“Everyone can benefit from mental health awareness,” she adds.
Some of those reels have gone viral, with one on grief and loss hitting 200,000 views and almost 1,000 shares, she said. That’s proof that people need those positive messages, Merkel affirms.
In addition to public speaking, Merkel expresses herself creatively through painting, singing, and song writing. She enjoys time with her family, including one grandchild.
Merkel said she is “No longer trying to be like everyone else and ‘color inside the lines’ as we were once taught. … It’s just me, being me–whether I’m creating, singing or speaking. I want to move people, inspire people–so they can feel free to be themselves, too.”
These days she is creating her own art and living her life true to herself. And, she said, she’s finally found her voice in a way she hadn’t previously imagined.
“Ever since I was young, I saw myself on a stage,” she said.
“For years, I thought this was me singing on a stage.” Merkel has sung at many events locally and did release several music CDs over the years but hasn’t yet landed that lucrative recording contract she once dreamed of.
Maybe that dream of being on stage is “just this- sharing my story and message of hope,” Merkel said.
For now, she said, “I will continue to be a mental health advocate, make reels to inspire, and keep moving forward.” That’s her own day-to-day message of hope for herself and others these days: Keep moving forward.