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Eliot Marshall on Giving a TED Talk

Watch Professor Eliot Marshall’s talk from the TED stage in Palo Alto.

Morgan: Thank you for taking the time to join me today, Eliot. Your TED Talk was amazing. You can absolutely tell you were speaking from the heart, with conviction, and those are the types of messages that truly move people.

I know I’ve struggled with severe anxiety my entire life, so it was amazing hearing from such a strong, confident looking guy that he deals with the same thing I do. Why did you choose the theme of overcoming your anxiety, and why is it so important for you to get that particular type of inspiration and information out there? 

Eliot: So first of all, thank you. Second of all, it’s been the devil and the demon of my life, and yet I still figured out how to be somewhat successful. Would I have loved to be the UFC champion? Of course. At the time I would have loved it. But, there’s this thing that held me back from achieving that goal, possibly. Yet I was still able to make it to the UFC, which is still, for a lot of people, a big accomplishment.

So the idea of exactly what you just said; on the outside I’m this guy that just screams strength. I’m a fighter, I’m big; it’s not like I am a tiny person. I look very confident. I have a loud voice. People look at me as if I were very confident.

There’s this duality going on. There’s this coward that is inside of me, and there is negative self-talk. And that’s what I’m listening to. I had to learn how to flip that coward around and make him my friend, my homie. And I think that’s an important message – not that the coward in all of us isn’t there, but that it creates a different reaction. And that was a learned thing with me.  That, yeah, I’m a coward, kind of. I think a lot of people can associate with that, but still learn how to be friends with that part of themselves and use it for good.

Morgan: How did you end up getting into the world of TED Talks? That’s such a huge stage to be able to step on. How did you get your hands on such an awesome opportunity?

Eliot: Ok, so this is crazy, right? So my friend, Scott Strode, who is the CEO and founder of the non-profit Phoenix Multi-Sport, did a TED Talk years ago. And he put me in touch with the person he worked with. We became friendly, and I met with her the very first time. He paid for two sessions for me to learn public speaking. And she was like, I don’t know if this is your gig yet. Let’s maybe do a podcast and write this book. So I went that route.

If you look at my office right now, I still have the outline of an old speech I was going to do on my door in sticky notes. That’s been there for a year. 

So then I was just doing my thing, and all of a sudden just got a phone call from Tony Longoria, who’s friends with one of our black belts. He was like, “You wanna do a TED Talk?” And I was like “Uh, yeah! I mean I’ve never done a talk before… but yeah!” 

So then I had to take this crash course on public speaking.

I had never done it. I talk in front of students all the time, but it’s not polished, right? So I had to take this crash course on public speaking. Literally, and I say this a lot, there is not a luckier human being than me on this planet. This just fell into my lap. And it wasn’t like I had to do all these Toastmasters that people do, and little talks, etc. I got thrown right on that stage.

Morgan: Right into the fire haha.

Eliot: Yeah I was like, you can’t be serious? But he was. 

Morgan: I know at the gym you are surrounded by hundreds of students with open ears, ready for whatever you have to say. And at big fights, you’ve got the eyes of an enthusiastic crowd bearing down on you. But, for many reasons, speaking to an empty audience, without any social cues, and a camera pointed at me would personally make me just as anxious. How was it giving such a big speech, during COVID, with no active audience to draw strength from?

Eliot: It was really weird. It’s exactly like you said! There are no cues. You tell a joke, and you have no clue when to let the audience laugh and go back to your speech again. So, man, as far as this kinda stuff goes, I have learned very well through this battle with my demon how to know what it is that I have to do. So whether there is an audience there or no audience there, you’re just up there giving a speech. It’s the same thing we tell our fighters. You did this every day. Right? Twice a week, you get into a cage and you fight somebody in practice. It’s just that. You just have to do what you practiced. And if you do what you practiced, it’s the same exact thing. There’s nothing different going on.

Morgan: Who did you listen to when preparing for your first TED Talk? Were there any speakers that particularly inspired you?

Eliot: Oh, I got a coach, haha. I hired somebody right away. And she took me through it. And she taught me how to memorize. She was great, Helena Bowen, she’s amazing. She did a great job,

My success that I already have did not matter to her. I called her when I was introduced to her and she said, “Oh, you do karate, that’s great!” And I was like, “Oh my God, you’re perfect. You’re not going to care about who I am at all.”

If I called someone in the Jiu Jitsu space, they would be too excited, possibly, to work with me. Because we have successful schools, I’ve fought in the UFC, you know? But she was like, “Omg, my sister does karate!”  And I was like, “Okay, you’re perfect!” And then she just destroyed my speech, she ripped it apart. And I became her student.

Morgan: She was the black belt in this space.

Eliot: She’s the black belt, right, and I was a white belt. She sent me this structure of how to memorize a speech and it worked to the T. I even got to teach my son, because he had to do a project in school and memorize it. So, I was like, ok this is how you memorize!

Morgan: Are there any specific types of philosophies that help you stave off your anxiety demon? Are there any great thinkers, philosophers, or psychologists you recommend to the readers to help them jump into the fire?

Eliot: I’m a Stoic Buddhist. And not in a religious sense, you know? I just follow some of the practices. We all know Professor Huddleston. He is a Buddhist and man, I try to learn a lot from him. There’s a couple concepts, in my opinion, that Stoicism and Buddhism combine really well. I think all religions combine these concepts, but these two schools of thought really talk to me.

One is nothing happens to you, everything happens for you.

Two, and as far as what happens to you, the only thing in that you can control is your response to events. Whatever happens, that’s outside of your control.

And then finally, three. You only have right now. There’s no such thing as the past or the future. You only have this very very moment. So, can we be the most skillful at this very moment? And I know sometimes that can sound very fleeting. You might think, “Man, I should just party, or just be crazy and only worry about me.”

But to that question I’ll ask, “What makes you really, really happy? And what is it that you need in your life at this moment.” And if we can understand that, what is it that we need, because that’s going to dictate what we want. And then, therefore, we can really make skillful decisions for what it is that we do in “the now.” 

Morgan: I know the idea that stuck with me after your speech was the idea of finding your power and choosing to give it away. This philosophy, I feel, will absolutely sit with me and make each interaction much more fulfilling. Thank you so much for your time and energy, and thank you so much for the little bit of power you have placed in everyone’s hands that have taken the time to listen to you.

Eliot: That’s my goal, Morgan, to give my power away. Right? I truly believe that. Just because it’s a need of mine. I need an army of people because of the things that have happened to me in my past. I know that about me. So, man, if I can build armies (and that’s what Easton is), I will always gladly walk first. But I don’t want anybody behind me, and that’s a big thing. That’s a big thing that we really try to push at Easton. Yeah, sure, I get to seem as if I’m the leader, but I’m not. The second day or first day white belt, or white shit, wherever you are, you are just as important as I am. And that’s such an important piece of it.  

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