Boise Speakwell

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Boise SpeakWell
08/03/16 Uncategorized

Talking about TED: part 3 of 7

Wendy Wilson’s TEDxBoise 2015 talk on the link between water and energy use came at just the right time, given the ongoing concerns about both issues in the West. Her whole career has been with environmental nonprofit groups focused in water protection and climate issues. At the time of her talk, she was Executive Director of Advocates for the West.


wendy NB


Why’d you apply to do a TEDxBoise talk?

I’d been working on integrating water and energy into one presentation for a couple years. I was having a hard time getting it down to a simple idea, but I had something to say. I wanted to address the concern about climate change affecting the availability of resources, and to raise our own understanding of what we can do. This topic is near and dear to me, since I really struggle with the question of “so what do we do to take this to the next generation?” This is something people really need to talk about, but there aren’t many TED Talks on it.


How’d you react when you found out you were accepted?

A little daunted. I knew I could do it, but I wanted to do a good job and not waste the opportunity–working on environmental issues really take up all your available time. But when it comes down to it, I want to be an advocate. And to do that, you have to communicate. I was also willing to do it because of the coaching support.


How’d you get ready?

Well, I had a false sense of security because I started six weeks before the event. I floundered around a lot, trying to come up with the slides before I worked on the actual talk. I wasted a lot of time doing stuff that just moved the slides around. I wish I’d had another week—I would have stopped changing the talk up until the last minute. Seeing the other speakers at rehearsal kicked my butt! The talk I gave was the first time I’d done it well. I could have done so much better with even two more days.

wendy mic


Give yourself some credit, though! This year we were on a much tighter timeline than most TED events. For 2016 the speakers will have six months to get ready, which is what it really takes. What was it like for you, the night of the event?

It was really stressful waiting. I didn’t have my speech completely nailed. I used the time to go over my presentation a couple more times. Once I was onstage, things were great—I felt fine. Having the live audience was really helpful. When it’s right—they’re laughing. I didn’t want to get to the end!





What feedback did you get after the event?

Several people wanted to talk to me. I met with a kid yesterday about a career in environmental issues because he’d seen my talk. And it seems like people got the message—a few people have come up and said, “You’re the 400-gallon-water shower lady!” I also got feedback about being brave enough to do it. I did something really hard. It wasn’t just a talk about bluebirds—the whole point was about math.


That’s awesome. I’m not a math person, but your math really stuck with me. I think of you every time I take a shower, and every day when I make sure to turn my porch light off when I leave the house! What did you learn from doing this TEDx Talk that you can pass on?

I would have focused on looking at TED Talks more—I didn’t do that until about a month before the event. I also tried to do too much—my talk could have been four different TED Talks with all the material I prepared, and then cut. Keep it simple, pare down your expectations about what you can cover, and don’t try to fill the whole 18 minutes. When I watch TED Talks I never actually watch the whole thing!


Any best practices to share?

Work on your script first, THEN your slides. I was working on slides at 2 am two days before my talk.


Last thoughts?

I have a new phrase: “I do hard things.” Cut yourself some slack!


That’s a bumper sticker right there!


Wendy Wilson, “Burning Water

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29/02/16 Uncategorized

Talking about TED: part 2 of 7

Talking about TED: part 2 of 7

Karen Day is what you call a pro. A writer, photographer, TV producer and filmmaker, she’s worked on humanitarian issues in locations from Afghanistan to Cuba to pre-war Iraq. Her most recent film, Girl from God’s Country (2015), shares the story and contributions of early film pioneer Nell Shipman.

Karen’s also very fun to hang out with. Shortly after her TEDxBoise 2015 talk, “The End of the Impossible,” we had coffee and a whole lot of laughs. I’ll skip the gossip and bawdy humor here–you just had to be there. Here are some of her more pertinent, more G-rated comments. Enjoy–I did.


Why’d you apply to TEDxBoise?

It was serendipity. I had already been talking to TED Global about doing this talk.

Then my daughter called me and said, “oh my gosh, it’s on Facebook, which she knows I don’t have time or desire to adhere to.” She said, “you should apply.” I would never have seen it if not for that kind of Facebook generation thing.

I did it because, as I acknowledged in the talk, it’s always been on my bucket list. Oh yeah, along with Bradley Cooper.


How’d you get ready?

I knew that I would change my normal talk because I wanted to make it actionable, as opposed to just talking about some crazy stuff that I do in my life. So I did not actually write that TED Talk until the night of the 11th [five days before the event]. I started at midnight, then came and saw you at 10 that morning. I didn’t have any problem writing it because I often work under deadline, but I would say I concentrated on it for that week.

I also know what I’m capable of doing—I can go live in front of ten thousand people. But I wanted to make sure the content was entertaining. In my business it’s so easy to have it go overly earnest, or be depressing, or make people feel insignificant, like “there’s nothing I could do anyway because the challenges are too great.” So that’s why I like TEDx–it’s an actionable idea.



What was the performance like?

For me it was a blast. I was not really nervous—I was excited, and I liked the idea of live-streaming. I’m also a control freak, so everything that was not working in the production was bugging me, but I put that aside. I wanted it to be successful for Boise. In the work that I do, I strive against the stereotype. I love the idea of showing the audience that Idaho is not bereft of gray matter or sophistication.

karen 1

The good news is that, because I have a platform, I’m going to put the talk onto my website,, which gets a lot of traffic. It kind of rotates in between pictures of Obama and other presidents of the world, and there’ll be a TEDxBoise talk there too.


How was your approach for your TED Talk different from what you typically do?

I waited [to start writing]—I had that luxury. I had a body of work which was experiential. I knew where I was going since that’s what had been accepted as the format of the talk. However, when I started to research TED Talks seriously, I realized I needed to add an idea that was actionable. That part challenged me, since–not that what I do doesn’t try to get people to make a difference–but most of the people that I come in contact with, they buy the T shirt and then they’ve done something. The whole motivation of giving, it’s kind of like, “I’ve done it, and I’m done with it.” It made me take a look at the dynamics.

I was really committed to making it good, and I’m committed to making Idaho look as good as possible.


You’ve watched your talk. What do you think?

I did watch it. I figured I could learn something from it. I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the camera, and as I’ve gotten older I don’t like to be in front of the camera, because I also know what looks good on camera. So on some level, I was just surprised at how good my hair looked! It was amazing.

I was disappointed with some of the long shots. Some of the impact, I understand the missed opportunity because that’s what I do for a living. But I was really pleased with the talk. For the people who were there it was probably really engaging. I’m not sure how it will look in the end, whether it will be as impactful as it was in person because of the way it’s produced, but no big deal. It is what it is.


What responses have you had to the talk?

It has put me in a different realm of credibility, though I’m still the same ridiculous person I’ve always been. This was just on my personal bucket list, since after working with Harvard for two years and constantly feeling like I was Temple Grandin, [I wanted to feel] that “I can do a TED Talk. I was the little engine who could do the TED Talk.”


Would you like to do another TED Talk?

I may press forward on the idea of a TED Talk [on women in early film], which is getting a lot of publicity. My new film (Girl from God’s Country) will get a lot of visibility, so yes, I may take that and incorporate it. This talk gave me a lot of experience in the TED realm, so next time I’ll be really kick-ass. Who knows?


What would you do differently?

I haven’t really thought about it. Would I prepare more? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure I would do that much differently. I’m very comfortable.


What advice would you give other TED speakers?

You need to have an idea that’s actionable. The purpose is to get people to adopt the idea, and actually take action. So I would challenge anybody, no matter how great your idea is, to translate that into something that is actionable. If you want your TED Talk to be purposeful, that’s the key.


Karen Day, “The End of the Impossible”





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27/02/16 Uncategorized

Speaking of eating disorders

Speaking of eating disorders

Speaking of eating disorders


This week has been National Eating Disorder Awareness Week—something I just learned about a couple days ago (thanks Facebook friends!). I promised myself I wouldn’t let the week pass by without adding to the much-needed conversation. So here we go. With a tight deadline, this will be raw and graphic—but that’s the reality of an eating disorder.





My decade of disordered eating was the 80s. It started off in subtle and “innocent” ways—my sister’s friend remarking that I was getting a bit “husky,” or competing with a friend to get under 100 pounds and fit into size zero 501s. Someone bought me a little pocket book (the ones you get near the cashier at the grocery store) with pages and pages of charts listing calorie counts for common foods. I quickly memorized most of it so I could do on-the-spot calculations throughout the day. And, of course, figure out just how much I needed to run to burn off all those cottage-cheese-and-egg-whites-and-carrots calories.


Things got more serious when I went off to college at the ripe age of 15. I spent a summer college program there eating 400-500 calories a day, and getting the first attention I’d ever had from the opposite sex—a 22-year-old Don-Johnson lookalike with incredible pecs and a deep tan. “Your body is almost perfect,” he told me more than once, “you’d be amazing if you just worked more on your abs. See that little roll right there on your stomach?” (I weighed 98 pounds at the time).


That fall, as a 16-year-old college freshman away from home for the first time, I gained a couple pounds. Couldn’t get the raw carrots and egg whites in the college cafeteria. “Don” lost interest, and I was distraught and alone. My far-too-young brain went into self-destruction mode. “If he doesn’t want me, I’ll make sure no one else will,” I remember saying to myself.


A switch flipped. My body suddenly demanded all the food I’d deprived it of for months and years. Jumbo packages of Reese’s cups. Large pizzas. Half a dozen donuts. Entire packages of granola bars (quite painful to digest, I might add). On Valentine’s Day I bought myself a pound of chocolates, pretending that “Don” had given them to me as I ate the whole box in one sitting.


What to do? My college identity—brand-new to me–was the pretty, skinny smart girl, yet now I had what felt like the most shameful addiction ever. I’d learned from a high school friend about throwing up, so I tried it. That’s when I learned I have very little gag reflex (and a great reluctance to vomit). I’d sit over the trash can in my dorm room for an hour or more, trying to throw up until tears streamed down my face and my throat stung with the effort. Nothing. So I’d sit and cry on my bed, propped up with pillows to try to ease the discomfort of my bloated stomach.


I tried massive doses of laxatives, for one very unpleasant week. That wasn’t going to work for me either, especially in a shared dormitory bathroom.


So, between the pizzas and the donuts and the granola bars I snuck into my dorm room, and the late-night raids I made on the shared refrigerator, I gained weight. Not your average freshman 15, either. By the end of that school year I’d gained 50 pounds. In nine months I went from 98 pounds to 150. The pain was more than emotional—the skin on my thighs felt like it would burst. My digestive system was chronically overtaxed. I was exhausted, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my knees hurt. All I thought about—day, night, even in my dreams, was food. Oh, and how to get skinny again.


And you know what? No one mentioned a thing. No one asked me if I was okay, no one mentioned my change in appearance. Not a single friend, teacher, or family member.


But then, I wouldn’t have known what to say if anyone had ventured a conversation. You “just didn’t talk about those things” then. Few people even knew the term eating disorder—and if we did, we only knew that Karen Carpenter had died in some mysterious way related to dieting. I didn’t even learn that eating disorders were a “thing” (that affected other people too) until I was a junior in college and did some basic (pre-internet) research on it. I found a total of three articles in women’s magazines and wrote a paper on my own experiences, “outing” myself to a professor I trusted. There weren’t any resources to help me then, but she was at least sympathetic. And she gave me an A on the paper. That was an important first step. (I still have that paper, 30 years later.)


During my late teens and early twenties, I settled into a “routine” obsession with food. I developed my rituals of binging (batch of raw brownie batter, boxes of Chinese takeout (hey, it has veggies, right?)) interspersed with days of fasting and earnest plans for exotic crash diets the 80s is so infamous for. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to feel hungry. Or pleasantly full. I didn’t feel much at all, actually.


Somehow—I’m not really sure how—the whole thing got old over the years. Tiring. Boring. Then at 25, I left a toxic job and a toxic relationship. I went home—home for the first time since I was 15–to live with my dad and stepmom and go to grad school.


I was finally ready to “stop the insanity,” to put this decade of tortured relationships with food and myself behind me. Ten years–what felt like an entire lost decade–was quite enough.


I shared some of my story with my stepmom and asked, bluntly, for her help. “I don’t know how to feed myself—can you just feed me, so I don’t have to think about it?” And she did. Healthy food but not “diet food.” Nurturing food, around a family dining table, that fed my soul.


Things got better, quickly. It felt like I really closed the door on a painful decade. I got married, finished my PhD, taught college English and had two lovely boys.


Today I’m 50, and those ten terrible years seem pretty far away. I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full. I exercise to have fun and feel strong, not to burn calories. I think about food in terms of what I like and what I don’t like, not in terms of “good” and “bad.” I only find out what I weigh when I go to the doctor.


But I still talk about those years, regularly. What was once my deepest awful secret is now a thing I bring up even in conversations with people I don’t know well. It’s a conscious choice I make. Talking about my struggles with food was central to my healing, and I feel an obligation to keep the conversation open to the many, many other women and men who are still struggling—to de-stigmatize the experience, let them know they’re not alone, and let them know they can recover.


Because of my sharing, I’ve been approached by dozens of young women and men in need of help. When I taught at Stanford and lived in a large freshman dorm, I made it a point to talk about my eating disorder (and a range of other classic life mistakes I made in college) in every “beginning-of-the-year” dorm speech. I wanted each student to know that I was human, had struggled too, and that they could come talk to me without fear of judgment.


And they did come. Each year that I lived in the dorm, at least five students came to me to talk about their own eating disorders. Some just needed to tell someone who would understand and identify with them; some I referred on to counselors for professional support; some took a leave of absence so they could focus on healing. It wasn’t an instant solution, and I’m not sure I helped them all. But I hope our conversations helped at least a few of them, somewhat.


I don’t pretend that I’m completely “over” having an eating disorder, as if it never happened to me. While I don’t struggle over food very often, I do sometimes have nightmares that take me right back into those dark places. My body bears far more stretch marks from that period than it does from two pregnancies.


I’m absolutely a different person than I would be if I hadn’t experienced an eating disorder. I don’t see that as a “bad” thing, though—I’m more humble than I would have been, more compassionate, and much more aware of how sensitive many people are about food, their bodies and their appearance.


And I’m much more willing to talk. About real things. It’s kind of what I do for a living now. Because I know from experience that simply sharing your story can change your life.


That’s my story. What’s yours?



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18/02/16 Uncategorized

Talking about TED: part 1 of 7

Talking about TED: part 1 of 7

I got lucky last year. TEDxBoise started up, and–Boise being Boise–I emailed the organizers and in a couple days was in on the ground floor as the official speaker coach.

Naturally I’ve always been a TED fan, but the more closely I worked on the project, the more I appreciated how much my philosophy about speaking meshes with TED’s: it’s about great content shared by actual humans. In other words, you start with someone who has an amazing idea, even though they may not be technically the “best” or “most polished” speaker. And then you help that person be the best version of themselves. So it’s not about perfection, but about authenticity. And damn good ideas.

This made my job (relatively) easy. Not to mention fun. And considering that last year’s speakers only had about six weeks to prepare, they nailed it.

As we count down to TEDxBoise 2016 (April 2!), with FOURTEEN speakers and several performing artists to boot, enjoy some behind-the scenes reflections from last year’s speakers. How did they get ready? What was it like? What did they learn? Get those enquiring minds ready…

FIRST UP: AlejAndro Anastasio

AlejAndro has competed in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, and travels worldwide as a teacher and motivational teacher. Soon after his TEDxBoise Talk, “Disabled Thinking,” he reflected on how the TED style fits into the other kinds of speaking he does.


Why’d you apply to give a TED Talk?

As a professional speaker, TED is one of the most sought-after platforms. People gravitate towards TED; they love watching it. I think it’s super-cool to do a TED Talk, and everybody talks about wanting to do one. I also believe that I have a very special idea to share. TED’s all about sharing ideas.

So what’s your idea?

The core message is the power of thinking. My title is “Disabled Thinking,” but in essence what I’m talking about is the power of thinking. Since I have what most people call a physical disability, the word “disability” comes up a lot. And over the course of living my life with what people call a disability, I realized that people have disabled thinking.

When I really did research on what a TED Talk is, their main thing is an idea worth spreading. And they were very clear about it: they said, “either you have to come up with a new idea that really no one has come up with, which, you know, is a unique statement unto itself, or you have to have a new angle on an old idea.” I wanted to come at it from a whole different angle here. And even how I structured my speech was much different from typically how I talk.

How do you usually talk?

Well, mostly when I’m delivering speeches, I’ll just come out and talk about my disability, and I don’t necessarily talk about “thinking,” so to speak, or how people think about thinking. In my TED Talk I opened out with a joke, really: “oh, you think you don’t think, but that’s just you thinking, right? How often do we engage in the process of thinking?” And then I referenced Descartes and Max Plank, who’s a theoretical physicist; the basis of his theory is that our conscious mind creates our reality.

I don’t normally come out and structure things that way. I just come out and start talking about the power of thinking, or how I overcame many things through thinking.  But never have I formulated it as “I don’t have disabled thinking.” And it’s only been recently that I formulated that thought, so to speak.

What did preparing for your TED Talk really involve?

The preparation really was formulating the idea, disabled thinking, and then, “how am I gonna deliver that?”

There are so many things that go on in terms of how well you write a speech. You know: do you not have any questions that are unanswered? Do you start and end in the same space? Do you answer every question? Do you tie every bow? When people are done do they actually feel like the idea is complete, the idea has been expressed? Everything has to run congruently, to move in a very dot-to-dot format so people don’t have to work hard to listen to you speak. Actually my whole speech is three minutes long, but prepping for it is seven, and leaving it is five.

I started writing my speech probably two months before the TED date. It’s very important that you actually write your speech down. Because a good speech is not written—it’s re-written. It’s the only way you can actually truly edit your speech.

This comes from spending time getting ready to go to the world championships of public speaking, much different than TED–but the essence is the same. You need to know what you’re gonna say. If you don’t write it down there’s almost no way to practice it. In essence, you’re just free-balling every time. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if you freeball and get lost, you can’t get started–it just doesn’t give you as much credence. It doesn’t give you the credit you deserve.

How much time did you spend getting ready?

I probably spent a total–with editing and all–well over a hundred hours. If we’d had more time I probably would have done 20% more practice. I practiced my speech a lot in front of people, in measures. Okay, here’s the beginning … here’s this four minute section.

In general people don’t practice enough. I practiced four to eight times a day—it’s an 18-minute speech—that’s a lot of time.  But if I knew what it entailed, I would have started a month earlier.

You’ve done a lot of work with Toastmasters. What has that given you?

The greatest benefit that I get from Toastmasters other than practicing speaking is crafting a speech. Like, how do you write it? where do you put things? how do you break things down? where do things fit? I don’t always write speeches that way, but it’s a great framework. You can never go wrong having that foundation.

And then, if I’m gonna speak to an inner-city youth group or school, I’m not delivering a Toastmasters speech! But the framework is there. I can ad lib off that, I can bring in more slang, I can do all kinds of things. But that framework—that’s what houses your speech. And then you can cater that to anything that you need.

So, Toastmasters versus TED?

One thing I love about the TED platform is that you don’t necessarily have to be a great speaker to deliver a great TED talk. Some of them are not very groomed speakers, but they speak from the heart.

A great thing about preparing to do a TED talk is that I have a lot more open room. The TED Talk has structure, but it has a lot of free form. I can just deliver the talk the way I am.

Competitive speaking is very structured, very refined, and if you don’t have certain elements, you almost can’t win. If you make a mistake, chances are you won’t win. TED—none of that matters. Sometimes in a competition having a good idea or making an impact means nothing.

But as far as preparation goes, I don’t think there’s any difference between a TED Talk and a competition talk. I just practice a lot. It’s all pretty much the same: the craft, the practice, you can’t really avoid that.

You use lots of humor in your speech. What’s that about?

I’m a big advocate of humor and I use it all the time. I think a humorous speech is among the most memorable ones. There’s a rare quality that happens when people laugh. They tie memories to emotions, so if they really laugh at something, that imprint is very powerful.

I would rather you laugh at me –or laugh with me–than just stare at me. When you see I’m okay with my body, not having two hands, when we can laugh together, it just naturally gives you hope. If I tell you all the hard things I went through, so what? It’s just not that inspiring—you’ll just say, “I’m glad you got through it, but I’ve gotta go brush my teeth. I’ve gotta go cry.”

What about the big night?

There was a lot going on. One: it’s TED. Two: it’s live-streamed. Three: it’s recorded. Four: there’s a live audience.

When the time comes around I’m always a little nervous, but I thought it was festive. I showed up, hung out, mingled, then I took off and did my TED talk three times downstairs. Because you can never practice too much.


I misplaced a couple things—they didn’t flow the way I wanted them to. The first thirteen minutes was spot-on, exactly what I wanted, but there were three minutes in there where I lost my place. After about six seconds, which is an incredible amount of time to be silent in front of people, I had to backtrack. And then later, I had some friends there and they were like, “man, that long pause was POWER-ful.” So it worked out.

Overall, I felt really good. I couldn’t be more pleased. But there’s always room for growth.

What’s up next?

I’d like to deliver another TED Talk. I made it clear that you need to transform your thinking, but people don’t really know what that means. So I’d love to deliver another TED talk on the mechanism for making that happen.

See this talk at: AlejAndro Anastasio, “Disabled Thinking”

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14/11/14 Readings

My new book–public speaking for kids of all ages!

the front cover, as you'll see it on Amazon

These days, kids are asked to make classroom presentations as early as 3rd or 4th grade—yet their teachers rarely give them any public speaking guidance, much less ideas on how to handle stage fright. Though I’m now a professional speaking coach, I was mortified to speak in front of my grade-school classmates—I didn’t get over that fear until I started teaching in graduate school.

So … I’m excited to announce the publication of my first kids’ book: Ruby Lee and the VERY BIG DEAL. It’s a fun story for children 9 and up about conquering the fear of public speaking. Since the main character is a girl, it’s also a tale that helps girls develop more self-confidence.

You can buy a print copy or download the e-book on Amazon—and if you live in the Boise area, you can get a copy at Hyde Park Books or Barnes & Noble. If you’d like a signed copy, just email me and we’ll make arrangements.

Amazon listed Ruby Lee as a “hot new release” in October 2013, and the book has received great reviews. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “This children’s book contains very practical stage advice embedded in a believable and endearing story about a girl, a speech and a crazy aunt. It’s a rare kid book that leaves a parent with such practical food for thought, but the advice in this book, presented in the narrative and reviewed at the end, was an inspiration to father and daughter (8) alike. We are ready for our next speech, and have an updated classics filmography to watch together as well!”

Ruby seeking comfort from her dog Lina.

Here’s how the book is described on Amazon:

“Ruby Lee has a problem. A very BIG problem. She has won a so-called “prize” in her school: to read her essay in front of her entire smallish town. Except that Ruby has a bad case of stage fright. Help comes in the guise of her eccentric Great Aunt Alice, who may–or may not–have been a starlet in the golden age of film.

Great Aunt Alice floats between two worlds: day-to-day reality, and a world of a past in which she hobnobbed with the likes of Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, John Barrymore and Vivien Leigh. Her colorful stories–of helping Barrymore prepare for a role, teaching Bogart to whistle, pulling Brando out of bed to audition for The Godfather–will entertain and delight readers of all ages.Each of Alice’s tales contains one of her nine “secrets to becoming a star.”

These secrets, which unfold as Ruby prepares for her speech, ensure that she shines when the big day comes, her fear of public speaking now just a memory. The two come to appreciate each other–and readers come away with down-to-earth, effective public speaking tips.”

Artwork is by my dear friend and gifted illustrator, Stephanie Mullani. Each illustration is hand-drawn, with a warmth

Great Aunt Alice offering up some of her first Secrets.and charm you rarely see anymore in children’s books.

My awesome publisher is Tru Publishing in Boise ( They’re a fairly new publisher and wonderful to work with–inexpensive, speedy, accurate and ethical. They publish all kinds of work (not just kids’ books, in other words.) I hope to work with them for a long, long time.

I’d love your feedback on the book–please email me and let me know what you think, what was useful!

happy holidays! Nancy

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