I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxYereavn on September 14, 2013. It was an incredible experience for so many reasons. It was the biggest platform I’ve had to date to share my story and try and inspire people to pursue happiness and “take the plunge” in their own way. I shared four tips to jumpstart one’s pursuit of happiness, and shared some stories from those who have inspired me in my life and on The Happy Nomad Tour. Below is the video:
How Did It All Happen?
When I was going through the camera drama in Hungary I looked on the TED website for any events coming up in countries I knew I’d visit. I didn’t find many that had dates that fit well.
I found one in Yerevan, Armenia happening in a few weeks. The date seemed too close, but I decided to write them nevertheless to find out what the theme would be. Their website had no contact option, so I wrote the organizer of the event through the TED website. It was a short, one sentence email asking what the theme was and if they were still looking for speakers.
I later found out their lineup was full and that many speakers had worked on their speeches for several months. The organizer, Kristine, had no information to go off of from my email. I didn’t fill out a TED profile. I just “signed in with Facebook” so I could contact her and did not fill out any profile information. She googled me and found out what I’m doing and extended an invitation.
It was WONDERFUL!
I was so excited, but also a bit overwhelmed. With such a platform, a chance to speak to more people than I ever thought imaginable, what do I say in those 18 minutes to make the biggest impact?
I wrote a thorough outline and sent it to Kristine. She read through it and suggested I move a few things around, remove some parts, shorten others, add more to the stories. I revised it, we talked again by Skype from some random café in Lviv, Ukraine and we pretty much agreed on it. It was a fast process and by the time the outline was agreed on I had less than 3 weeks to make a PowerPoint presentation and practice the speech. I would also be traveling through Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia in the meantime on the way to Armenia.
I’m a bit scarred for life from using PowerPoint so extensively at my job in Denmark. I had to use it daily and really grew to dislike it (not the program itself, but what it represented for me). The first presentation I made was visually atrocious, but Gohar, the incredible right arm of Kristine, was on the case and showed me a simple modification that would greatly improve how the presentation looked.
I finished the presentation about a week before the event and then I just had about three or four days to really practice. At first, even though I was just telling stories from my own life, it seemed impossible to hit all the points I wanted to in the allotted 18 minutes. But it was an amazing process to just keep practicing and seeing how I’d learn the points and make it all come together.
I had problems with going over time so I had to cut a lot that would have rounded out the presentation a lot better and tie together more points, but I did my best to leave in the core of what I was trying to communicate.
Two days before the presentation I got to Armenia and did a practice talk in front of Kristine and a class she was teaching. It went too long, I was talking too fast, and had no emotion behind what I was saying.
It was true. I was so focused on getting the right words out of my mouth and in less than 18 minutes that I wasn’t focused on getting them out with any impact or passion behind them. I’ve been a monotone speaker my whole life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more expressive, but I still have my limits. Still, for the speech I knew I needed to let off the chains as best I could and unleash the passion, gratitude, and love I was trying to convey.
During the practice rehearsal the clicker didn’t work well at all. There was a computer monitor set up at the back of the room so speakers could see the slides without having to turn around. Sadly, on the day of the speech this simple piece of technology proved to be a stumbling block for me as well as the other presenters. It was either slow to respond, or clicks would go unrecorded completely. During my speech I tried to advance the slides a bit earlier than natural so I could adjust for the delay as well as hit the button again without making a pause in case the slide didn’t advance.
Speaking of distractions, there were big TV screens in the auditorium so that if anyone’s view was obstructed they could see the speaker and stage on the TV while hearing the audio live. For whatever reason, the guy controlling the camera decided to go through all the settings while I was speaking, which was very distracting. And at one point all the TVs went blank, so I thought my presentation did as well. But it didn’t.
Anyway, on the day of the event the show must go on, and I did my best to whether these distractions and my own nervousness to do the best I could. Once I got on stage I didn’t feel very nervous. And when I started the speech my microphone didn’t work, so it had to be switched out. I figured that would certainly be the biggest setback during the talk and nothing else would go wrong 🙂
Before the talk they put some kind of powder on my face so the light wouldn’t reflect off my face unnaturally. I think it’s the first time I’ve had any kind of makeup on my face since a Halloween from my childhood. It was a bit difficult for the volunteers to attach the microphone to my head. My hair kept getting in the way. Just before I was set to go up and speak I realized I was wearing the badge for the event and wanted to take it off. But I couldn’t because the microphone was already attached and the cords were tangled. The best they could do was take it off and stick it in my back pocket and that’s probably where the microphone problem came from. Unfortunately, the audio/visual crew somehow managed to not record the direct feed from our microphones, which is why the audio in the videos is sub-par.
As I stood there on stage, it was like I was in autopilot. With the lights on me, the audience staring at me, I just said what I had said so many other times. I think it went well.
After The Speech
Not long after my speech was lunch and I had lunch with a group of people from the audience. We had nice conversations and the nice conversations continued after at the event – at the trendy bar I went to that night with my host, and from messages sent via social media.
It was overwhelming. People would just come up to me and thank me for sharing my story, shake my hand, and then leave. Others felt compelled to share very personal stories from their lives about helping others achieve happiness or their own pursuit of happiness.
My host said she went to a café full of young people after the event and everyone there was talking about my talk. I guess it resonated the most with young people since they are young, full of dreams, and are in the process of working toward turning those dreams into reality.
The last person in the audience who approached me happened at the very end as almost everyone had left and the speakers had a meeting upstairs with the organizers and sponsors. I was about to head upstairs when a girl about my age approached me. It looked like she had tears in her eyes but I couldn’t tell.
She thanked me for my talk and said it really resonated with her. I thanked her for the feedback and asked what about it resonated with her. She said she had quit her job and started a non-profit to empower women in a local Armenian village. Like me she has no idea where the funding will come for her dreams to become a reality, but like me she didn’t let long-term financial stability get in the way of pursuing her dreams.
The tears I saw accumulating in her eyes were contagious and I felt a few in my eyes as well. We parted with a hug and I guess this is the power of TED events. Their motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The idea that everyone is full of an infinite supply of happiness they can tap into is worth spreading. That pushing one’s comfort zone, gratitude, helping others, and deciding to be happy are shortcuts or tips to get you on the path to pursue happiness, and that happiness is meant to be shared – to me, those are all ideas worth spreading. Thank you Kristine for believing in me and for giving me a chance to share my ideas.