On February 27, the world stopped turning for eighteen minutes. At least, to me it did. After months of preparation, it was TEDxDelft day. With a talk from the heart. A talk that many people who know me will not associate directly with social media, online strategy and e-learning, which is my day job. This time it talked about my past, and how, by a special twist of fate, many things became possible for me. That was a part of my idea worth spreading (the core theme of all TED and TEDx conferences). For it is in fact possible for anyone to make a big difference in the life of a child. It is not even difficult. I also tell how. 1, 2, 3, GO. I think that's an idea worth spreading. And that is why I was there. Completely.
So, I was orphaned when I was fourteen. And that's what my speech was about.
Or rather, I mainly talked about what happened afterwards. How I found my way in life. It was a long way. It's a challenge to capture the core of this in just eighteen minutes. And I wanted to bring the story to life in a way that the audience could take away some practical tips on how to deal with orphaned children. I have taken this challenge very seriously and I entered the process with heart and soul. That meant that I had to skip about 99,9% of my life events. But that's okay. Trying to be complete in a TEDx talk is a hopeless mission. So I killed countless darlings. I skipped examples and stories that were just a little off-topic or too time consuming. Choices, choices, choices. Edit, edit, edit. Less is more. My speakers coaches have kept me focused. "Keep your idea worth spreading leading. The take-away should remain clear. " They were right. And I think I have succeeded.
The best thing you can do is make a choice, make a point and crunchify the clear take-away.
And we all have done so. Some of the speakers had a super-technical talk. TEDx instant classics. There was also space for design-related content (after all, Technology, Entertainment & Design). And there were life stories, told in a way that encourages a fresh new behavior in the listener. I was personally very touched by the stories of Mihela Soneji ('Empathy is the key to great innovation') Zarayda Groenhart ('The Why Girl'), Suzanne Ma ('Newcomers in the Old World'), Edward Valstar ('Joined at the Hip'), and oh, so many others. And I'm very proud of my speakers training buddy Patrick Rensen, for kicking off the conference and for being featured in Quest magazine with Mileha. Yay!
Preparing for and performing at TEDxDelft was tough. For me and for virtually every other speaker. Gushing-armpits-tough.
All performers on TEDxDelft were seasoned speakers. Some have given dozens of presentations, some hundreds. Like me. And yet, we collectively agreed: TEDx is someting entirely different. We were all nervous. For me, it was the first time EVER that I had stage fright. It was the scariest experience EVER. But I am very grateful, happy and proud that I did it. When I look back on it, therewasn't any other way I could have done this. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't change much. I think that's true of most co-speakers. Of course we still have to watch the videos. Maybe I'll discover that I was standing like a bag of potatoes, or that I suddenly mixed three accents. Denglish, Irish, English, American ... but hey. I think people got what I shared. And there's no point in hiding that I'm Dutch. Because I am. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Not everyone was happy in the room (at least, I've heard of two people complaining on the Twitter timeline). It happens.
Sometimes people expect (or hope) to see fifteen speakers who all perceive Steve Jobs and Al Gore as being their little moronic brothers, and who drink their daily tea with Stephen Hawking. We weren't such a crowd. But I do know that most of the speakers presented a clear "idea worth spreading '(the credo of the TED and TEDx conferences). As for the person (s) who were less satisfied, I have two things to say about this.
1.) I am (and the other speakers are) always open to feedback that improves our performances and insights.
2.) If criticism is unsubstantiated or simply vicious, frustrated (or even jealous), I ignore it. In this context, I choose to listen to the wise counsel of Roosevelt, who was so beautiful quoted by Brené Brown (also once started on TEDx):
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
In addition: it requires huge amounts of vulnerability to STAND there. To share your story with the world. In order to peak at the right time. We were all there. In the arena.
Could any of us have sharpened their take-away even more? Perhaps. Does that make this TEDxDelft conference any less informative? I don't think so. But perhaps for some, it does. Still, I think it's a fair indication that over 95% of the audience stayed until the very last moment, listening attentively. I think none of the speakers sHould have any feeling of shame whatsoever.
And if anyone still is not satisfied, I suggest he or she can binge-watch TED talks on YouTube all day long. I don't mind. I can't make everyone happy. And I don't have to. And that's okay. And as I said before: I wasn't there to make peple happy. I was there to share an idea that's ready for the world. That's necessary for people in our society to hear.
I also found the reactions afterwards wonderful and moving. Here are a few:
"I never thought about it this way. I thought everything in the Netherlands was so well organized."
"I thought there were no orphans in the Netherlands and in other Western countries."
"I was always feeling ashamed, for years and years. Because I have a similar story. But I dared not share it, because I was afraid of being compared to an orphan in Africa. I find it very hard, listening to your story. But somehow I have a hunch that it also will be liberating for me."
"I want to DO something, though I know of no orphans in my immediate peers. Can I develop something for you? An app or something?"
"I work in a hospital. I'm the one who reports to relatives that their family member is deceased. I never see what happens next. Now I do. I am shocked. But I also know now what I can do. That helps. A bit."
"That helping van be so easy...I was afraid that we would all have to take someone in. But we don't have to. I can also help in a way that suits me. Wow."
"I work at a school. I always found it quite scary to communicate with grieving children. But now I'm somehow more confident that I can do it better in the future. It seems that getting rid of the taboo also takes away my fear. I did not know that."
Well folks, that's why I did this.
Of course I could've talked about the sexy algorithms in my adaptive e-learning platform and about social engagement in online training situations in my TEDx talk. That would also have been an idea worth spreading. Many people in educational situations and business could benefit from that. I would probably have made the tech fanatics happier.
But I was not there to make people happy. I was there because I want to make a difference and to encourage people to take action.
I also feel I have found a few new friends. Because this level of stress and long term preparation binds people. And sharing the experience also binds. We helped each other. Waited for each other backstage after the talks. Cheered for each other in front of the livestream screen. Encouraged each other.
I am grateful and feel proud, calm and free.
We have to wait a while until the videos of all TEDxDelft talks are on YouTube. The technical team works is still working on postproduction. Recordings must be edited, subtitles must be added (our talks were in English). The engineers told me that the videos will be online within four to six weeks. We're waiting patiently. And in the meantime I'm happy with the conversation taking place on Facebook.