Here is the story of the day I gave my accidental TEDx talk. Its the longer version. Hope it inspires you.
An accidental TED talk
“It’s the possibility of having dreams come true that makes life so interesting.” – The Alchemist.
It’s Wednesday October 3rd 2018 and I am lying in bed sick with the flu. I’d just gotten back from a trip to Miami and Vienna where I gave the closing keynote at a European print conference. I had been sick in bed since the Monday and in 2 days, I had the biggest talk of my life and all I could think about was resting and recovering in the hope to be fit for Friday.
It was the biggest keynote in the sense that it was the most people I will have ever addressed at any one time where an estimated 1200 people were gathering for a day of learning and inspiration from the biggest Law and Tax firm in the Netherlands. It was a global firm so there were people coming in from all over the world. It was also my first officially paid keynote on my journey and the first keynote representing my agency – Assemblee Speakers. Not to mention a potentially tough audience of lawyers and tax attorneys!
My biggest worry at the time was my voice and my energy. What is a keynote speaker without their voice and their energy on stage? Because I had the flu, my voice was croaky and absolutely not ready to get on stage. I also felt weak and tired. You know that feeling when you are sick in bed with the flu?
So on this Wednesday afternoon around 2pm I get a call. It’s from my agent Maurice. He asks me how I’m going and gently brings me the news that I have an opportunity to do a TEDx talk but I will need to act fast because the TEDx event is tomorrow! I responded in a way as to not make him nervous as we both had an important event on the Friday and I was sick! At this point I knew very little about the theme and time of the TEDx talk but I said yes, maybe. I was interested but just needed to let it sink in for a few minutes. I mean here is an opportunity of a lifetime knocking at my door and I was shocked and a little confused. I decided to make a couple of calls to get some second opinions so that I am making a choice that is based on a sound foundation and information from experts that know about TEDx talks which I knew little about.
I had watched many TED talks on YouTube and through the TED App, which I have installed on my phone and actually secretly had a dream of giving a TED talk of my own one day, but never actually started the process of getting ready for one. How do you give a TED talk? How do you prepare? What is the best format? What should I talk about!?
I said “yes” before even considering the circumstances – I’m sick. I have a big talk the day after, and I need to rest. But the more obvious problem – what am I going to talk about!?
A TED talk is generally something you prepare months ahead of time. And some people work on the idea they will present years ahead of time. It’s your life’s work, your mission, your passion and everything you stand for and have worked towards. It’s also not something to be taken lightly as a TED talk is recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube – a channel with 15 million subscribers in October 2018 and now over 16 million just 2 months later at the writing of this text. A bad TED talk can literally cost you your speaking career. A good one can boost and catalyse your career not just as a speaker, but in any field. It says a lot about who you are as a person and a great addition to any CV and job interview.
The very first thing I actually did was WhatsApp a good friend and already 2 times TEDx speaker with her first one reaching enormous success. I was actually considering asking her if she wanted to do the TED talk considering my circumstances. You know, there are a thousand excuses why you should not do something and doubt is often what gets in the way of us and our dreams. This was my moment, would I take it? Or just let it slip? Eminem’s lose yourself is one of my favorite songs and number 1 in my playlist. I listen to it almost every day, often multiple time. The lyrics start as follows:
If you had
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?”
But she did not answer to my WhatsApp message in time and replied later in the afternoon as she was busy. Lucky me.
It’s funny how life works sometimes. I did not know it at the time, but my friend had a wardrobe malfunction with her second TEDx talk that ruined the video just the week before. She was seriously considering doing her second TEDx talk again and would have jumped at the opportunity to do it again. She was ready and could step on stage and deliver her talk prepared and get the video she needed. It was a talk and video she was planning on using to promote her first book about the same topic, so it had to be perfect. Her first attempt was not perfect as her bra strap kept dropping down her left shoulder and reflected the light which made it obvious and distracting to people watching. Especially on video! She did not want this wardrobe malfunction to pull people’s attention away from the story. So she was considering doing her TEDx talk all over again and cancelling the video on the one she just did. This opportunity would have been a dream come true for her. But it was not to be. In some weird and twisted way, this opportunity was destined for me.
The next person I called was a friend, who I had met with the week before at the “Speak in Europe” event. She was a TEDify coach and helps people TEDify their story for a TED stage. What a coincidence I should meet my very first TEDify coach days before giving my first TEDx talk. When you really want something in life, the universe conspires in getting you that thing. It’s not something we can understand, but must recognise the omens and signs all around us when they present themselves. For me, the timing was scary and beautiful at the same time. It was a twist of fait.
Most People would say no to doing a TEDx talk the next day. How about you? Would you take the opportunity or decline it?
Ray Crock, the founder of McDonald’s is known for this quote he made about the 3 keys to success in life:
The 3 keys to success are:
- Being in the right place at the right time.
- Knowing you are there.
- Taking action.
I spoke to my friend and TEDify coach and she immediately said to decline and not to do it. She has years of experience with this process and gave me a very convincing argument as to why I should not do it. She was right in so many ways. And the circumstances were so overwhelmingly against me there was only one way forward: Don’t do it.
Doubt was in the air. In my head. It was everywhere. It made so much sense not to do this. I simply was not ready. Not to mention the biggest talk in my life the following day I had to rest up for because, oh, by the way, I was sick in bed without a voice! Dah…how many reasons do I need not to do something? And to top it all of an expert TEDify coach with years of experience tells me not to do it!
But I was not done yet. I then proceeded to give her a brief version and overview of the TED talk in a 3 minute format. It was basically a shorter version of talks I had given in the past. About the role technology plays in our lives and the choices we make when adopting these technologies.
After pitching this in 3 minutes to her over the phone, there was silence on the other end. Then the words came back from Nienke: You are ready! Do it. Go for it chris.
Wow! So I proceeded to call the organizer of the TEDx University of Amsterdam to tell them I was interested. This was about 45 minutes after Maurice had called me and I had to be fast as they were likely asking other people also. Waiting too long would have certainly lost me the opportunity. Speed is everything in this age of accelerating technologies. Those who move the fastest by deciding the fastest are often those who win in this technologically accelerated world where communication now moves at the speed of light through technology.
Within minutes with the event manager it was agreed I would do it. I also got my doctorate at the University of Amsterdam so that was a perfect stage for me to give my first TEDx talk. When the host introduced me to the 150+ audience the next day they mentioned my PhD at the UvA which gave me credibility and logos which helps a lot in having people pay attention.
Later in the call the event manager went on to explain the theme of the event. This year’s theme was “Crossing Borders”. So my talk had to do with something around the theme of crossing borders. This complicated things a little and made me nervous. That evening I did not have a story and went to bed without a story. I had a big problem!
So I did what I always do. Set my alarm early for 5am and got some rest. I know I am a morning person having rowed for 20 years and getting up between 3-5am most morning of my teenage years. Rowers are known for getting up early in the day, often when it’s dark to go down to the river and row. Before the wind and heat start up. The water is calm and other boats won’t get in your way.
At 5am I was up. By 7am I had my story ready. I made a photo of my speechmap and uploaded it to social media around 7am that day with a message. It was one on my best performing posts. I came up with a story about technology. Technology has no borders! It disrespects boards to the level of making them irrelevant sometimes and even dematerializing them. It only respects them to the level of the regulation we impose upon it or the rules we code into it. A story about technology was a perfect topic for this event!
I gave my talk and I nailed it! Some of the feedback I got from people after the event was that it was the best prepared and delivered talk and they appreciated a very complex, relevant and timely topic made easy to understand. My message was crystal clear and an idea worth spreading. The title of the talk was “The choice is yours” and those were actually my last words in the talk which is apparently a TED tradition to finish your talk with your title and the idea worth spreading. The talk when viral on YouTube and accumulated over 5000 views in the first few days before surrendering to the ruthless algorithms.
Not many can say they prepared and gave their first ted talk on the same day. This is now a story that I can tell for the rest of my life and can take to the stage. And that’s exactly what I did.
The next day, I opening my keynote at Loyens & Loeff with my experience that week and my TED talk the day before. It was my F15 and we will cover this later in this book.
The point of my F15 was the Ray Crock quote I gave you earlier. Opportunity is everywhere, but it means nothing unless you take action. It’s a choice. This is what the ted talk is about. The choice is yours.
Opportunities don’t just happen. You create them. Through the choices you make and the actions you back them up with. Isn’t that beautiful? And that is exactly what the event producers wanted at this event. To inspire and motivate people to make choices and take action on the things that will make them better, healthier, happier and more fulfilled in their personal and professional lives.
My Point: opportunity is everywhere. It means nothing unless you take action. The choice is yours. Are you aware of the choices you make?
You can watch my TEDx talk here. Note my voice at the start. I had to push through it.