A lesson in perseverance…

I was pretty excited about my TEDx presentation in Curaçao (2011). Even as a seasoned speaker, it is always an honor to be considered for an event like this.

Another perk was that I had been trying for years to get an English demo video, but somehow it never worked out. The time I flew to Berlin for an English event in exchange for a video: the filming was so bad that it could not be used. Another time I wasn’t allowed to film and so on. Now, you must understand that for somebody called ‘the No Excuses lady’ it is pretty weird to have to come up with an excuse why you DON’T have an English demo yet. But this time, during TEDx, it was going to work, I was sure. They hired a respected videographer and I would make my speech the best ever, so I was convinced this highlight would be captured in all its glory…

I had told my ‘no excuses’ story so many times already that lately I was worried whether it was getting a bit old, maybe it was getting too easy for me. So for this special occasion I wanted to try something new. A friend showed me how Prezi.com worked and I was immediately enthusiastic. Not a new sort of Powerpoint, but a completely different and creative way to make a mind-map and zoom in or out to show details, focus and relations. For days I worked on a ‘canvas’ to tell my story.

I included my Coins for Care experiences (raising $25 million for charity without any experience or a budget), and also wanted to inspire the audience to follow their dreams. I wanted to show my successes, but also my fears and insecurities. Most of all I wanted to convince that if you really want something you should never give up. So I combined elements of my personal story with lessons learned and exercises to embed some important issues.

I had 10 minutes to get all of this across… I know my theme works best at the beginning of an event or at the end, so I had requested to be one of the first or one of the last speakers. To my surprise I was put in the middle of the second (=middle) session. The speakers of the first session were all very nervous. You could see them struggling with their English and their rehearsed presentations. But their stories and personalities were so special, that the audience embraced them and gave them a warm applause, attention, tension breaking smiles and encouragement. You could see the speakers growing on stage and deliver their best speech ever.

I was really happy for them, but was also getting more and more second thoughts about my own speech. Wouldn’t my presentation be too ‘groomed’ and too smooth after these heartwarmingly nervous speakers? Also I was still concerned about the 10-minute time limit. I am used to 60-90 minutes slots. I wanted to concentrate on getting my message across and not on the time limit. I already talk pretty fast and was afraid I would rush through my presentation. But by the time my turn came, the event was already so much out of schedule, that I decided to just take my moment and not worry about a time limit, just like the previous speakers.

The minute I walked onto the stage I felt a connection with the audience. I had done this many times before and I felt good. Fortunately the Prezi worked and I started my presentation. I was completely into my story, trying to get my message of ‘perseverance’ across with my presentation, but also with my enthusiasm. In the beginning the audience was very interested, but after a few minutes I could detect they were getting restless. It turned out a huge firecracker ‘concert’ had started just outside of the conference room. Weird that I had not noticed the loud sounds before, I had been so focused on my presentation.

I decided to continue, but the firecrackers were getting louder and louder. I had to do something, to integrate what was happening into my speech, instead of being disturbed by it. In my introduction I had talked about my psychic neighbor who, when I was 16 years old, told me that the world would be coming to an end. Even though I did not believe her, she gave me the valuable advice not to postpone anything important. “Whatever you want to do, do it NOW’. At one point it felt like the conference room was under fire, like it was going to collapse. I looked at the ceiling and said out loud: “ I am sorry, psychic neighbor, that I did not believe you… I am sure you were right…’ The audience laughed their tension away.

The firecrackers seemed to be coming to an end, so for the second time I continued my presentation. But in stead the noise outside got louder and louder, until it came to a mind-blowing climax. Inside we could do nothing but smile and applaud. When silence fell again, I finished my presentation and was happy that I had managed to hold the attention of the audience for the most part. ‘This lady could talk us through a war’ the presenters of the event joked before the announced the next speaker, who could fortunately share his story in silence.

When I walked back to my seat I suddenly thought about the video of my speech: with all this noise I would not be able to use it as a demo video. Unbelievable that exactly during my presentation there would be this unexpected disturbance! At first I thought that I had completely wasted my time. But then people started coming up to me, congratulating me. ‘What for?’ I was wondering. ‘For continuing under difficult circumstances’, they told me. It was weird. Everybody had been so bothered by the noise. I had hardly noticed it, until the audience started stirring and getting distracted! ‘Now I understand’ one lady shared, ‘you showed me that the more success you have, the more difficult the challenges will be, but you should never give up!’

Looking back, I think it was fitting that the firecracker concert happened during my speech. Many of the other speakers said that they would have given up, would have been so distracted that they would have stopped their presentation. So I am glad it did not happen during their slot.

Also it turned out that my words about perseverance got more strength BECAUSE of what happened, and not lost significance, as you would think during an unexpected disturbance of a presentation. Now people will remember my message even better. For me, this was a big lesson in what I usually preach: things happen for a reason.

And the good news is: the video people were able to edit my speech so that the sound almost excluded the firecrackers. Watch the video of my speech below. For those not knowing what REALLY happened, it will be weird to see the distracted faces of the audience in the second half of my speech…

Thank you, psychic neighbor, thank you universe, thank you TEDxCuracao and the audience, for this humbling experience!