I gave a TED talk!

Last month I gave a Ted Talk at TEDxSSE. It was an amazing experience, and it is likely that I won’t have a similar opportunity anytime soon. As I had mentioned earlier in a blogpost, I was truly inspired by the Ted Talk Peder hosted last year in TEDxSSE 2014. The following post is about a competition that was held to choose the student speaker for the final event and about why the content of the talk is relevant and why I could deliver it only at SSE.

In February or so this year, it was announced that the hunt of 2015’s student speaker had been started. Though I had an idea of what I wanted to speak, the whole story was not formulated. There were pieces but they didn’t fit together. It started with the idea that we were becoming more rational but being more disconnected from emotions, but then it ended being a deeply personal story.

I had never hosted such a speech before. My last public speaking gigs were way back in school, and maybe a couple of debates at my bachelor’s level. Anyway, I felt like the things I wanted to say were important and I decided to compete in the competition. After an interview, I was selected for a preliminary competition with other students. We would have to hold the speech in about 3 weeks in a pre-event and the audience would consist of students and judges (sponsors of the main event). We would be assisted in developing the talk by a student who was organizing TEDxSSE. Adomas was an absolutely terrific influence on the talk. We worked closely and he helped take a rather lackluster script and make it coherent. I also worked at this time with Margot, another master student as SSE. She was very straightforward in her criticism (which was awesome!) and helped me restructure parts of the talk.

I had traveled for 3 days, sleeping airplanes and airports before I arrived at Stockholm on the day of the competition! As you might have guessed, I was tired. I practiced in airports and after arriving. I was the second speaker who went on stage. I did my prep and felt quite good about it. Adomas looked pretty worried about me, but I had things under control. I started speaking and found it a bit nerving. I was sure I’d forget things. I also saw some people in the audience yawn and that scared me even more. I told the story that was the center of the talk. People looked moved and very engaged in the talk. After this moment, I found it harder to keep the attention of the crowd and started forgetting my lines. The speech meandered for a while and then ended. There must have been a red thread missing! I thought I had messed it up pretty bad!

I then left the stage and met my friends in the crowd. They were really supportive and said they didn’t notice anything wrong. They said they felt a deep emotional connection with the talk and enjoyed it thoroughly. It made me realize that the people in that room were probably the most supportive people I had ever met. They had the rare ability to see the good things and to ignore the bad, the ability to understand what the speaker was saying and not focus on the how he was saying it. They made me feel really really good, like they connected to the message in the speech even if I forgot my lines.

Later that night, the judges chose me to be the student speaker for the final TEDxSSE event that would happen in 10 days. I worked on the talk again with Adomas, Margot, Chris and Atahan. This time we modified only a few things and I concentrated on learning the talk, the delivery and things like that.

On the final day, I remember feeling nervous just seconds before I had to deliver the talk. My heart was absolutely pounding. What if I forgot what I had to say, what if I made a fool out of myself? Just a second before I went up on stage, I remembered why I was doing this. I felt a sense of purpose as I strode on to the stage. As soon I got up there, I saw so many familiar faces. That was the moment I knew I had nothing to be nervous about.

Two weeks after the speech, a friend of mine, who was my coworker and my mentor, lost his life in a similar incident to the one I describe in the talk. It was a tragedy. Unfortunately, such events are not uncommon and stories about the Qatar World Cup only exemplify it even more. In a broader perspective, we need to ask ourselves how we would behave if such an incident happened in front of us? Even as consumers, are we affecting people’s lives in a negative way? Photography really does help me see things in a different light, makes me feel more connected and human.

SSE is special in a way. I don’t know of any other school that believes that it’s students have something insightful to say and would actually reserve a spot for a student on the TEDx stage! The student union at SSE (SASSE) has so much power, its crazy. Also, the environment is the school is infectious when it comes to being collaborative and supportive. The world doesnt seem to be a zero-sum game here. People are not just competing with each other but also pushing each other forward towards excellence. There is shared feeling that failures need not be feared. I mean there is no way on earth I would have had the confidence to host this talk in any other place. It was great that people noticed the message in the talk and didn’t judge me for the million mistakes I made. Whenever I watch the talk, all I can see are my mistakes and ways I could have made the talk more impactful. But it is really great being in a place where people believe in you and that each one of us is capable of doing great things and contributing towards changing the world.


Written by Raghuraman

04 Jun 2015