A few weeks ago, while I was still in Ethiopia, I received an email:
Hello Karen! I hope you're doing well ... You've been on our shortlist for a long time and we'd like to know if you're still available on November 3rd? In the tradition of TED we want to offer a few surprise, spontaneous talks throughout the day. In our own spontaneous tradition, we tend to approach these guests within the month leading up to the event. The format for our surprise guests is a fun, informal experience... we like it to feel as if the audience is actually participating in the spontaneity of the moment, highlighting more inspiring people from the community as a surprise... You would know when you are speaking on the schedule, but no one else would know until the emcee calls you to the stage. We realize your schedule is busy, but if you're still available and interested in participating, please let us know - we'd absolutely love love love to have you share the day with us. ~ TEDxHouston Curators
I've made no secret of my love for TED, the conferences that feature amazingly inspired talks by some of the greatest minds in technology, entertainment and design. TED has allowed various cities to license the use of their logo and format to hosts conferences of their own, and a couple of years ago, I attended the very first TEDxHouston, which remains one of my favourite conferences I'd ever attended. And now, here I was, invited to speak.
I'm going to admit to you right now that my immediate inclination in reaction to this note was to (1) panic and (2) politely decline their kind invitation, on the grounds that ... well, I have no idea what grounds I would have used, thankfully, because common sense prevailed. The truth is that it has been a secret pipe dream of mine to speak at a TED conference, and there was no way on God's green Earth I could possibly turn down this opportunity. Before I could talk myself out of it, I hit "Reply" and gave them my enthusiastic acceptance.
The next few weeks I ignored pretty much everything and everyone while getting ready for this talk. The theme of the TEDxHouston this year was RESONATE, so the first few days I wrote what I hoped would be a coherent talk that reflected the theme properly. I rehearsed over and over again, harassed my poor friend Asha for her advice (she was the only friend I told while I was in Ethiopia), and generally worked myself into a tizzy. Finally, Saturday arrived, and I walked on stage. And I have to say I had a complete blast -- I was really sorry when it was time for me to exit stage left!
My talk was based on something I'd never talked about before -- sort of the flip side of The Beauty of Different. I won't give it away, but the talk was recorded, and will be available online. I promise to share it as soon as it is.
I wasn't permitted to take photographs of the conference as it happened, but happily, the program that was given to every attendee had sketches of each of the presenters (how cool is that?). So, using photos of these, I'll share with you the links of the fascinating people who gave my favourite sessions of the day:
Space City Gamelan. This Indonesian orchestra was the perfect way to start the day -- I'd never heard of "gamelan" before, but it is a group of beautiful percussive instruments which include a gong, several bell-like and xylophone-like instruments, all struck with hammers. Apparently, the gong is forged first, and then the other instruments are created so that they are tuned to the gong; in this way, a family of instruments is created, intended to always be played together.
The music was really stunning, and really set the tone (see what I did there?) for the day. Gorgeous.
Reverend Patrick Miller. I've actually known Patrick for years: when we were waiting for Alex to be born, I started looking for churches for her baptism. I met Patrick, and immediately knew I'd found the right man for the job. He is funny, and irreverent, and devout, which you have to admit, is a pretty awesome combination. He and his family have become good friends of ours.
These days, Patrick is the rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and he's also a boxer (you might know him if you've read The Beauty of Different -- he's featured!), and he delivered this awesome and animated talk about how religion seems to be used in the wrong way, lately: that instead of using it to separate ourselves from others (Buddhists separate from Christians separate from Muslims separate from Jews, etc.), it should be used to bring people together, to connect. Some radical thinking there, but I'm sure glad someone said it. He did a great job.
Stephen Klineberg. I've never met Mr. Klineberg in person, but he spoke at the first TEDxHouston about 2 years ago, and was the other "surprise guest" at this one, and can I just say that I have a straight-up crush on this guy? He's a sociologist at Rice University, and he studies the changing demographics of Houston -- how it is rapidly becoming (if it's not already) the most cosmopolitan and racially diverse city in the United States.
If the demographics of Houston (or just demographics in general) interest you at all, I'd encourage you to watch his earlier TEDxHouston talk -- and see if you don't fall in love with him yourself.
Nilofer Merchant. Ah, Nilofer. Nilofer has been an online friend of mine for a considerable amount of time, and though we've Tweeted at each other and Skyped with each other several times in the past, this was the first time we actually got to meet in person. And she's even more charming in person. It was lovely.
Nilofer also happens to be a brilliant business mind, an author and a frequent TED speaker, so if you're looking for how to transform your business, I guarantee you that you want to follow her awesome blog. She's a treasure, seriously.
Chitra Divakaruni. I'd never heard of Ms. Divakaruni before this weekend, but now I can't get enough of her: this soft-spoken, graceful woman is such a gifted storyteller, that I can't wait to devour all of her books. She spoke of the resonance of storytelling, and challenged us to come up with an answer to the question "What is your story?" Her novel, One Amazing Thing, explores just this question, and I've already ordered myself a copy. If this book is anything like listening to her speak, I suspect it's going to be riveting.
Jane Weiner. You know that phrase "force of nature"? It was invented for this woman: this dancer delivered a powerful performance piece about why art is like salt -- we think about it as common and ordinary, but it's imperative to life. Her goal is to create an army of artists that infiltrate communities so that art and artists become woven into their fabric. She received a standing ovation, and it was no surprise -- she's a powerhouse.
The experience of speaking at TEDxHouston was truly everything I'd hoped it would be, and even though I didn't dare include it on my Life List before, it's something that I'll retroactively add. Because it's definitely something I'm incredibly proud of having participated in.
Thanks to all of you who were there on Saturday, especially those of you who made a point of coming up to me with your kind words of encouragement -- they meant so much. I'd love to know -- did I miss any of you there? What did you think of the day?
Song: Para (J Boogie Remix) by DJ Sun. DJ Sun (aka André) is an old friend from way, way back -- and I was thrilled to discover he was spinning the TEDxHouston after party. His vibe is straight up acid jazz/triphop, and he has a brand new album coming out in the beginning of the year. I strongly recommend all of his work -- I've been a collector for many, many years.