We have a collective community memory of where we were when we hear terrible news—the shooting of JFK (John F. Kennedy), the Challenger going down, the 9/11 World Trade Centre collapse, London tube bombing, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
I always wondered why we do not have equally impactful memories of positive moments that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. And I found them in TED moments.
At TED, speakers take it upon themselves to deliver the speech of their lifetime. Among all the brilliant talks, a few moments rise to the top. So, what is that extra ingredient that makes a few moments stand up? Here is how I learnt about the difference between good moments and great moments from my acting teacher Jack Featheringill, who everyone loved and feared in equal proportions.
When Jack gave an assignment to my partner Richard and me, we were determined to impress him.
It was a scene between a couple who were meeting many years after breaking up. During a heated argument, she would reveal to him that she had lost their child during the separation. We wanted to ensure that the audience knew how angry and sad our characters felt. We performed a very emotional scene, we yelled, screamed, cried and by the time we were done, tears were streaming down the faces of our audience.
Only Jack remained impassive. He walked up to us and asked Richard to sit on a chair. And asked me to stand across from him and tell Richard what I have been through all these years without raising my voice. “Keep the intention, your frustration, your anger,” Featheringill told us then. “Forget about the audience. You just focus on getting to your partner.”
We forgot about our blocking, about the tears on tap and, when we got done with the scene, we were utterly exhausted. Neither of us cried and there was a chilled silence in the class. That’s when Jack said something to me that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
“Good performances make you cry. Then, you walk out of the theatre and ultimately forget the story,” he said. “But, great performances make you leave the theatre with a lump in your throat and you never forget those characters.”
And TED moments are those where the speaker leaves the audience with a lump in their throat and lets them into his or her own passion a little more deeply. When I saw Stephen Hawking talking to us via satellite, it was not the content of his talk but it was the following comment that left me with a lump in my throat.
He said: “I have been very lucky in that my disability has not been a handicap. Indeed, it has probably given me more time than most people to pursue the quest for knowledge. The ultimate goal is the complete theory of the universe and we are making good progress.”
It is in this casual statement that I see the greatness in him. When Sherwin Nuland talked about his electric shock treatment, when Ben Zander talked about one-butt music playing experience, when Amy Mullins took her prosthetic legs off on stage, when Tracy Chapman sang fast cars, when Herbie Hancock jammed on stage—they provided those electric moments that I would never forget.
Just as Jack taught me all those years ago, these TED moments happen when the speakers have put their heart into the talk because of their passion and not to impress the audience.
And by not trying to impress, they astound, amaze and touch me deeply.
TED is a small non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading. TEDIndia 2009 will be the first-ever conference of TED in Asia. In these chronicles, Lakshmi Pratury, co-host of TEDIndia, talks about her personal experiences with TED and provide a curtain-raiser for TEDIndia.
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