Thoughts on TEDx Yerevan 2013
Now that I have had time to decompress from all the anticipation and inspiration related to TEDx Yerevan 2013, I want to attempt to assess it all, and express my gratitude.
First of all, I want to convey how much of an honor it was to participate at TEDx Yerevan. Last year as I had written I was blown away by all the speakers and the ideas they shared -- it was as if the level of creativity within me increased a notch each time a talk completed. I felt differently this year I suppose since I was the one who wished to inspire, that was my hope at least. I could not predict how the talk would be received, but it turned out to be far greater than I had imagined. Having said that, I did not expect the enthusiastic response from the audience and the standing ovation, which was very moving. I think I was too shocked to become emotional; ordinarily I would have burst into tears.
A few months ago I met someone who would take great interest in my personal story of survival, so much so that she decided it should be a TED talk. Kristine Sargsyan is one of the most insightful, not to mention wonderful people I have ever met. She has a clear vision of what she expects from each speaker, and she molds them to give their best, casting out their complexes to ensure their message is delivered effectively and lucidly. Together we revised my talk about four times, and she gave me the direction about how to present myself that I needed badly. For instance she decided that it would be best for me to present my talk while seated, and to take a deep breath for a few seconds with my eyes closed, as if to prepare the audience. It was my first time addressing an audience of over 300 people. Kristine started out as a translator for TED, translating from English to Armenian, at first for her son so he would understand the message a speaker had conveyed in a talk that was broadcast on TED.com. In 2010 she founded and became the licensee of TEDx Yerevan, and she also teaches children how to think at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies. I am deeply indebted to her for her guidance and friendship. I know I can always rely on her not only for helping me present myself before an crowd but for advice on a lot more than public speaking. She transmits an energy, an aura of harmony that you become addicted to -- I found myself running to every appointment we made to discuss the talk. I must confess I have been very fortunate in the last six months to meet and work with so many inspiring, knowledgeable and genuine people like Kristine. And another very special person in my life, Gohar Khachatryan, was instrumental in making my meeting with Kristine, not to mention my talk, happen at all.
Back to the event. My fellow speakers also had a huge impact on me in terms of the scope of their outreach and the extent of impact on others’ lives. One person who particularly impressed me was Lilit Asatryan, the founder of her own NGO called Let’s Help the Armenian Children, which helps kids receive the medical care they need through fundraising initiatives and they also give them the moral support they yearn for. In her 23 years she’s experienced quite a lot, both the hopes and frustrations related to ensuring the well-being of an unfortunate segment of Armenia’s youth. You only have to interact with her for a few minutes to understand her passion for her life and work. She is also gorgeous, by the way.
|TEDxYerevan 2013, Speakers and Team Members|
The other speakers were political scientist and fervent activist Irina Ghaplanyan, who talked about how to run a sustainable business in Armenia, the land of paradox and nonsensical bureaucracy, and who incidentally is one of the most elegant women I have ever met; Adam Pervez, the globetrotting happiness guru, an inspiration to me and hundreds of others out there; amiable composer and science enthusiast Edward Manukyan, whose magnificent work for violin and clarinet was sampled by the audience; U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern, the archeology lover who is arguably (I say certainly) the most proactive, compassionate ambassador Armenia has ever had the pleasure of receiving; entrepreneur Nigel Sharp, who despite facing the walls of defeatism managed to break through and develop with his core team a mind-blowing interactive collaboration platform we all will be using before too long; writer, artist and anthropologist Dana Waltrath who uses her remarkable art of storytelling to promote awareness of well-being and individuality; Nazareth Seferian, the expert in Corporate Social Responsibility, an extraordinary thinker who conveys his message in one of the most soothing voices I have ever heard (he needs to start his own podcast); management consultant and staunch advocate for social and economic proactivity Sergey Tantushyan, whose need for privacy regarding the way he raises his children I can definitely relate to; solar technologies genius scientist Suren Gevorgyan, whose company is about to change the world very soon; photographer Vahan Stepanyan, passionate for preserving Yerevan’s rich, yet decaying history through imagery; and fellow writer/photographer Anahid Yahjian, with whom I can identify for her perseverance and dedication to her word.
Of course I can’t forget the lovely, vivacious Madlene Minassian, one of the first repats from the U.S. back that I met in 2002, and thanks to TEDx I am happy to be back in touch with her after so many years. She and her husband Arthur Ispirian are a wonderful, warm couple. Arthur incidentally performed some Armenian popular classics after my talk, and his voice is instantly recognizable if you’ve heard it only once. He’s the only true Armenian soul singer whose velvety voice and heartfelt approach to song is reminiscent of the vitality of Otis Redding and his idol, Stevie Wonder.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing that I took away from TEDx is the need to be a better, more tolerant person. My 2013 new year’s resolution was to stray from all potential conflicts by removing myself from negative environments and life-disturbing situations, whether work related or otherwise. As Sergey pointed out in his talk, the video of which will be online soon, it is extremely easy to fall into the trap of having to let strangers know that they need to mind their own business and not infringe on personal space, and I think I’ve done a good job thankfully of letting it go during the last 8 months. But it's still not enough. I have to learn to not take things personally and be truer to my word, and I’m think I’m getting there.
I’ve understood finally that I must not absorb the negativity and fatalism Armenian society as a whole tends to project, that I can simply walk away from it and surround myself with my fellow TEDx speakers and others like them I am blessed to have had in my life, like my wife and her extended family and my close friends I’ve known for many years. Most of all, it is my son who has helped me cleanse myself of the poison of pessimism in the social environment, to build an immunity to it. And I feel that I’m getting there.
Again I want to thank my fellow speakers for inspiring me to live a happier, fuller life -- happier than I already am. I’ve learned so much from all of you in such a short time, and I feel a connection with each of you that I had not at all anticipated, as if we attended a long-awaited, cherished family reunion. The TEDx experience is an extraordinary one that has become a part of me, that has certainly transformed me; it has promoted a new level of awareness and being that I am still trying to absorb and accept as my own. But I’m getting there.