Speaking at TED in Vancouver, Canada (April 2017). Photo by Ryan Lash / TED.

It’s been almost 20 days since I had stood on the TED stage and gave one of my best talks so far (I kid you not!). Now that I have given my talk, I had spent the last 20 days thinking about my experience as a TED Fellow in the programme, and how meeting other Fellows has helped me figure out some things in my life.

The 5-minute talk

I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I’ve managed to squeeze in a lot of information into a 5-minute talk! The process wasn’t easy and the script’s tone progressed from an ‘overly-serious scientist’ to an ‘im-passionate scientist’, and finally a ‘passionate and genuine individual’. Don’t get me wrong – all of them are good for various presentation scenarios, but I struggled with the tone of the talk for a while as I was coped with a personal loss. There was a low-period when I thought I couldn’t do this talk, and plenty of self-blame.

Despite my heavy heart, the TED Fellows team was with me all the way, and they never gave up on me. What I found most amazing about TED Fellows team? It’s the fact that they knew me better than myself! Through our multiple conversations, they continuously encouraged me, pushed me, and motivated me to do the talk better than the previous drafts. They believed in me, and made me believe in myself!

TED Fellows 2017! Photo by Ryan Lash / TED.

Here, I like to thank the TED Fellows team: Tom, Shoham, Sam, Patrick, Lily, Diana, Jennifer, Karen, BWK PR: Ben, Jonathon, and the Bezos Scholars: Rosemary, Griffin, Julie! For being accessible to the Fellows at all times, for being so helpful and positive, for embarking with us on this amazing journey, and for being with us at every step throughout the conference. Not forgetting my fellow Fellows: Karim, Reid, Diego, Stanford, Rebecca, Mathilda, Kayla, Wanuri, Lauren, Liz, Anjan, Damon, Chris, Armando! YOU GUYS ARE SO AMAZING and I’m so glad and honoured to be part of this awesome lineup! 😀 

Legends tell of a man whose legs were lost to a giant clam! (By Kenneth CHIN)
Giant clams are important ecosystem engineers! (By Isabella TONG)

The final product: I really LOVE every bit about my talk. Every sentence in the talk conveyed an idea. Every visual used had a reference. The talk was ‘very me‘, if I were to put it easily. It was not just a typical science talk, it was also a talk that spoke to people of any background.

At this junction, I like to acknowledge all my friends (Ambert, Isabella, Kenneth, Victor, Heok Hui, and Ria) for sharing their illustrations and photographs for the visuals – they look FANTASTIC on stage! Not forgetting everyone who has taken part in my rehearsals, as well as Alex Wong – who has listened to it so many times that he too can recite my talk! 😉 Thank you all for being such a supportive bunch of my crazy talk and ideas about giant clams.

TED stage

There was a certain magical feeling about the TED stage that makes your dreams come true. 🙂 When I found out that I was going to be the FIRST speaker to kick-off the TED conference, I was nervous at first but it quickly fizzled into a feeling of excitement. There was a lot of positive energy surrounding us (the TED Fellows) and everyone present (the Donors, Supporters, Senior Fellows, etc) was so lovely and encouraging, which makes it so hard to feel any form of pressure. It was most definitely nerve-wrecking, but I was bubbling with immense excitement to stand up there and talk about giant clams.

My verdict of my own talk: I think it went very well! I stumbled towards the end, but it didn’t scare me as much as I had imagined it to be. More importantly, I delivered a talk that the audience enjoyed, and they learnt something new about my favourite animal. 🙂 I wished that I could talk about giant clams in more detail – but that’s a story for another time.

TED Fellows stage. Photo by Ryan Lash / TED.

Post-TED thoughts

TED was life-changing. Not in a drastic way, but it has most definitely changed how I see myself moving ahead with my life. I had learnt many good things and practices from the various TED speakers (and Senior Fellows!) at the conference, particularly in the area of self-care. In so many instances during the conference, I found the stories and ideas shared are so relatable and personal.

I found myself questioning how I have been going through each day without realising the consequences of my daily actions to my well-being. I found myself looking up to them for advice and ideas from their own personal stories. I found myself looking at ‘myself‘ through various people.

It may sound weird, but for me, it’s not really the conference that changed me. It is the people whom I met that changed me, and it makes me want to take better care of myself to move farther along in life. More importantly, I realised that I need help to re-align my goals in life.

Speaker opportunities after TED

My perspective of giving a presentation now has changed a whole lot, and now I’m experimenting different ways of presenting! My very first opportunity came up while I’m still in Vancouver now! A big thank you to my colleague, Colette Wabnitz, for making the arrangement to speak to her colleagues at UBC Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries. I had a great time giving the talk today, and meeting up with Faculty members with potential projects! I look forward to connecting with them, and further the conservation actions of giant clams. 🙂

A big thank you also to Katherine Came, the UBC-IOF communications manager for uploading my talk so quickly on YouTube! If any of you are interested, you can watch the video below. 🙂 Signing out for now…