On the morning of May 7th, 2015, already dressed in a stunning dress by Bibhu Mohapatra, I was sipping my tea at the breakfast table, running through the presentation one last time. As a keynote speaker at the Executive Women’s Conference in Stockholm, I was only a few hours away from standing in front of three hundred power women, teaching them mind-skills and conducting mindfulness meditations.
My preparation with this presentation has been meticulous. Not only am I on a mission of teaching mind skills to leaders in the world, I also recognize the importance of having a professional presentation with compelling evidence, strong graphics and an entertaining flow. As a branding expert of many years, my presentation is made to perfection and my speaker’s notes carefully weighed.
I am pumped up, ready to give a top-shelf performance that will save these women from burn-out and unhappiness.
I get up from my chair to call a cab. As I do so, I jerk the teacup I am holding, making a splash of tea catapult on to my laptop. Whoops I thought, good thing it wasn’t that much, as I wiped the liquid off the keyboard with my napkin. I look at the screen that has turned black. Thinking that it has gone in to sleep mode, I brush the touch pad with my fingertips. Nothing. Did it just run out of batteries? I know the answer already, but plug the cord in to keep the panic at bay. I have no backup of the presentation anywhere and am not willing to face the unacceptable consequences should the laptop be dead.
With the cord plugged in, I push the on-button. The familiar tone of an apple computer starting up has never been such sweet music to my ears. I am saved! I can still have the presentation and my panicked feelings that have seeped in to my physical and mental system are slowly subsiding. As soon as the computer is alive again, I focus on the number one priority: to copy my presentation to my Dropbox. I barely have time to think I can’t believe I didn’t do that last night! before the computer goes black again. This time, no matter how many times or ways I push the on-button, it shows no signs of life.
The clock was ticking and I had to call that cab now. I felt as if I was only semi-attached to my body and the current experience. I saw myself leaning towards having severe panic; stepping in to that, I would call in sick and focus on blaming myself for blowing this huge opportunity. I feel how it feels to be in that panic and self-blame. I can’t think straight, and I can’t even find my USB stick where there may be a copy of an early version of the presentation. I was pretty sure I had one, but now I can’t find it and I’m not sure that I ever did. Did I even bring it to Sweden? I can’t find it and, even if I did, another computer would not have the right fonts. This is hopeless.
I conclude that a path of panic is not the right direction for me now. Choose something else, I tell myself. Choose a new thought, one that feels better. I have never had so many of my own mind-training tools and meditative techniques flash through my mind and my being as I decide that the number one thing to do is to accept that this has happened. I focus all my attention on accepting that I will be on that stage for 20 minutes; no presentation, no video, no visual support that will keep flow and speed. Just me. Sharing what meditation and mind-skills have meant for me in my career, my former employees and my current clients. I am trying to go through the presentation in a speak-only format but the order of the slides keeps getting jumbled in my head. I snatch my meditation bells on my way out and put them in my bag with the dead laptop. The elevator is already waiting for me at the top floor and I choose to see it as a good sign.
In the cab ride over, I am focusing on my breathing, trying to actually NOT think about the order of the presentation. Besides, perhaps the laptop just needs to dry up a little and will work just fine in a while. That would make complete sense in my mind. I put my lipstick on and enter the impressive Bonnier building.
I’m feeling a little dizzy, still struggling with my acceptance. If I knew the computer was gone forever, hopelessly dead, then I would have a better shot at accepting and adapting accordingly. I check in, still hopeful that the drying-up-strategy will work as I make my way straight to the technician's room. I have heard anecdotes from other presenters who claim that some of their best keynote experiences have been the times when they have had technical difficulties and have been forced to swing it. I compare these options. No. Having the presentation wins.
The technician is not rude about it, but basically let’s me know in no uncertain terms that I can forget about this laptop. That’s the very moment when my real acceptance falls in to place. This is what life is offering me right now.
The first person that pops up in my mind is my dear friend Eva. She has been wanting to go to this event for a long time. Being that it is both cost-prohibitive and that there is a 100-person wait list, it was just not in the cards for her. I call her up and tell her that my computer died, disaster situation, can she please load my font on to her laptop, see if there is an old version of the presentation in my Dropbox and I’ll have someone messenger it over.
Eva says Sure thing, but why don’t we save the money and I’ll just take my bike there. Just then, Jennie, the conference coordinator, walks by to ask how I’m doing with the computer crash problem. I say that my friend Eva will come over and save the day but that I would want her to get a conference ticket for the whole day as a thank you. We get the big thumbs up from Jennie and Eva joins us in the mid-morning break.
I spend the next program session sitting in the technician's room, rebuilding my presentation, listening to the panel discussion from the stage and feeling such clarity, calm and gratitude. I remember everything I had changed in the presentation from so many iterations ago; all the images, the words, the order, the transitions. As I get to filling out the speaker’s notes I stop myself. I have already made friends with the idea that I will do this without a presentation. Now I have it. I don’t need the notes. I will speak from the heart and feel the room. When it was my time to speak, that’s exactly what I did.
Without notes, my speech became more of a personal connection than an exact performance; it left room for me to express the care that I really feel for other people, rather than trying to “nail it”. Being nervous about delivering punches was overshadowed by my deep sense of service. I could feel so clearly what these women needed and longed for. I wanted to make sure that they walked out of there richer than when they walked in, armed with tools to feel better – and having laughed enough to upgrade their bodily chemistry. In that non-scripted moment, I could connect dots I couldn’t do in scripted notes; tying what the audience had learned from other speakers in to the teachings that I am so passionate about sharing. As we all meditated together, I had this awe-inspiring feeling of seeing everyone, even though our eyes were closed. The sound of three hundred women taking their high-heels off to meditate – the air of joy, release, excitement and courage – is a sensation I cherish as an all-time speaking high.
I am not the one to say that I never have given a better speech, but the response from these power women was overwhelming. And this I know for sure: What I learned as I responded to the disaster were real-life examples of what I teach and continue to explore. So what were those learnings?
1. For starters, I learned that true acceptance of what has happened, regardless what has actually happened, is key. No labels or blame will help, just acceptance.
2. With that, focusing with a clear mind on what the present moment gives me is where I will find answers. There are always solutions, even though they don’t look like my own plan.
3. Last but not least, in any situation, I keep learning how joyful it is to dare to ask friends for help.
It was as if the so-called disaster that went down was a perfect orchestration to help me get to the next level of reaching people with my life-saving (and business-saving) mind messages. I am in awe of the learnings. Which, I have to admit, now also include to stop drinking tea by the computer and to always make a back-up copy (or two, or three, or fourteen) of my keynote presentations.