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EP 005 / 11.11.2020


Farah Nanji: 0:00  


You're listening to the Mission Makers show, a podcast that inspires humans to get into the mindset of success. My name is Farah Nanji, and I'm the founder of a business in the Motorsports industry that explores leadership lessons from things like Formula One. I'm also a DJ and music producer in the underground electronic scene, and a public speaker on key topics like resilience, building high performance teams, overcoming learning difficulties and stimulating creativity. And to tie it all together, I love writing thought provoking content as a journalist with these industries, which is so unique in themselves. On this show, I'm sitting down with some of the most inspiring and driven people I've met around the world to talk about their processes, their failures, the lessons they've learned, and how they're truly making an impact for this world.


I'm delighted to say that my guest today is none other than the man behind TEDx in Luxembourg City, Dirk Daenen. Dirk’s had a really impressive career not only as the curator behind TEDx, but he's also a communications expert for several fortune 500 companies. He's the Dean of the British chamber Academy, and is a guest lecturer at several universities around the world on public speaking and negotiation. Something I pick his brains on a lot in this episode. And unsurprisingly, he's also trained over 100 TEDx speakers, including myself. So we talk about what he looks for in a TED speaker, and what it's been like for the organisation during the pandemic. And I have to say, and I'm not just saying this, but his coaching skills are absolutely phenomenal. And you'll see why in this episode. He transformed my TED talk in just under an hour the night before the talk. And we've since gone on to become good friends and colleagues, as I invited him to become one of the cofounders of a company that I'm currently building called the formula mind, which explores how Formula One teams approach things like managing risk, sustainability, communication, leadership, and so much more. And we bring those insights to senior management teams to unlock more of their human performance. Hey, Dirk, how are you?


Dirk Daenen: 2:07  


Hi, Farah really well. Thanks.


Farah Nanji: 2:10  


Thanks for agreeing to be a guest on today's show. It's going to be a deep dive into the man behind TEDx Luxembourg. We're putting you on the spot today rather than the other way around. 


Dirk Daenen: 2:28  


You did enjoy it there, right? As a speaker for TEDx Luxembourg City?


Farah Nanji: 2:33  


Yeah, absolutely, an amazing experience. No doubt. I'm so glad that we've managed to stay in touch and that it wasn't just that one day in Luxembourg. So let's start from the beginning. And before I ask you how you actually discovered what you're passionate about in life. Let's start with what your name means. Would you like to share that with us?


Dirk Daenen: 2:59 


My name as in as in Dirk


Farah Nanji: 3:02  


As in Dirk.


Dirk Daenen: 3:04  


Okay, so Dirk was chosen because my parents are originally from Belgium. And it was chosen because of St. Diederich, which is a saint that my father particularly liked. So I come from quite a religious background. But I understand that the word Dirk is also if you look it up in the dictionary, it's a small Scottish dagger. I'm pretty certain that wasn't something my father was thinking about. At least I hope it wasn't when he chose my name. I like to hope that I've lived up to the expectations of my father, but I'm certainly not saintly.


Farah Nanji: 3:52  


That's funny. And how was your childhood growing up?


Dirk Daenen: 3:56  


Yeah, it was amazing. So it wasn't typical. I'll give you that. I am technically Belgium. And I have a Belgian passport because both my parents are Belgian. But in fact, I was born in Germany. I was there for two years, I moved to France for three years, then moved to the UK then moved to the States, each time sort of a few years at a time. Moved back to the UK, then to Brazil, back to the UK back to Brazil. So yeah, I was a little bit all over the place. But really fascinating. It was really, I've got to say that I'm married now and my wife was born and bred in Devonshire in the UK. And so we have really contrasting backgrounds in the sense that she was sort of this farm girl and grew up and has our friends there. Whereas my friends are just thanks to Facebook anyway I'm in contact with them and they're just all over the world. You know, it's really quite quite bizarre. But no, I absolutely loved my childhood growing up.


Farah Nanji: 4:57  


When did you and how did you first start your passions in life because they are quite unique. And so how did that all start for you?


Dirk Daenen: 5:06  


So my passions are, of course, you know, there's the obvious passion for cars and anything automotive, but it kind of my passion kind of veered a little bit skew and I really just went into education, I was, I started off as a as an IT consultant because I did an IT degree, and then a computer science. And then I went to do a Management Science degree, which is sort of a mathematics based management degree. So which is, you know, completely different from what I do now, which is, I'm a professor in Communication Studies. So, you know, he couldn't do more hard science as you know, anything arithmetic, and then suddenly go into this soft skill, these communication skills. But what I discovered, as an IT consultant, I had the opportunity to do a sponsored MBA, so my company sponsored my MBA. And while I was doing that, I had a teacher for intercultural communication, who was fascinating just, I was riveted to what he said, and I used every opportunity to go and talk to the chap afterwards. And, you know, read all the books that he suggested. And so I went back to my company after I'd finished my MBA, but that spark of intercultural communication and how that works, and how people perceived things, that just really sort of that stuck in my mind. So I went back to work at the company, and I had to do another two years, otherwise, I would have had to pay the money back that sponsorship back, but I just felt like, you know, I was buying, biding my time just to, to leave and go and do what I wanted to do. So I ended up finding a job at the University of Antwerp doing research and Communication Studies. And so I taught there as well. And it was, and it was great. And the more research I did about it, the more I was just, you know, overwhelmingly convinced that in life, everything is about perception. You know, in communication, especially, it's not what you say that counts as what people perceive you to have said, that counts, it's not what you do, it's what people perceive you to have done. So that whole area of perception is just absolutely fascinating. And, you know, look at politics these days, it's insane. As to whether reality makes any difference whatsoever. It's all the perception of reality these days. And it couldn't be more highlighted by politics via Brexit, or what's happening in the US at the moment. So, but I kind of figured that, you know, while I was teaching at the University of Antwerp, it was, it was incredible to see these kids while the teacher I call them kids, I mean, obviously, you're over 18. But when you're talking to them about this, and Communication Studies and how to converse properly, and how you negotiate and you persuade, and how, how that works. You know, people's eyes are just that they pop open and and when they experience it themselves. And they test these theories themselves, and just see what a difference it makes. You know, it's really revealing for them. And I think that really got me into this, a real passion for getting people informed about communication. And watching as their lives just shift, you know, as they want as our lives change from doing something to doing something else, and then being more successful as a consequence. And so for me, education became the thing. And so I went from being an IT consultant, which was, I've got to confess, obviously, very well paid to being a teacher, which I think is no surprise when I say it's not well paid at all. So, I just felt like it was something that I had to do. I mean, I absolutely loved it. And the effect you have on people's lives is so substantial, that it was something I had to continue to pursue. So that really was sort of my life's passion and doing that. And obviously, then I sort of, you know, how else do you continue doing that, and then I found Ted's and as an organisation, which is, which really blew me away. So yeah, I really, really loved that field. And that's kind of where the passion stems from.


Farah Nanji: 9:40  


Wow, so many interesting points you raised about the perception of communication and the way you present yourself and these things. I mean, how does one apart from social media control how they are perceived? 


Dirk Daenen: 10:01 


Well, I think just developing a skill of empathy, you know, develop it, and I call it a skill, because it is something that you can develop, it's a behaviour, it's a, it's a way of arriving at decisions, it's a mindsets. So developing empathy, which is just phenomenal for you, because it allows you to see your actions, your, the manner in which you communicate through the eyes of the person that you're communicating with, or those people that are perceiving the things that you're doing. And so, you know, that's, that's really, really important to have people understand that. And, you know, we live in a world where people are sort of increasingly, you know, especially in the West, or they're increasingly developing this mindset of, you know, I am the centre of my universe. And so really, it's about, you know, looking after number one, and, and making sure that I get what I need, and you know, I want to be rich, and I want to be successful, and I want to be famous. And this mindset, it's not so much, you know, what can I do to solve somebody's problems? And as a consequence, I might become rich and famous and wealthy and all the rest of it. The goal these days is really, how am I going to become rich? How am I going to become famous? And so you know, that the mindset is a little bit skewed? I think, I feel like if more people had a skill of empathy, if more people realise that their actions had consequences on other people, then I think we wouldn't, we wouldn't need this as much that education wouldn't be as necessary, you know, used to be that religion would teach people that, you know, from day one, they grew up thinking, Oh, if I do something wrong, then I have a higher power to deal with. But you know, in an increasingly secular society, that's not there anymore. So suddenly, there are a few consequences to your actions. And so then, you know, this is, well, who am I living for? Well, if I'm living for me, then there are no consequences to the things that I do. So it's almost a little bit of educating people to understand other people's mindsets. And even if you do that, for selfish reasons, that's fine. do so for selfish reasons, but really understand other people. And of course, a new understanding of other people, people typically become better people anyway, kinder, gentler, they become good people, which, of course, has taken this to a completely new level. But in essence, you know, I find I find that to be incredibly important.


Farah Nanji: 12:48  


Absolutely. Especially a time like this I hope has awakened people towards being more empathetic and to really observing and questioning why we've got to this, where we are today as a society. And so do you think that it chose you these paths in life or you consciously went and chose it?


Dirk Daenen: 13:12  


No, I think, I think definitely. This is something that's two paths that I followed, because of the opportunities that arose. You know, I never set out I mean, I set out when I was a teenager, wanting to be my father. Yeah, that's all there was to it. I wanted to be a if you asked me when I was 12, I would have told you very specifically, I want to be vice president of a large corporation, Vice President of finance, of a large automotive Corporation, you know, had to be automotive. And I didn't actually mind whether it was Ford, or whether it was, you know, Toyota General Motors, whatever it was, but obviously, Ford at the time, and the premium Automotive Group, so that was Aston Martin jakirah, you know, so actually, Ford would have been lovely, because then I would have had those brands and had those company cars, but But no, so you know, that that was my mindset. I wanted to be a finance person, and very successful in a corporation and be really well respected. Like I saw my father was really well respected. But then, you know, opportunities kind of presented themselves. And I like to think that I followed those, you know, I, my first job was actually for Ford Motor Company. You know, I went out to Brazil, and I got a job there as a local employee being paid in local currency. So that was really difficult. But I, you know, I loved Brazil. I loved Ford's and so the two just matched really well. But then I had an opportunity to be transferred to Ford of Europe. And so I thought, great, I'm going to take that I took Sort of a three month gap between starting work at Ford in the UK, and leaving Ford, Argentina, Brazil. And while I had that three month gap, I actually went to Belgium. And somebody was talking to me about the internet. And you know how cool it is. And now you can put your CV on the internet. And by the way, the internet was a really new thing, right? So this was not, you know, it was it was Netscape, it wasn't Internet Explorer, or any of that stuff. It was, you know, just, it was a really new thing. So, I put my CV online or I filled out a form so that my CV technically was online. And I got an interview for an IT consultancy company in Belgium. And I went to go and look, I figured I might as well go to the interview now that I've got an interview. And they gave me an offer for, you know, really, really good place. And so I said, thank you very much to Ford of Europe. But no. And then I found this position in, in Belgium, and then being here and being exposed to these new opportunities. So my company merged with another. And while that happened, my boss said to me, hey, Derek, you've always wanted to do an MBA, now's the time to go and do it. Because the company is emerging, this is going to become a mess. So I got on really well with my boss. Ironically, when I came back, he was no longer there. So he predicted it, right? It really wasn't us. And so I got that opportunity to study. And then my eyes were open to this new idea of communication. And so, you know, they're a job opened up at the University of Antwerp. And I thought, Well, I'm not really qualified to do this. But actually, I really want to do this. So I jumped at that position. And so you know, all these opportunities opened up here and there and the Dean of a school passed away. And so there was a job opening. And so I went over there, and, you know, I'd help them out quite a lot. Anyway, and so they already knew me, and they thought about me for this role. And so I jumped in there. So it really was a case of, you know, one opportunity leading to another leading to another, and each opportunity was something I really enjoyed, and, and so I pursued it. And by the way, if something wasn't fun, I also dropped it, you know, so very recently, things didn't work out the way I expected them to, at a position that I was on. And I dropped out really quickly. And I was left a little bit insecure as to you know, what am I going to do now? And how am I going to fund these other businesses that I'm running? But, but, you know, another opportunity opened up amazing. And now this is going really well as well. So yeah, I think it interesting. To me, I don't know, the opportunities were certainly there, and I seized them. And they were there.


Farah Nanji: 17:59  


Yeah, sure. Moving from places like Brazil, which is so culturally rich, and then coming into different parts, you must have been exposed to and observed communication in so many different shapes and forms. That's really interesting. So you've evolved as you mentioned, how would you define success?


Dirk Daenen: 18:29


I think success is all about making an impact. And I stand by that, you know, success is not about it's not about making money, it's not about levels of fame. It's about using whatever fame you have, in order to make an impact. And it's about using any success that you have any wealth that you may have generated to make an impact. And, and that's really something that I live my life by, and it's something my wife shares. So she has passions and in scuba diving, so she started her own YouTube channel, which started very small, but she's been doing it as well as it consultancy on the side. So she's just kind of doing that as a hobby. She teaches kids how to scuba dive. It's something that I absolutely love, you know that the TED organisation all of this is volunteer work. So, you know, we've never made a dime out of all the Ted's organisation, that's really time consuming work. But the impact that you make on people, I mean, it's, it's really quite surreal. You know, when you go on stage, after a speaker leaves the stage and you look out, you know, over 1200 people in the audience, and you look as they're all wiping their tears away because the speaker really touched them and what they were saying or while you watch them and they're just in complete shock and awe about something that they've just experienced on stage. You know, making that impact or in my case, facilitating that that impact is made by these incredible speakers who are so much more gifted than anything that I could have ever done. So facilitating that was really phenomenal. Absolute success is about making an impact.


Farah Nanji: 20:19  


Definitely, we're so lucky to live in this day and age where you have talks like that, which are free to watch, and not just limited to you being at the conference itself. And this whole new wave of a generation that's getting inspired in so many incredible ways, and the way that people are giving back is absolutely phenomenal. So I have to ask you what it is like running the show, because you've really set the bar high. I mean you've got these venues like the philharmonie, and all these incredible places for speakers to come. I wrote this blog post recently, where I described my experience of walking into philharmonie for the first time, that morning of the conference, and having no sleep and it was like a military operation that was just happening on the ground and it was so precise, and there were, I don't know how many people you had for at least 20/30 people running around doing things, and it was mind blowing, and the fact that it is a voluntary thing. Tell us what it's like, How much time do you spend developing this conference? And how's it grown? 


Dirk Daenen: 21:36 


Yeah, it's Oh, by the way, here's my TEDx. I was just just grabbing a coffee. Yeah, I mean, it's, it's led by passion. You know, I'm not an event manager, I don't organise events for a living, I'll be it now, one could argue that I do. But I definitely didn't get into it. For you know, if an organisation it really is a case of just see what works and what didn't work. You know, I've got to confess, though, it's not like all of this was just my doing the, the TED organisation has this incredible network of TEDx organisers. And so, you know, they're, they're so willing, these are incredible people that are so willing to share their own experiences, and best practice. And, you know, there's a, there's a hub up there of everything people have done to organise events. And so the information is all there. And fortunately, I can research quite well. So I just kind of went through that, as a result of being an academic. So just kind of went through the information. And so okay, if this is what the structure of an event looks like, then let's get the team together. So then I went out, you know, in Luxembourg, and tried to find people that I thought were equally enthusiastic. And so we got, I'd say, we have about three people that work on this, almost full time, at least year round, it's not full time at all, but it's year round. So, you know, we all have our full time jobs that we that we do. But we were consciously aware of things. And so between the three of us, there's always something there's always something that we're doing for TEDx, TEDx luxembourg. City. So that those are the three then when it gets closer to the dates, and we need to start thinking about sponsors, and you know, raising money, when we need to think about the location, the event, and we get a group of sort of an extra five people that help out. And on the day, it's about, like you said, it's a bit of a military operation, because there are about 50 of us, in total. But fortunately, you know, those are 50, starting from 13 year old kids all the way up to, you know, retirees that help out. So, they all share a complete love of the platform. So how is it to organise events? I mean, it's a huge amount of work, you know, undoubtedly, so everything from finding speakers, all the way through to finding sponsors, to finding attendees, to to the day itself is insane. And then even the follow up, you know, just to make sure that things go well, because whereas most events stop on the day, with a TEDx event, of course, all of these talks need to be, you know, properly edited and sound needs to be adjusted. And sometimes changes need to be made. And so we need to go maybe contact the speaker again and ask about certain things that they said that we didn't have visuals to that kind of thing. And then we need to upload those and they need to be approved. So it's a Massive event. And it's an event where the fit of money has 1200 people. So it's a huge undertaking. But I'd say that I'm one of those people that I typically bite off more than I can chew and then figure out how to chew later. It was just kind of a progression, one on top of the other on top of the other and things worked out really well in there.


Farah Nanji: 25:25  


Fantastic, that's insane. Now, what's the situation with COVID? Are you planning to do some of this completely online now? What do you sort of foresee for it?


Dirk Daenen: 25:40  


So, we had an event planned in June, June 2020. So of course, that couldn't happen. All gatherings were forbidden. And then there were gatherings of 10. And now it's a gathering of 50. But, you know, the philharmonie is 1200 people, if that's still possible, because, you know, just talking to the venue, they're talking about, just completely reorganising the venue inside, so that now instead of 1200, people, they might have half that capacity in order to accommodate social distancing inside the venue. So that's, that's going to have very much change. So yes, so suddenly, we had this event planned, and there was a lot going on, in order for it to happen. And then COVID happened this pandemic. And we were, we were kind of stuck and had nowhere to go with it. So we decided we were going to try and produce some kind of online content in order to, you know, satisfy this demand that we had procured through social media. So okay, but how do you do that? And how do people we, you know, typically, this is a five to six hour events, five to six hours online, that that doesn't work, you know, screen fatigue is absolutely incredible people, they lose, they lose attention, after three, four minutes, you know, the look up the look away. And then in order to get them back to the screen is a lot harder than when you're in an audience and you look up and you look away after maybe seven minutes. And then to get you focused back on the stage actually is a lot easier. But when you're in your own home, and you've got all this stuff going on around you and you lose focus, there's a bunch of other stuff that you could be doing in your own house. So screen fatigue is a real issue. And keeping people's attention is difficult. So we figured do we go for this for this long form programming, you know, which is a typical TEDx event? Or do we convert to short form programming? And then, you know, how long do we make something? Well, let's say 15, to 18 minutes, which is a typical TED Talk. So we thought about doing these interviews with past speakers. So we filmed a couple of those and went to talk to some sponsors to see if they would be interested in helping us out do that, because it's very, very time consuming. And we had to get some editors on board and that kind of thing. So one of our sponsors was super psyched about it, because of course, they also have that problem. They have their marketing budget, and suddenly, they have no events. So they were also curious for new styles of events. So one of our sponsors, the IMG bank was super stoked about doing it. So we did that together. And that worked out pretty well. But you know, what is successful in online programming, we really weren't sure. So now we are thinking of doing a TEDx live. So we're taking the TED talks that were done in the US, for Ted 2020, because all of that entire event was online as well. So we're going to take some of those talks and a couple of live speakers as well. And we're going to do that probably in August now. So that's, so we had these interviews, we also did some Ted circles, just getting people that are real tech fanatics, together, and just getting them to talk about a TED talk. That works really well. And it's incredible. One thing that Ted circles really showed me also was how incredibly insightful relationships can be. conversations can be when you no longer talk about small talk, you know, you get them to watch a TED talk about something really deep and meaningful. And then you get people, strangers, complete strangers, talk about it. And the connections made between those strangers are really deep very, very quickly, because they're talking about something that's real that has real impact in their lives. So that was phenomenal to see. So we did that through Ted circles. So interviews Ted circles, and now TEDx live. So we're going to do TEDx Luxembourg City. Live some In October, we're trying to figure out now how can we get the audience to engage each other. And we're still sort of brainstorming about that now together with the team. Actually, we have a meeting tonight. So we'll see how that goes. But it's a challenging time. You know, for for people like us, the whole idea is ideas worth spreading, but getting people together in a room and having them experience something together, suddenly, and that's no longer possible. So how do you engage these people virtually? And it's, it's not not that easy. But certainly, I'm learning from the TEDx community. So which is phenomenal and


Farah Nanji: 30:38  


Super interesting. I'm sure you get asked this a lot but what do you look for in a speaker?


Dirk Daenen: 30:47 


Well, so I'll be perfectly honest, we don't look for speakers. We look for ideas. So the team will get together and will basically say, Okay, this is Luxembourg City, what's happening? You know, what are people interested in? What's the current affairs? What's happening here in Luxembourg City, that makes us slightly different from everywhere else. And so, you know, at the time, for example, the TEDx Luxembourg City women event that happened in December, just before the covid outbreak, we thought Luxembourg City at the time had made all public transport free, you know, and that was mind blowing to most countries. So they thought, Well, you know, how are they going to go about doing that? And how does that work? And so this whole public transport thing we thought, do we get a minister to come and talk about it, but then the talks become quite political, so we didn't want them. So we thought, okay, public transportation, you've got these electric scooters that are all over the place. You know, that's another form of public transportation, which people are, while they can get on the tram for free, there's, they're actually buying, or they were renting these little scooters. So we thought, let's find somebody in this micro mobility space. So we found one of the most senior people in that area. And they came in to talk about micro mobility. So we always just concentrate on the ideas. And then as a team, we agree on what ideas are, and then we go and look for speakers for those ideas. Now, having said that, that is typically how we do it. But having said that, there are certain people that are absolutely fascinating. And so in certain instances, we will choose a person and ask them, Do they have an idea for a TED talk. And, you know, it's often been said, Everybody has a TED talk in them. And I found that very much to be true. So there are certain people we do invite because of who they are. And, and so and certainly, and that's usually gone really well as well, of course, then we need to help them develop their message and develop their tool, which is great. And we can certainly do that. I would certainly prefer somebody who was less engaging, but has a better idea than somebody who's super engaging, but has an old idea, you know, because I can train you to be engaging, and present, but I can't give you a good idea, you know, so I can get you to present your idea really well and engage your audience over the 15 minutes that you're on stage. So then I'm quite happy with it and I think that's why the focus has always been on the ideas and you know, Ted, its ideas worth spreading. That's their, that's their logo. So that's what we focus on. So yes, we don't look for speakers, we look for ideas.


Farah Nanji: 33:37  


Super interesting. So what have been some of your favourite TED talks?


Dirk Daenen: 33:43


Wow. Okay, I listen, I'm gonna be really honest with you. My favourite TED talks are always the last ones that I watch. And they're especially the talks that have happened at TEDx luxembourg. City. It's very difficult to separate the experience of working together with the speaker and their talk, then just going online and watching a talk. I mean, there are incredible talks online, of course, you know, and I think the most viewed TED talk of all time, Kenneth Robinson talking about how creativity is killed by education. I mean, I think that's probably one of those TED talks that brings people into the platform, you know, Hans Rosling, what he's done for data and and he's done numerous TED Talks, presenting data in a fascinating way. So all of Hans Rosling's talks are amazing. And unfortunately, you know, he passed away a couple of years ago and very unfortunately. But typically, the really good TED talks are the ones that I'm involved with, almost from the very beginning where people are, I asked them, Do you want to come and do a talk about this idea, and they'll be great if you do. And then we'll kind of organise the talk together. And you know, all I do is structure it in a way where it's suitable for 15 minutes or, you know, Ted Talks a maximum 18 minutes, I can't even upload the talk to their platform if it's longer than 18 minutes. So we always shoot for about 15. And, and so, you know, developing that talk and watching people as they, as they bring this message, you know, this, these complicated messages, and they simplify it into something so beautifully coherence, you know, with, with these, with the way that they support their arguments as well. And, and, of course, some people, the way they support their arguments, it's just something they feel, but then you need to say to them, for it to be a TED talk, there needs to be a scientific basis for it to be up there. So then they quickly go and find out everything they know to be true anyway, but they'll go and research it and figure that out. And so that's really interesting. So, yeah, I mean, go to TEDx Luxembourg, city. org. And there are nine talks there from in December, each one's more fascinating than the next, you know, we had a better professional soccer player who came to talk to us about what it's like to be a female professional soccer player, and not even soccer player, but a goalkeeper, and she plays for one of the best teams in Germany, we had a lady come and talk to us about what it's how she wants to go and live on Mars. So, you know, just absolutely mind blowing. I did a follow up interview with her, she lived in the Antarctic for, I think, a few weeks. Then she went to the Oman desert to go and live there for a little while. Of course, we have the former princess Tessie, who you know, very, very well. And she has this phenomenal way of connecting with people. And so, you know, we kind of figured out, what is that? And how do you do that? And so she came up with, you know, the three, the three pillars of magic and connectedness, which was phenomenal. So all of those talks are really worth going to see. So which my favourite talks, it's always the ones that I've been involved with, and at the very last event,


Farah Nanji: 37:09  


Two questions about this. Have you ever encountered potential speakers that you really feel like represent the highest calibre of an idea or concept that you're looking to explore in TEDx? And have they been reluctant? And then would you try and convince them? Or do you just find somebody else that fits the theme?


Dirk Daenen: 37:33  


So I have tried to convince somebody Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Has, it always works. majority of the time, it doesn't. I think people are really daunted by the platform. You know, they hear about a TED talk. And I tend to find two types of people and very little in between, you know, it's the people that that they hear of TED Talks, and they think there is no way I could do a TED talk. Just none. And you say to them, but your ideas are amazing, you know, you really people need to hear it. So come on to a stage and talk about it. No, no, no, no, I'm not, I'm not in any way qualified to give a TED talk, I couldn't do that I could never stand on stage. So at some point, you know, I can try and convince them and show them that it's not as hard as they think. And so occasionally, somebody will change your mind. But then there's the other group of people, you say to them, Hey, would you want to come and do a TED talk about this idea. And for them, it's already a bucket list item. And, you know, this is because they know that they've accomplished a whole bunch of things in their life. And you asked him to do a TED talk, I said, No way, I've always wanted to do a TED talk. And then it's about taking that enthusiasm and, and saying to them, okay, you've got 15 minutes on stage. So let's take your ideas, your multiple ideas, and just narrow it down to one. And then you know, your your lifetime's worth of experience, and bring in taking all these analogies and the stories that you have that support your ideas, and just focusing them down to a couple, you know, and I think we kind of went through that experience as well, where you'd written out quite a lot. And then, you know, that's going to be probably slightly too long. So let's just kind of take this paragraph out, and you look at the speaker, when you're telling them, we're not going to use that paragraph at all, and they're just heartbroken. You know, but this means so much to me. I know it does. But people can't, it's going to be too long, and people aren't going to engage in this. And while it makes sense to a speaker, it might not make sense to an audience that doesn't have the kind of knowledge that you do in your field. So it's about taking all of this extensive knowledge and life's work and lifetime's worth of excellence. variances and condensing it down to something that's easily digestible by somebody who has no experience in your field. And that's, that's, that's not easy. So it's difficult to persuade somebody to do it, it has been done, I have persuaded somebody to do it. But yeah, typically, I prefer to find those people that want to do it, because it usually works better that way.


Farah Nanji: 40:25  


Another element in this, which some people may not know, having maybe not experienced the platform and the behind the scenes element is that test speakers don't get paid. And so there is money involved. When you talk about taking someone's time, and then maybe travelling somewhere and investing their own money, and in coming and supporting the conference, and sometimes those people also have a certain calibre where they get booked out regularly on the public speaking circuit, and they just don't want to give that away for free, but ultimately, as you say, it's a nonprofit organisation. Ultimately, it's about impact and there are plenty of people that would give their left arm to do a talk of that manner. Something else I just want to ask you about, with a successful show, how do you want your audiences to engage with the ideas that are presented to them?


Dirk Daenen: 41:22  


That's a really difficult one, you know, how do they, how do they engage with the talks, what I typically find is, the audience will connect with different speakers, depending on their own life experiences. Typically, I will go out into the audience during the breaks and ask them Who's your favourite speaker so far, and it's without fail, I will always get different names. You know, there's usually not one speaker that won't be mentioned by somebody, and even somebody who may have gone on stage. And their performance may not have been as good as their rehearsal, you know, which is heartbreaking to me, because I so in fact, I've got to tell you, I had an experience with a with a speaker, who did the rehearsal the night before, in front of the TED team, and every single one of us was in tears. I know, it was just such a beautiful talk. And on the day of the events, it just didn't work. You know, and it's, it's not that she didn't say the same things. I mean, the stories were slightly ever so slightly different. But she just didn't engage. She didn't look at the audience, she was looking down while talking. And she knew to do better than that. But, that's what happened. And so the audience, I figured, didn't really engage, and they mostly didn't. And it's heartbreaking when that happens. But even when I think things didn't go very well on the day of the event, and then I go out into the audience and say, Hey, who was your favourite speaker? inevitably, somebody will say that person, because, you know, a TED AUDIENCE MEMBER to attend is incredible, because that will typically be better educated. They're all typically very open minded people. They're typically all looking for self improvement. You know, those are the people that like Ted Talks, they want to hear new ideas, they want to learn, they want to be better. And so taking all of these people in a room is amazing, because these are really great people anyway. So then you go and talk to them. And they'll say, yeah, you know, I wanted to do this. And I was reading something about that. And that was really fascinating. So my favourite speaker was, you know, this person, whereas for somebody sitting right next to them, I said, Oh, no, I didn't, I didn't connect with me at all. But that one really connected. So. So yeah, I think, you know, how do you get an audience to engage with a speaker, you've got to you've got to work with our delivery, that, you know, the delivery of the speaker, you've got to make sure that they're engaging as people, I mean, things like looking at the audience and all the the checkboxes of how to engage an audience, you know, there's a very simple way of doing that. But, but inevitably, the audience will connect anyway, because of their own personal experiences. And so that's something that you can't predict. And, and, but every event that we've ever done, I've always looked out at the audience, and there have been people that have connected in a way that was just phenomenal. And I think that's why I continue to do and to host these Ted events and organise these Ted events, despite there being no money in it, despite it taking so much time. It's just phenomenal to see that to see what happens, I think is just incredible.


Farah Nanji: 44:56  


Hundred percent, hundred percent and I'm sure you get asked this a lot and this is probably something we could probably do a whole episode on, but could you talk about the experience with that lady who blew you away by in the rehearsal and then when on stage, the fear or the nerves just completely took a hold. We both know that public speaking is just one of those things that people really fear in life. And you are somebody that has a phenomenal ability to to coach people through that. So what advice would you give to someone who does have a fear of public speaking?


Dirk Daenen: 45:42  


So there is definitely no silver bullet, right or golden bullet, it's, it's all about practice. And whenever I talk to speakers after the event, I'd say 90% of them will always say, I should have put a little bit more time, I should have given myself a little bit more time to practice I should have. So the whole, the whole in hindsight practice would have made this so much better. So there's no, there's no one thing you can do to make you a better speaker, practice. Of course, practice. It's time it's an invest time and effort. And However, there are certainly things that you can do to make that practice in a more structured manner, you know, that there's definitely a better way of speaking, there's a, there's a better way of having a more effective voice, there's having a more engaging presence on stage. So what you do with your body language is super important, even when you stand on stage is really important, you know, having a little bit of a dynamic on stage where you're moving between your points, those kinds of things, how you engage your audience, you know, it's not just the eye contact, I'll be at it definitely is. But you know, are you going to use humour on stage? And of course, some people say, well, humans never appropriate for what I want to talk about. I don't know, I've coached probably over 100 TED speakers, for TEDx Luxembourg, City and other events that I've organised. And I'm not sure I've ever come across an idea where umur wouldn't have words. Now, some have chosen not to use it. But if you look at the really, really popular TED Talks, predominantly, they're funny. I've mentioned Sir Ken Robinson, about his talk, how creativity is killed by education. And really, that's kind of a stand up routine, you know, the guy gets on the stage. And it's one personal anecdote after the next and there will unbelievably funny, which you wouldn't expect from a professor, an academic isn't usually that funny. But, but no, it works really, really well. So then, let me just say, Hi, but I'm not funny. So I can't possibly consider doing jokes. And of course, there are ways of incorporating humour, where it's easier, so that there's sort of best practice to incorporate humour. And so we can certainly talk about that. And so I tend to try and guide the speakers into using a bit of humour, if they can, six hours is a long time for an audience member to sit down listening to people talking, you know, if you think about a TED TED conference, it usually is. I mean, it's a, it's kind of a festival of speeches, you know, you go to a festival, you're expecting six hours of music. This is, you know, a festival of talks. So just sitting there listening for that long is really difficult. So if people laugh, they're more engaged. You know, so I think with your voice, with your body language, engaging people with a proper structure, which is usually important, with one key message, as opposed to multiple so that you keep it really simple. You know, all of these things make a really good TED Talk. And then how do you get over your nerves? It's practice, but practice these things. You know, you're practising your body language, you're practising your voice, you're practising, how to engage the audience, you're practising in a very structured way. And I think that's what's that's what's really important to


Farah Nanji: 49:31 


Practice does hopefully make perfect. There was that crazy statistic, which I discovered when looking into how to actually deliver a talk. One hour practice per minute, which is crazy because in some of the talks that you see online with Ted they seem super natural, there's a flow and you just couldn't imagine that's gone on for one hour, but there's just so many things you talk about, with their body language, the tone. I think crucially, and particularly on that stage, or any stage, where there's pressure, if you've practised that much, and you forget, then it's very easy for your mind to just go back to just saying it in a different way and bounce back without the audience knowing that you slipped up there, or it wasn't how it was meant to be. Something you talked about earlier with what you advise, or you help people with a little bit, which is a bit different to public speaking. But negotiation, give me some of your top tips on that. 


Dirk Daenen: 50:37  


Negotiation skills. Yeah, I've done. So in the world of academia, I've studied negotiation skills a little bit, a little bit, a fair amount. And you tend to find that negotiation and persuasion and power, all of these things are, are basically just as a bunch of theories, which play out in a particular way, and therefore it becomes incredibly predictable. So if you will, if you're well informed, or going into a negotiation, and you know how to react when your counterpart does something, then you're going to be sure to come out with better results. I mean, it really is that simple. So you don't need to be this massively creative person that understands how to do things on the spot, you just need to go in with a very clear mindset. So I mean, I'll give you an example. the very basics of negotiation, you've got to have, you know, your blue sky, assuming that you're talking about negotiating the price of something, which typically is very common, you've got to have your blue sky price. So what is it, what's your opening bid gonna be, you've got to have your bottom line, which is, if I, if I don't hit that, if I don't get more than my bottom line, I'm gonna walk away. Yeah, right now. And then you've got to have your alternatives. And these all need to be pre prepared before you even walk into the room. Now, if you understand those three, you're already going to be much better than somebody that hasn't walked in, that's walked in without that preparation, because things like having a bottom line. There were people who are trained in negotiation to get you to reconsider your bottom line during the negotiation. You know, they'll adjust the leverage, even if it's just the time spent in the negotiation. They'll adjust the leverage and by leverage, I mean, who stands to lose most if no deal is done? You know, so, so somebody, let's put this into practice, if you want to go and buy a new car, right, which, obviously, it's all going to come back to automotive, right? If you want to go and buy a new car, then you're gonna say to yourself, yeah, well, you know, if I don't, if I'm willing to pay 20,000, for that car list price is 25. But if I don't get it for 20,000, then I'm going to walk away, and I'm going to go somewhere else. Now, you're going to walk into that room, knowing if it's 20,001 pound or 20,001. euro. I'm not there's no way I'm paying it. And you may think, Oh, just that one year, what the hell? But no, absolutely. That's not to say you can't come back at a later date and start the negotiation again. But you don't hit that bottom line, you've got to you've got to leave. Now, typically, what are the things that people hear they go into negotiate for a car, and then they start hearing about? Well, there are a limited number of those cars available, you know, that's the specific colour that you wanted, that's that they're not making that anymore. And so actually, you know, if you want that car, this is a car we have in stock, and this one you get really quickly. But actually, somebody else has already put an option on that car. And so it might not be available anymore. Everything they're telling you, which again, it's a checklist of things, you know, the law of scarcity, the law, all of these things that they're basically projecting on you is making you reconsider your bottom line. So, you know, what's the most effective thing that I can tell anybody going into a negotiation. Make sure you have your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, your BATNA, make sure you have your bottom line and make sure you know, your blue sky, those three things, you're already going to be a lot better. But of course, there's so much more, right. And really, anybody can negotiate, and everything is negotiable. You just you've just got to prepare yourself. Now while everything is negotiable, it doesn't mean you want to negotiate for everything because sometimes the biggest thing you stand to lose is your time. You know, I'm sure I can, I can go to a supermarket and negotiate for the price of some blueberries, but I don't want to because it's gonna be a waste of time, right? So however, It, try it. You know, I've taken a bunch of my students to the supermarket, and I've gotten them to negotiate for a banana. And they all say it's not possible. But eventually there are even people that have walked out with a free banana. Because the store is like, why are we negotiating for bananas? Just take it Leave it, you know. But that's the point. Everything's negotiable. So, so yeah, bottom line, blue sky, BATNA, your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Get ready with the things you're fine.


Farah Nanji: 55:33


So powerful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Last couple of questions from me. Now that you've gone back to automotive, I do have to ask you, did you see Ford versus Ferrari? And what did you think of it?


Dirk Daenen: 55:46  


Okay, now, now that movie, that movie actually meant quite a lot to me, because I took my father. And my father, obviously, he's retired. And, but that was his era. You know, he was there, he went to Michigan a number of times, and all of this stuff was going on while he was at the company. So, you know, it was really, it was really personal. And when in that film when they were talking about, you know, the abacus counters or the counters, right? He was in finance at that time. And so certain things were just why are you going to spend that kind of money developing this car, when actually the returns are not going to be great. Why on earth would you do it? So I went to see it with my dad. And halfway through my dad started crying. And it was just so that was one of the most meaningful movies that I've seen. It was beautiful. And so I've watched it with my kids. They weren't super interested. I've got two daughters that really aren't that interested in cars, unfortunately. But not through a lack of trying. I mean, I bought them a scale electric set when they were younger. I've kind of forced toy cars on them. But they just weren't having any of it. Yeah, amazing movie. What did you like?


Farah Nanji: 57:09  


Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I saw it in the states in a drive thru cinema. As American as it could get, super retro. I've been to the Henry Ford thing in Detroit, actually, which was absolutely just mind blowing, just incredible to see the progression, the errors, the evolution of cars. Sat in one of the first Model T's was it? And, and that was insane. So yeah, I loved it. And I want to drive a Ford GT one day, get my hands behind the wheel. Talking about your kids. I asked this question to people who've been on the show who are parents, so far they’ve been mothers so it's great to hear from a father. What have been some of your secrets to good parenting?


Dirk Daenen: 58:03  


It's funny, actually, you before ounce, that question, I've got to tell you, my, my daughter, obviously is interested in TED Talks as well, again, not that she wants to be but I've kind of forced them on her. But at the end of the day, if you listen to TED Talks, it's fascinating. And there's a really good TED talk that was done, I think in Arizona, and I'm not sure precisely what TED talk it was, I think it was a university University of Arizona. And it was a divorce lawyer that spoke about the importance of fathers and, and why fathers should have should be equally regarded in a custodial battle and this kind of thing. But her TED talk was all about the importance of fathers. And I sat and watched it together with my daughter just it kind of spontaneously came on. I didn't think she'd be that interested in it. But while we were both watching it, it was just this emotional time between the two of us, because it made both of us realise how we connect with each other on quite a different level. You know, it's, they gave some examples there about Yes, the father probably doesn't know the name of the geography teacher. The father probably doesn't understand or doesn't know the name of her best friend. But the father will understand what they're scared of. The Father will say, there are a lot of dynamics that a father has, with I, in my case, two daughters, which I think are really important. And so that was just a lovely moment. And it really kind of made us realise the connection that we had with each other. And secret to parenting, I think, I think being there, of course, but just being super involved, you know, my father was working a lot and so he wasn't you know, for me it was really stay at home mother working father very, very traditional conservative background. And I think as a father, there's a lot that I can contribute to my kids. And so being there and being there to answer the questions and being involved, I think that's, that's usually usually important. involving them in activities is, so I actually one of my eldest daughters organised her own TEDx events. So while she organised it, obviously, you know, I kind of helped her. So building this huge event at her school was an incredible experience for the two of us to go together. But if there's one thing that I'd like to share with every parent which Somebody once told me, and I thought, that's ridiculous, but then I experienced it myself. Here's the secret to parenting. When the kids all have to go and do something like music lessons, or when the kids go somewhere with their friends, be the first person to volunteer to take them. Why? Because when you go and pick up all of your kids, friends, and they're sitting in the back of the car, they completely forget, you're there. And so in forgetting that you're there, they talk to each other, like they're at school. And I've learned more about my daughter's lives when I brought them somewhere to theatre school, or to singing school, with the kids talking to each other in the back, and the friends that they talked to, and you know, and Hey, how about that boy that you were talking to? I never knew she was thinking. And they're talking as if you're invisible, it's absolutely incredible. So a secret to parent thing, go ahead and volunteer to take them and their friends to places as long distance a car journey as you can, and then just shut up while you're in the car. And listen, because you will find out more about your kids than anything else is brilliant.


Farah Nanji: 1:01:49  


Hilarious. Very cool. Last few questions. I'm going to put you on the spot now. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. But if you did do a TED talk, what would the idea be? 


Dirk Daenen: 1:02:08  


If I did a TED talk? Well, I mean, obviously, I've thought about it quite a lot. I think for me, the importance of communicating well is huge. And in order to develop that people need to realise how important different aspects of communication are. So if I did a TED talk at some point, and maybe one day, I hope to, I'd really focus on how important body language, your voice and the way that you the way that you play with your voice, and how important it is to engage people, I would I would talk about that. And in that 15 minutes, I would predominantly focus on getting people to experience that themselves. So that when they leave the talk, they voluntarily will go and research it more. I need people to understand how important it is, so that they are willing to take action on it. And I think in 15 minutes, I can convince people that it's usually important. And in doing so I think I'll have made an impact. So the title, I'm not sure what it would be, but it would really be something to do with your voice, your body language and how to engage an audience.


Farah Nanji: 1:03:28  


Awesome, awesome. Okay, the last question, which I do ask everyone on the show. It's a deep dive question. What do you believe is the purpose of our existence on planet Earth? And do you believe there's something else?


Dirk Daenen: 1:03:48  


Well, I already mentioned that I was brought up, religious, I was brought up a Catholic. And while I don't get to church very much anymore, hopefully my dad doesn't see this. But I mean, I do still have, I do still have a belief in a higher being. And I would call that higher being God. But I think I think we have a purpose in life, and that is to create an impact on others. I think it's really important that we do what we can to treat people the way that we would want to be treated as cliche as that is and make other people's lives for the better. And I think the great advantage to doing that is this concept of reciprocity. If you spend your life trying to do things for other people, ultimately the federal comes back in some form of payment to you because people will feel a sense of obligation to do something back for you. So don't expect it. Just go out and do nice things for as many people as You can, and you'll find that your life is better anyway. So even if you do it for selfish reasons, go ahead, but help other people. I've encouraged my students at university to do internships at not for profit organisations, and to support charities. And I tell them all to do it because it looks really good on your CV. And so they'll go to organisations like serve the city, which I work with fair amounts, UNICEF and do fundraising for them, and they'll go and organise these events and go and work with, with refugees, painting buildings, they'll do it because they want it for their CV. But actually, once they've done it, they realise what a rewarding experience that is. And they continue to do it. So I think, you know, if I want to be remembered for anything, it really is a case of, you know, go ahead and make an impact on people. And be super nice to people. It'll come back to you anyway. So yeah.


Farah Nanji: 1:06:09  


Well, Dirk, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your thoughts about your life and opening up to us. I hope we get to see each other soon and stay safe. That was a really empowering conversation. Hearing Dirks perspectives on empathetic leadership, communication and negotiation were invaluable. It's unsurprising, he's been so successful in those areas, because he's genuinely authentic. And his nomadic upbringing from Belgium to Brazil has clearly been one of the greatest drivers in exposing him to a variety of cultures and people. I also think it's so true, and he said that everyone has a TED talk in them. And I hope this episode has given you more of an insight into what it takes to become a TED speaker, but also what the components of successful communication are, because it's one of the fundamental keys in unlocking and empowering your mission. And at the end of the day, as Derek says, everything is a perception. And that forms our reality. So you have to be really conscious of how you communicate with the world around you. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you're leaving with some great inspiration that can help you with whatever you want to achieve in your life. If you enjoyed today's episode, be sure to subscribe to your favourite podcast platform so you can be notified when a new episode is posted. It would also mean the world to us if you could rate and review the show and share it with your friends so we can reach as many people as possible. If you want to reach out to me as well you can get in touch directly @dj.n1nja on Instagram and Twitter. That's @dj.n1nja and also @missionmakers on social media. Thanks so much again for listening. Until next time on Mission Makers stay safe and have an amazing week.

Lessons To Fuel Your Mission

  • Everything is a perception and that forms our reality

  • When it comes to communication, less can often be more 

  • Challenge forces us to search for new centres of gravity

  • Be prepared to walk away if your bottom line isn’t being met

  • If you speak with true intent, people will listen


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