How was your experience with TEDxOdense?
I was very nervous and a little skeptical to begin with. When I agreed to be a part of TEDxOdense, the main concern for me was whether there were any rules for what I was allowed and not allowed to say. Luckily this was not the case — I could speak from the heart, all TEDxOdense would do was help me find the words and guide me through the whole experience.
In the beginning, I was a bit reluctant to tell my story from a large stage though, I think because of the overwhelming and sometimes violent and traumatic things I have experienced. What angle would my narrative take? There are so many things to tell from my life’s story. So it was actually really complicated, especially to tell it in just 15 minutes. It’s wild! Although I have given hundreds of lectures, I was really impressed by the story TEDxOdense found in me. They helped me find the right words and through my talk they also helped me to process my experiences. Christina [Maar Andersen, TEDxOdense 2019 speaker coach] and Adam [Montandon, Curator] from the Speaker Team truly created a safe environment for me to express myself. It made me very happy, and I have learned an incredible amount from my talk, which I still use a lot today.
What was it like to share your story?
The story was not a problem — I could talk for ages! But having to give presentations in English made me extremely nervous. So I practiced and prepared all the time, I recorded and listened to myself when I was driving. There was also a lot of pressure in sharing my story with my family, who, even after 38 years, hadn’t heard it before.
I told my story for the sake of my children and my family. I have been blessed with such a wonderful family and they need to know my story. They have been told fragments of it but I had never told it in such detail before. It was so liberating to completely let go.
I also met people afterwards who told me that they had cried after experiencing my talk because they themselves had had major mental adversity, but after hearing my talk, they found the courage to share their own story. They would tell me, ‘If you can handle it, so can I.’ It opened up an opportunity for them. It was a great honor for me that others could use my story to tell their own.
What do you remember the best from the day of the event?
When I walked off the stage, I got a big hug from my wife. She usually doesn’t do that in front of others because she is very shy, so that really touched my heart.
And it was also truly amazing that people gave me a standing ovation and later wanted to take pictures with me. It really was a wonderful experience. I also received overwhelming, positive reactions, both from people I know and don’t know. It was especially moving to me that so many young people, who were not even born when I was a fugitive, had such emotional reactions to my talk at TEDxOdense, that was really something.
Has it been your experience that your relationships with people have changed?
Not necessarily, no, but when people have seen my TEDxOdense Talk and they meet me, I can feel it straight away because they interact with me in a different way. It makes me truly happy that my talk has opened a door for me in this way and it has been a useful tool for me to use when explaining a life that is full of stories in just 15 minutes.
What has happened since your TEDx Talk?
I have had another child and I have started giving lectures and I’ve had a couple of seminars in Germany both in Bonn and Hanover, and then we had a big exhibition in London where we talked about both my art and TEDxOdense. Giving a TEDx Talk really made things move to a whole other level. It has been absolutely baffling that art institutions will give lectures about my art along with who I am as a person. I never imagined it would be possible.
Do you have any advice for our 2021 speakers?
Don’t be nervous. There is a whole team of people behind your 15 minutes to help, support, and guide you in making your talk at TEDxOdense a success. The experience you create and are a part of is amazing! You quickly feel safe, people are friendly, and TEDxOdense really manages to create the common thread in your narrative that you might not have found yourself. It was a very humbling experience to be a part of.
People are super helpful and happy during TEDxOdense, all those who volunteer, the people behind it all, and those who come and hear all the talks. Everything has a very positive vibe and it was really a great experience for me. I also made a lot of good friends during this process and am still close with some of the people behind TEDxOdense today.
Watch Niaz’s TEDxOdense Talk, The Edge of Freedom here