A life lesson from a Humanitarian Nurse
I wanted to share with you today a message I received on Facebook. It was from a 14-year-old boy I met when I was volunteering as a Nurse overseas in a refugee camp:
SLIDE 1: Facebook Message
“Hi, I don’t know if you can remember me, but I will never forget you. I remember one day, when I was in the unaccompanied children’s section of the refugee camp, your shiny smile and your kind words stopped me from killing myself. Thank you for saving my life with your amazing words. Heaps of respect and love for you, I wish you all the great things in life”
I cried when I received that message.
Can you believe that? My ‘my shiny smile and my kind words’ stopped a boy from killing himself!
How did I come to be volunteering in a refugee camp overseas in the first place?
Volunteering starts at home.
It starts with your neighbours and extends into the local community. Volunteering then expands out to the international community.
I’ve volunteered overseas as a Nurse and a Paramedic helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people. I’ve volunteered in disaster responses such as the Philippines after typhoon Hyan and Nepal after the earthquake. I also volunteered in Greece during the Syrian Refugee crisis and in Iraq during the conflict.
My pursuit of being a volunteer started at home.
SLIDE 2: Groote Eylandt
Home for me was Groote Eylandt. A remote island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Both my parents are Greek, they migrated to Australia in the 1970’s. My Dad worked on the manganese mine while my mum supported us at home when I was born. We lived on the island until I was 14.
Groote Eylandt is a close-knit community. It is a place where multiculturalism and diversity are the norm and where it doesn’t matter what your background is, people rely on each other to survive in such a remote location.
As a child I joined volunteer organisations in the community where we helped those in need. I learnt how to be creative when problems came up and we had limited resources. If someone had an accident and needed a wheelchair, we went out and fundraised to buy them the wheelchair. It was that simple.
SLIDE 3: Picture of helping people
As a child one thing my parents taught me from my Greek heritage was ‘Filotimo’.
Filotimo is a word that has no English translation, but It is defined as being hospitable and giving to others, without discrimination, and without expecting anything in return.
I learnt from growing up in a small community and from my parents that we can show Filotimo in everyday life.
I realised very early on that my passion in life was to help people.
But to do this as a career and to achieve my purpose I would have to further my studies to
get the skills to be able to pursue my passion.
So, When I finished high school I applied to university.
I didn’t get in.
In fact, I didn’t get accepted into anything that I had applied for.
It was up to ME to change this.
So, I wrote a letter to the university with the help of my teacher asking them to review the
Essentially, I was begging them to give me a chance.
While I waited with hope, I started a TAFE course through the volunteer ambulance service
to become a Paramedic.
3 months later a letter came from the university saying that a position had come up in the
nursing program and they would trial me for the first semester.
This was my chance
SLIDE 4: picture of red writing on essay
I was so excited to be accepted into Nursing because I would be gaining the skills needed to
This was my passion, and this was my purpose.
My excitement soon faded, when my essays started coming back to me covered in red pen.
I was just barely scraping through on a pass mark. One day my lecturer called me into her
office and she said:
“You will never make it as a Nurse, or a paramedic, you should quit and pick a
different Course, Nursing is just not for you.”
Why? Because I couldn’t write academic essays.
I was devastated. That was my dream.
I was being told that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t pursue my passion or fulfil my dream.
In that moment I knew that it was up to me to change this, I knew as I walked out of her office that day that I was not going to give up. It was up to me to create the change to prove to myself that I could do it.
I was NOT going to QUIT.
I persevered, and I kept handing in those essays. They kept coming back to me covered in
red pen but I managed to pass them, and before I knew it, I had completed all my subjects
My perseverance and persistence and ability to tackle problems head on had paid off.
I was able to graduate with a Batchelor of Nursing and a Diploma of Paramedic studies.
SLIDE 5: NURSE
Everyone has a moment.
A moment where they realise they are on the right path.
My moment came on a Friday night, one year after I graduated from Nursing.
I was driving into town and I saw an accident up ahead. It was a chaotic scene.
There were people panicking, bystanders not knowing what to do and there was a lack of
There was a fire truck there but no ambulance yet.
A woman had attempted to cross a busy road and had been hit by 2 cars.
You can imagine how horrific her injuries were.
I stopped at the scene and that is when my training kicked in, helping the fire crew,
doing all that we could to save this woman’s life.
I treated the patient with all my skills that I had learnt both as a nurse and a paramedic. I
remember one of the fire men thanking me repeatedly for stopping to help them. I was
holding a bag of fluids in my hands and I reached out to a bystander to pass it to them, so
they could hold it for me.
As I reached out I looked up.
It was her
It was that lecturer that had told me to quit and that I would never make it.
She had been driving one of the cars that hit the woman crossing the road.
Sometimes the very people that tell us that we can’t do something end up needing our
help, and they end up showing you that you are on the right path.
That was my moment.
SLIDE 6: mahatma ghandi quote
Creative change is more than embracing new ideas. It’s revisiting old ideas.
One of my favourite quotes is from Mahatma Ghandi.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
I did just that. I began to use my skills to volunteer. I volunteered in the ambulance service
And in the local community. I hoped one day to be able to take my skills overseas and
Once again I was told NO. I was not skilled enough, and I needed more
experience. The aid organisation said I couldn’t go and volunteer overseas.
Again, I was being told that I could not achieve my goal, that I could not fulfil my dream.
People also questioned how I, as one person, could make a difference if I went overseas to
Again, It was up to me to prove to myself that I could do this. It was up to me to create the
I persevered and persisted, I took up post graduate studies and went on to complete my Masters of Emergency Nursing and eventually, I made it overseas to volunteer as a Nurse.
It was while I was there I learnt some memorable lessons.
SLIDE 7: Pic from Philippines
It was November of 2013 when a large Typhoon struck the Philippines. This was going to
be my lesson in Empathy.
Tacloban was just devastated, I joined a medical group on a disaster response and headed
over to volunteer and help. On one of the days we were there, we set up a makeshift clinic
on the side of a basketball court surrounded by debris.
I was standing there taking in the sight of the devastation and the crowd needing
Medical treatment. The sight was overwhelming.
A local woman came and stood next to me, she looked exhausted and she was wearing clothes that had been donated and were way to big on her.
She sobbed as she told me how she had lost her child in the typhoon. It was
heartbreaking. She spoke of the Nightmares she was having and that she was scared that
the Typhoon would return.
There was nothing I could do for this woman medically at that
time, so, I sat and listened to her and I held her in my arms as she cried. I showed her
empathy and later she told me that sharing her story and having me listen to her had
helped her and that she would sleep much better now.
SLIDE 8: The lesson I learnt
In the Philippines I learnt that if you can listen to someone, console them while they
are grieving and show them empathy, you CAN create change, you CAN make a
SLIDE 9: Pic from Nepal
An earthquake rocked Nepal in 2015. Little did I know my lesson here would be
I volunteered with a medical team and we were situated up in a remote village in Ghorrka treating patients. We set up a basic clinic and treated hundreds of people every day. We heard stories of tragedy and loss and of courage.
The problems were so great and there were people that could not be saved.
One day an 8-year-old boy approached us at the clinic. He had hiked 4 hours down the mountain to get to us. His shoes were old and were falling apart and held together with tape. His face was dirty, and when he smiled he had 2 front teeth missing.
He was hungry, and he was asking for food and supplies to take back to his family. We fed the boy, and we were so impressed by how brave he was. We gave him rice and other supplies to take back to his family. He didn’t need medical assistance from us he just needed some supplies. I’ll never forget that big smile he gave me as he headed back up the mountain carrying what we had given him.
SLIDE 10: The lesson I learnt
In Nepal I learnt that If you can feed a hungry boy and give him supplies to help his family, and show him compassion, you CAN create change, you CAN make a difference.
SLIDE 11: picture of refugee crisis Greece/ border
The height of the refugee crisis in 2015 saw thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and
neighbouring countries, crossing the Aegean sea to the Greek islands.
Being Greek Australian I felt compelled to go and help when there were calls for Nurses to
It was here that I learnt the lesson of kindness.
When I wasn’t working in the clinic I was on the foreshore helping with boat arrivals.
Thousands of people arrived every day. It was winter cold, and people were soaking wet
from the boat ride across sea.
I helped a woman with her 2 children get changed into dry clothes, I
wrapped a blanket around them. The children were so cold their teeth were chattering as I
There was a look of shock on their faces as they had witnessed people drown on the
The woman had been so frightened but now there was a look of relief on her face because
they were safe.
She squeezed my hands and thanked me for being so kind.
Slide 12: The lesson I learnt
In Greece the lesson I learnt is that If you can wrap a blanket around someone
who is cold and show them kindness, you CAN create change, you CAN make a difference.
Slide 13: Iraq
It was in Iraq in 2017 that I learnt the lesson of hope.
There was a call for volunteer nurses in camps to assist those that were
escaping the conflict.
I responded to the call and I went to Iraq. I was treating patients in the clinic one day when
a mother with her child approached me.
They had a dullness in their eyes and looked so sad.
They were malnourished and traumatised.
They begged me for water to drink. I can’t describe the heartache I felt at that moment as I
rushed to get them some water.
The mother could not stop thanking me as they sat, quenching their thirst.
Through the interpreter she said that seeing a nurse had given her hope.
Slide 14: Lesson learnt
In Iraq the lesson I learnt is that if you can give water to someone who is thirsty and give them hope, you CAN create change, you CAN make a difference.
Slide 15: volunteer hugging
You can create change in your own life or in someone elses life.
When people say to me
‘Helen I would love to volunteer like you, but I don’t have your skills’
I think back to the lessons that I learnt and I say:
• If you can listen to someone who is grieving and show empathy, you can volunteer;
• If you can hand out food to someone who is hungry and show compassion, you can volunteer;
• If you can wrap a blanket around someone who is cold and show kindness, you can volunteer;
• If you can give water to someone who is thirsty and provide them with hope, you can volunteer;
Remember that facebook message from that teenage boy that wanted to kill himself?
All I did was show him Filotimo. I was a stranger that gave him a shiny smile and said some kind words and it saved his life. If you can give to others without expecting anything in return, you CAN volunteer.
Call to action
One person can’t change the world on their own, but together we can make a difference.
I challenge you all to create change.
I challenge you all to go out and volunteer, here at home, in your local community.
I challenge you to make a difference to one person.
People will tell you that you can’t do it, that it is too hard or that you aren’t skilled enough.
But it is up to you! Give it a go. You are the person that can create change. You are the person that CAN make a difference.
'I wish i had your skills then i would volunteer too'
Monday, 3 June 2019
A life lesson from a Humanitarian Nurse
What do think of when you hear the words: Universal Health Care?
You might think of 'Utopia'. A place where everything is perfect.
Where quality healthcare is accessible to all, where human beings are all equal, where age,
gender, disability, geography and economic status have no negative impact on your life. A
place where no one is left behind.
I know a place called ‘Utopia’, it's an Indigenous community in the central desert of
Australia. I actually spent several years working in this area.
It's a community where Indigenous Australians are more likely than Non- Indigenous
Australians to have Respiratory disease, Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Obesity, Chronic
Kidney disease and Mental Health problems with high incidence of teenage suicide.
A place where non-communicable disease leads to premature death.
This is not the Utopia we imagine when we hear: Universal Health Care, particularly when
this community is in a developed country like Australia.
These pictures were taken 10 years ago. Most of these children will not have finished school,
will be in trouble with the law secondary to alcohol abuse or chroming, will be pregnant as
teenagers, will have attempted suicide or suffer with mental health problems, they will have
experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse and almost all of them will die prematurely
due to Non-communicable diseases.
When we look at Non-communicable diseases ( NCD’s) what do we know?
We know that in developed countries, such as Australia, there are disparities in health
between indigenous and non-Indigenous people;
In Developing countries such as such as Ghana, Zimbabwe and Gambia, Health
disparities also exist amongst the population and that NCD’s are prevalent in low to
middle-income families, and factors such as economic status, geography and lifestyle
contribute to these health disparities.
We know that based on the NCD Country Profile report from the World Health
Organisation that the percentages of premature deaths from NCD’s are a global issue
and that NCD’s account for premature deaths accounting for:
34% in Gambia
43% in Ghana
We know that NCD are chronic health problems that are preventable and
can be linked to culture and behaviour, where obesity in some cultures is considered
fashionable and beautiful.
In some countries, smoking amongst men is cool, manly, and fashionable, and we need to
consider the diaspora when they return to their home countries, what habits they bring back
We know communicable diseases such as Ebola take precedence in the Health budget of
developing countries, understandable when you look at the statistics of communicable
We know one of the largest barriers to providing primary health care in developing countries
This may be due to a lack of Infrastructure, if there is no clinic or hospital how can the
healthcare workers deliver health care?
Access could be difficult because of Geography, if you live in a rural or remote area it may
be too far or too expensive to travel to access Primary Health Care.
Conflict or unstable environments may also prevent people from getting to a facility.
As a nurse working on the frontline I have seen firsthand what a lack of primary and acute
care facilities, a lack of diagnostic and lifesaving equipment, a lack of medications and a lack
of technology can lead to. Where deeply rooted exclusions and inequalities costs Human
I have felt the frustration of holding a young woman's hand as she took her last breathes,
knowing that her death was preventable if only we had basic emergency equipment and
access to a medical facility.
I have felt the frustration of telling a family that they must now say goodbye to their
grandmother knowing that having access to the right medication could have prolonged her
I have felt the frustration of telling a woman that she has cervical cancer, that has now
metastasized, knowing that with the right equipment and diagnostic tests, the cancer could
have been detected earlier, and given her more time with her children.
I have felt the frustration when a hospital was sending a child home to die with severe burns
because her family had no money and the hospital could not afford to care for her severe
injuries, knowing that in another country this service would be free.
I have felt the frustration of cutting a teenage boy down from a tree where he hanged himself
knowing that if he lived in the city he would have had access to mental health services and
There are so many barriers to accessing Primary Health Care,
And, yet, according to the United Nations Convention, access to health care is everyone’s
So what do we need to do?
Governments, globally, need to focus on prevention of NCD’s and need to allocate at
least 5% of the health budget towards this. Non-Government Organisations and
Donors should also consider this when allocating money to projects. 5% is the
example of the goal that Australia to needs to reach.
Developed countries such as New Zealand already allocates 6.4% of the health budget
to prevention of NCD’s, Canada 6.2%, The UK 5.4%, USA allocates only 2.8% of its
budget to prevention of NCD’s and Australia is less than 2% which is reflected in the
figures of premature deaths cause by NCD’s standing at 89%.
Developing countries struggle now with their health budgets and need our help.
Money invested now in ‘prevention’ will create a savings in future costs to primary
health care delivery for NCD’s.
The emerging health problems in Africa require a commitment to prevention as well
as a focus on coordinated acute care and primary health care services. The long term
projected plans should also include capacity building to facilitate preparations for
disasters/emergencies or conflicts.
We need to build Infrastructure that is accessible and inclusive of people living in
rural areas, and being sensitive to the communities needs, to be able to deliver
effective primary healthcare. If there is no infrastructure, or health care facilities for
people to access Primary health care, then early detection, treatment and ongoing
monitoring of NCD’s is not achievable. These facilities need to include quality
diagnostics, use current technologies, vaccinations and medications.
Countries such as Ghana, Zimbabwe and Gambia have existing trained healthcare
workers willing to work and deliver primary health care but there is no facility or
equipment for them to be able to do this, or, there is no funding to hire them to work
so there are existing staff shortages and poor nurse to patient ratios. A colleague from
Ghana told me this week that in a ICU and acute care facility the nurse to patient ratio
There are opportunities as part of future planning around the delivery of primary
healthcare and achieving Universal Health Care, to grow and develop expertise in the
health sector, amongst the community, through education programs linked with the
health care facilities
Africa has an opportunity to develop long term plans to work towards achieving
universal health care. These long-term plans are key to sustaining population health
improvements, over time.
We need to create healthy environments with the community’s best interest in mind
and include women and girls in the development of this. Reducing tobacco and sugar,
and modelling good behaviours will also assist in achieving this.
Achieving Universal health care is everybody’s business, there needs to be a focus on
‘accessibility’ and ‘fairness’ and not equity. We need to access those hardest to reach in
order to leave no one behind, but we can’t do this alone, we must all work together to provide
coordinated care involving long term plans.
Well, all week here at the World Health Assembly, we have been talking. We have discussed
the issues, we have analysed them and we have talked about them some more.
How much more do we need to talk?
Now, it is time to take Action
Saturday, 30 March 2019
My speech which was read out on my behalf for the Darwin Greek Community International Women's Day Event 2019:
How do you know if you inspire people?
Or that you inspire change?
For me it was visiting Darwin for a wedding and I was standing outside the Greek church and a young Greek girl approached me and asked me if I was ‘that nurse and paramedic that was on the tv and in the newspaper’. When I replied ‘yes’ her eyes lit up and she said, ‘I want to be just like you and be a Nurse and a paramedic and help people around the world’.
It was coming up the escalators in casuarina on a Friday night and having a woman stop me and say ‘I have been following what you do, and I think you are amazing, my daughter wants to become a nurse too, and I showed her the articles and the work you have done. She will have to go away for her training and I will miss her but if that is what she wants then she has to go.’
Something I have learnt is that if you change a girl’s thought process, and you encourage her so that she believes that she CAN, then she WILL succeed.
I want you to look at the women sitting on the panel today and I want you to celebrate them! They are Business owners, they are Managers, they are Professionals, they are academics, they are mothers and grandmothers and They are ‘change makers’ for the Greek Community of Darwin.
I want you to look around the room at all of the amazing women in our community and I want you to celebrate all of them. As women we should be boosting each other up and not pulling each other down.
Choose your tribe! These are the women in your life that celebrate you and support you and want the best for you. Surround yourself by YOUR tribe. I want you to look at the women on the panel again, because these women are MY tribe! Each woman is someone that I want to aspire to be like, each woman has been an active member in our Greek community and has fought to make changes so that it is much better for all of us to be a part of.
If you are a woman that is sitting on a board or in management in your workplace, then pull a fellow sister up and empower her so she can sit beside you. Facilitate her so that the difficult journey that you had getting there will not be so difficult for her. If you see a woman with potential in your workplace then encourage her and guide her, so she can be empowered, and she will succeed.
To any men that may be in the room, we honor and celebrate you too. You are our fathers, you are our brothers and you are our husbands. We rely on you to set an example, when you witness bad behavior towards women by the men in our community, stand up and call them on it to change that behavior. We rely on you to see our potential as women in the workplace or in the community and to mentor us, so as women, we too can sit in a position where our voices can be heard. We rely on you to raise the young boys in our community to respect us as women so when they become men they will value what we say and what we do. Women and Men need to work together as ‘change makers’ so that gender equality in our Greek community can be achieved.
The next time you are at the Greek school here in Darwin I want you to take a close look at the children. There is a little girl that goes to that school that is our future leader of the Greek community, she is our future supreme court judge, she is our future Prime Minister, she is our future Doctor, she is our future CEO of a company, she is our future emergency service personnel, she is our future business owner and she is a future mother. She is our future and she is waiting to be inspired by you!
My name is Helen Zahos, I am a proud Greek- Australian Territory Woman and I cannot be there to join you, but for this International women’s Day, I celebrate you all!
Tuesday, 26 March 2019
3) safety is a priority
Trust me I have had situations where I have been unaccounted for, or an incident like natural disaster or a bombing close by has occurred, and my family was worried. By registering with smart traveller the Department of Foreign Affairs can keep a track o f where you are supposed to be, and intervene if required.
9) Is the organisation that I am looking at joining registered or well known? has there been any bad press?
Preparation is key:
Have I learnt about the culture?
Sunday, 9 December 2018
It was a few months ago, May 24th to be exact, I was lying in bed scrolling through my social media on my phone when I received an email through my website.
'Invitation to speak at a TEDx event'.
'This has to be a joke' I thought to myself, or maybe a scam, like the ones that ask me to speak at conferences that are non-existent. I have a think about it and I message back. Its legitimate, I have a conversation with the organiser of the TEDx Robina event. Well, speaking at a TEDx event is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Of course, I say 'yes, I'll do it'.
Little did I know, this would be one of the toughest and most stressful times for me. Easy to say 'yes' but what does this mean? Well, it's ok if you are just doing a TEDx talk, but you also must still go to work and tackle all the other crazy, busy things happening in your life.
First, they give you a theme and you must come up with a pitch. In a short time frame they want the written version to go over and see if it fits the theme and regulations. I can tell you now, the version I handed in was completely different to the finished product. So, that initial version gets looked at by a friend Peta, and it is tweaked and rearranged and some helpful tips were given, over a glass of wine and dinner. This TEDx talk is already consuming my life. I walk away changing it again.
I turn up to work in a stressed state and head straight to our wellbeing officers’ desk. How lucky am I that she happens to love TED talks, so she goes over my talk with a fine-tooth comb. She corrects every possible mistake, I can hear Janet's voice now "it's 'who' not 'that' Helen" as she scribbles corrections on my script. Poor Janet, I visit her many times to read it out aloud and to practice. She calmly listens and reassures me that it is going to be 'ok'. I storm into her office again one day and announce "I'm just going to have to use cards to prompt me Janet, there is no way I can remember this off by heart. I just can't do it, and besides I've seen plenty of TED talks where people use cards or are holding paper" Janet again reassures me and insists again ‘it will be ok’.
I feel nervous and anxious and unsettled. There is Six weeks to go. Well, another tweak of the talk and some more reading out aloud. No one is safe. If they are sitting near my desk or in the tea room they are a target. Then an email is sent to me at Four weeks out. There is lady willing to coach us if we need assistance. I feel an instant sense of relief. Tanja is her name. I attempt to book a session in with her, but it seems everyone else is trying to see her as well. This is proving to be much more difficult than it seems, and I am not able to take advantage of the coaching as I would like. To get to the University, I must drive down to the Gold Coast in peak hour traffic after work. It looks like this is not going to work out. I eventually book in to see Tanja on the day I go down to the University to film the promotional video. The promotional video is a terrible experience for me only because for whatever reason, I suddenly can’t get the words out or say what I want to, and I can hear my voice is shaky. I have spoken on Television before and in front of cameras but today I am all over the shop. It is a good chance to meet a couple of the other speakers and hear where they are at and realise I am not alone in the nerves department or feeling like there is a lack or preparation.
I spend time with Tanja in the studio, reading my talk out to her and timing it. Tanja gives me some feedback, and some changes are made to the talk, again! Even the though the last changes were going to be the very last. I stress to her then that I will be taking in cards because there is no way I can remember this talk off by heart. Deep breathes and the realization that its crunch time. This could not be happening at a worst time for me. My schedule both at work and out of work is full and I am crazy busy. I could just cry. I just don't have time to practice! Of course, amongst other things I must fly up to a school to speak at their end of year awards night and attend a three-day Business and Professional Women’s Conference all in the same week and it’s Two weeks to go. To add to the stress, I start a new role at work with lots of new things to learn. My brain can't cope. I'm walking around the office sighing every few minutes completely overwhelmed.
Now it's time to get the PowerPoint finished, and there is a realization that all pictures need permission from the Photographers, so I have the task of reaching out and contacting all the Photo Journalists to ask for permission to use their photos. This takes time as I am dealing with time differences and having to communicate in Greek as well. I read a TED book that was leant to me by Alesha, a colleague and friend of mine, and I look at how they expect to have the power point set up. I also must use a specific TEDx Robina logo that has been sent out to all of us, there is the copyright statement and credit to the Photo Journalists that I, this is really time consuming and not what I need right now. I continue to say no to people that want to catch up outside of work and I try and stay focussed.
So, I start to practice a little more. I take every opportunity even down at the local bowls club. I drag anyone willing to listen to the side room and stand there and deliver my talk to an empty room speaking to a patron with their beer in hand. I ask people during their lunch breaks at work to sit and listen. It is the only way I can practice, talking to myself in an empty room just isn’t the same. The weekend before the performance I deliver my talk in front of a small crowd at the AHEPA hall in Brisbane. The next day I go to Sally's house to deliver my talk at a mums 4 refugees meeting. I listen to the constructive criticism ‘make sure you pause more so people can take in what you are saying’. I make mistakes during the talk, I stumble a bit, but it is an informal intimate group and they are a kind. I was so grateful, I would rather be making these mistakes now and not on the night. All the support from everyone around me is so amazing. I practice at the conference in room 308 with my awesome Darwin team mates who all sit and listen with a glass of wine in hand and ready to give feedback. Some more small changes and I'm all over the shop, every time I think I have finished tweaking my talk, it needs changing again. I've convinced myself I can do it, but I'll be reading off cards. ‘Helen, you’ve got this!’
I have recorded my talk on my phone and I listen to it as I drive to work, in fact for the entire month I've been doing this, forgoing my favourite music or radio to listen to my talk. One day, I'm not sure what comes over me, but I put the cards away and start practising without. I had a list of one word prompts to guide me. Eventually the pictures from my PowerPoint prompt me. I decide I can’t deliver my talk the way I have written it, so I will just tell the story the way it comes out, and that is how I practice it until the event. Two days before the event and I am rearranging the Power point slides, so it will make sense to me when I tell the story and I feel like it flows much better.
That final week and I feel calm. Something has shifted. I am happier, less stressed, more confident. I know I have got this, and I have a team of amazing women who keep reminding me of that every day up to the moments before the presentation. Even receiving messages from Mary with little mantras to be telling myself every day, just knowing people out there have me in their thoughts helps so much. Two days to go and I message my sister to say I'm not feeling nervous, I just want it to be over and done with now.
Friday night dress rehearsal, I get a chance to meet the other speakers and get a feel of the venue and the space I will be speaking in. I am asked to be the first up as the first scheduled speaker for tomorrow is still in Sydney. The crew attach the microphone, I bite the bullet and tell myself there is no time to be nervous. Thoughts run in my mind, like 'will the other speakers hate my speech? Are they judging me? Do they think I am not good enough and what am I even doing here?' I stand in the assigned space and in front of the volunteers, camera crew and the other speakers I begin my talk.
I confidently start and suddenly out of nowhere, I go blank. I forget what I am saying. It is hard to not be distracted. There are camera men walking around the top of the amphitheatre, one of the volunteers looks like they are falling asleep, someone is chatting on their phone, someone else has just entered up the back and walking down the stairs. I am suddenly overly aware of what is happening around me and I get thrown. I lose my concentration. I'm getting nervous now because tomorrow is the big day and I'm still stumbling. " Helen, just breathe, laugh it off and start again' I tell myself. 'Don't worry about what they think, this isn't about them right now’ To make it worse there is an old version of the power point that has been uploaded, and it throws me again as my talk has since changed. It is disjointed and doesn't go as smoothly as I would have liked it. I am told that I am one of the earlier speakers as I have expressed how nervous I am, and Tanja feels it will be best if I get it out of the way, and I agree! I am so annoyed with myself afterwards and can barely remember the drive home.
As exhausted as I am I get home and practice, one more time. I wake up in the morning, and practice with my morning coffee in hand. I feel remarkably calm but think to myself when will these nerves start? I casually shower and get ready, I head off to get my hair and makeup done so that I feel and look my best, and to help with my confidence.
I have myself a toasted sandwich and a strong coffee and as my hair is being done I feel like I don't want to engage in conversation with the ladies. I feel like I need to concentrate, but I can't. I look at my watch and it’s an hour until I must be at the venue. There is something to be said about visiting a venue before you speak and familiarising yourself with the parking and how to get there. It alleviates the added stress.
I arrive in good time, I easily find a park and head to the Green room. I walk in and find others are there too, from volunteers to other speakers. They all look fabulous, dressed and ready to go. I walk up the auditorium again to have a look and am pleasantly surprised at the hard work everyone has put in. It looks amazing! The TEDx Robina sign has gone up and there is an outline of the Gold Coast city skyline that lights up. The team has gone to a great effort to achieve all of this.
Ok, now I'm feeling a bit excited and a little nervous. I eat. Yep, that is what I do when I am upset or nervous. I find comfort in food. I go to the bathroom, nervous now, as there is lot of chit chat in the room and excitement, but I want 10 minutes to myself to go over my talk one more time.
The extra trips to the toilet are a combination of nerves and wanting to be alone. I find a space outside that is quiet and go through my talk off my phone. I have even brought my own laptop and an extra USB in case there is a problem at that moment with my uploaded power point. We have a little meeting and I am given a gift from Tanja, and the TEDx Robina team have organised gifts as well including T-Shirts and chocolates. One of the chocolates for me is in a 'H' shape and the sticker has the TEDx Robina logo on there. It reads: Helen thanks for putting the 'H' in Heartfelt for TEDx Robina.
How sweet is that? It is such a nice gesture. Some speeches are made and suddenly I am asked to go upstairs to meet the VIP and sponsors. I make it brief as I realise in less than 10 minutes I am on.
The first speaker joins me in a tapping session with Peta who will be doing her talk today on Tapping and this therapy helping anxiety. Peta was given a bottle of wine for her present, and we open it and poor a small amount into a glass. I take 2 sips, and someone says, "Don't get drunk!'. I laugh, I just need enough to feel comfortable, besides I think if I have a sip of wine, do some tapping stand in power pose, take some deep breathes, well I am doing everything I can to help me with my nerves before I go on. I make my way towards the door. The first speaker is on. I stand in my power pose outside, with the other speakers looking out at me and waving at me and giving me the thumbs up sign. I try to go over my talk quickly, but I'm scared I am about to go blank. Even if I wanted palm cards, I have not printed any out now as I had been successfully practising without them, but right now, I wish I had them. 'What's done is done Helen. You have got this!' I tell myself standing there in my power pose.
I take deep breathes and I hear them applauding for the previous speaker.
I make my way into the dark space to the side of the stage. The crew have set my microphone up and I get a tap on the shoulder signalling not to speak as I am 'live'. They are introducing me. Just like that there is applause and I walk towards Tanja who is holding the clicker. I grab it from her she calmly smiles at me with encouragement. I have a forced smile on my face. I take a quick look around, walk to the red circle, I take a deep breath, I pause and then I start to speak.
I suddenly feel very calm and in control. My worries about speaking too fast, not pausing enough, not getting a reaction from the crowd have left me. I am too scared to investigate the crowd, but I need to look up. I spot some familiar faces in the crowd and I try and focus at them. There is a man with his eyes closed I am not sure if he is so bored he is sleeping. Suddenly there is a camera man that has run down the stairs and there is a conversation happening down the side of the stage. ' Don't lose it Helen, just ignore it and keep going' I think to myself.
At one point in my story I get a gasp from the whole crowd. I continue and then there is a pressure in the room, I feel like I can hear a pin drop. The intensity is there, and I am scared I will lose my train of thought but so far so good. Just like that I say my last sentence and I bow my head and say thank you. There is an applause and some cheers and just as quickly as I came on stage I walk off. I hand the clicker to Tanja and as I turn so the crew can remove my microphone I get a big thumbs up and a smile from a mother of one of the speakers. They were so encouraging. I walk out and think ' Did I just nail that? it can't be it went so smoothly?'
I walk back into the green room and I tell the others who are waiting anxiously for their own talk that I did ok. 'I did well' I tell them. 'Yep, I think I did ok' I say again, I think I’m trying to convince myself, I am confused, and I feel like it is too good to be true, it all went so smoothly. Then it hits me.
'SHIT!' I say out aloud. "I friggen forgot a paragraph that I think would have rounded the talk off nicely. How can I forget that bit?!' The high I was on after coming off the stage has come to a crashing halt. I have forgotten a main bit of my talk and I'm devastated. I stamp my foot down and I am so annoyed. Oh well I must console myself now and tell myself that no one else would know. People are reassuring me it all went well.
It's now time to go upstairs for the intermission and I am getting hugs from people and positive feedback. My friend Drew says, 'Helen you know you have nailed it when the entire auditorium 'Gasps''. I take my friend Amelia’s advice and I make sure I have some people surrounding me that will celebrate and pick me up in case I fail. It is so good to have a few strong women around me to support me. I am so grateful for those friends that made it and supported me and those that cheered me on from afar. Team #308 from Darwin especially.
I will leave the link here for anyone that might want to see the talk: https://youtu.be/W_elAXlEwuk
The hardest thing after the talk is watching it. I refuse to watch the talk until after the weekend after it is released. When I do, I manage to pick it to bits and find every mistake, I identify everything I forgot to say on the night and I am annoyed at myself. I am determined to not psych myself out to the point where I will never want to speak in public again, in fact I text my speaking coach Trevor and send him the link and he too insists I need to look at the positives.
Well, positives are that I didn’t go blank, I got the message across, I completed it within the time frame and I didn’t speak too quickly, and I guess ultimately, I did it!
Yes, you are probably thinking that I am being too hard on myself, but I guess there is always room for improvement and I have mixed reviews and listening to the constructive criticism. Would I ever do it again? Absolutely yes! If you are lucky enough to be asked to speak at a TEDx event, do it! You will not regret it.
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