27th September 2015

Escape from North Korea moves audience to tears at TEDx Berlin

The speaker has been announced and introduced by the MC; her big moment has come: the spotlights are on, all eyes are on the stage and…nothing happens. Silence at first, then whispering, uncertainty all around….the stage remains empty. Moderator Stefan Balzer announces the next speaker and moves on with the program. When announced a second time, our speaker Hyeonseo Lee finally appears on stage at TEDx Berlin and moves her audience to tears with her story.

As presentation agency and sponsors of TEDx, we supervise the speakers at this world-famous conference. We coach them in their talks and take care of their slide design – in this case it was particularly challenging. The topic that our speaker Hyeonseo Lee spoke about was contentious: she had fled from dictatorial North Korea, having to leave her family and friends behind. Her emotions and thoughts, the circumstances of her flight as well as the situation in North Korea all contributed to capturing the audience; yet the fact that she needed to completely focus on the difficult subject of her story and the emotional impact it had on her meant that she nearly missed her performance while practicing backstage.

Awakening in North Korea’s Valley of the Clueless

For us, the challenges were manifold: recognizing the cultural differences, conquering linguistic barriers and working under enormous time pressure. We managed this not least because our presentation coach comes from China (before it was open to the West) and empathized strongly with our speaker – as did many in our Berlin audience; they experienced similar circumstances before the fall of the Berlin Wall and know the feeling of fear, entrapment and living under state dictatorship. ‘Awakening in North Korea`s Valley of the Clueless’: What is it like to live in a country which is completely secluded from the rest of the world? In her TEDx talk Hyeonseo Lee provides answers to this question, because she knows both sides: life in total ignorance in North Korea and life in our globalized world. Using technology as a means of transcending these borders is something that people did in the GDR by watching Western television channels, and it is what Hyeonseo Lee did, too. Hiding in her room, she watched TV programs from South Korea and realized the sort of world she was living in. In her TEDx talk in Berlin she communicated her ultimate hope: that North and South Korea be re-united.

Together we successfully mastered the balancing act between professionalism and empathy, between compassion and objectives, and we moved the audience. Her authenticity at this conference, with the motto ‘Ideas worth spreading’, moved people to tears, not just on stage but also during the conversations that followed.

We look back on an intensive time during our collaboration with Hyeonseo Lee, which continues to inspire us even a year after her talk. Would you like to present a sensitive topic and move people with your presentation? Then contact us!