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„I would love to plant some ideas and give them the chance to grow.“

Niklas Laasch, member of the careerloft student advisory board, had the chance to speak with Fabian Hemmert about TEDxBerlin, his experiences on stage and off stage as well as the development of future mobile technology.

Fabian Hemmert is a guest professor for interface design at the Muthesius Kunsthochschule in Kiel and a postdoctoral researcher at the Design Research Lab at the Berlin University of the Arts. His research focuses on new ways of interacting with technology.

Fabian Hemmert, guest professor for interface design at the Muthesius Kunsthochschule in Kiel and a postdoctoral researcher at the Design Research Lab at the Berlin University of the Arts
Fabian Hemmert

Fabian Hemmert is considered to be one of the leading speakers on mobile telecommunication, his TEDxBerlin Talk on shape-shifting mobile phones of the future has been watched more than 700.000 times and was translated into 35 languages.

Fabian, how did you get involved with TEDxBerlin, what motivated you to give a talk in the first place?

When I first heard about TED coming to Berlin (in the shape of TEDxBerlin 2009), I was very excited. I knew the TED Talks, and I always had dreamt of giving a TED Talk at the end of my career - who could have known that it would actually happen at its beginning?

Attending the event seemed to be hard, speaking at it: impossible. On the off chance, I submitted a brief pitch about my PhD project: shape-changing, weight-shifting, and living mobile phones. A week later, Peter Borchers, who provided the contact to TEDxBerlin's organizers to me, called me: “Fabian, congratulations: you're speaking at TEDxBerlin.”

But there was a catch: I got a short talk - only five minutes. I was also told that I could even give the talk in German, as it would not be put online anyway.

Again, on the off chance, I decided to give it in English. That has proven to be quite a good choice: my talk was put on YouTube. It got featured by infosthetics.com, where it got picked up by Engadget and Gizmodo. Suddenly, it had about 40,000 views on YouTube. At the time, that was more than all other TEDx Talks (which were quite new) combined.

Stephan Balzer, the organizer of TEDxBerlin, called me. “Fabian, TED called. They decided to put your video on TED.com.”

This was a life-changing moment for me. I still remember it very vividly. Ever since, everything is different. My video on TED.com is the result of a crazy, impossible chain of off-the-chance choices and lucky coincidences. I am very thankful for all of this.

Were you anxious about your talk?

Niklas Laasch, member of the careerloft student advisory board
Niklas Laasch

Yes. I had never given a talk before! Luckily, TEDxBerlin had hired a speaker coach. This guy, Ole Tillmann (www.peakberlin.com), who I am now happy to have among my friends, knows what he does. For my five minutes of on-stage speaking, we worked for about twelve hours. Ole knows the magic recipe of turning a presentation into a TED Talk, and he knows how to turn people into TED speakers. One of his techniques is called »story embodiment« - it's about teaching your body the emotional structure of the talk. It works a little bit like a dance choreography - your body just knows every next step. And what's great about it is that it works even under high adrenaline (which is normal on stage), and you don't need notes or text slides anymore. Free, emotional speaking. This was my big learning from TEDxBerlin.

Did the TEDx Talk help you on your way? Did it have an influence in the development of your project?

For my PhD, it actually did not change that much – I had to write my thesis, and traveling and giving talks is actually an excellent reason for procrastination.  In the long run however, it changed my career a lot: being featured on TED.com is a great luxury, an unstoppable multiplier of attention. People are interested in what I do, and what's next. I get in touch with a lot of interesting people, and I get to hear their stories.

Niklas: What is your favorite TED Talk?

“When ideas have sex”, by Matt Ridley.

Do you have any hints for our applicants about how to tell a compelling story on stage?

Put no text on the slides. Prepare a well-crafted story. Practice obsessively. In case of doubt: call Ole Tillman.

Did technology become more human in the past few years or did we become more technological?

Our relationship to technology is closer now than it was in 2009. And that's because we made some steps towards technology - we let it come closer to us (think of smart glasses and smart watches). I think we have to learn to let go - right now, we are too obsessed with our devices. It's sad to see how parents narcotize their kids in restaurants by putting an iPad in front of them and earphones into their ears. I am very scared of smart contact lenses, because we cannot close our eyes to them, or look away from the content that they show. What are the emotional side effects of how we use technology today? I talk a little bit about this in my later TEDxBerlin Talk:

If you had unlimited resources - time, money, space - what would be your next project?

It would simply be a garden for ideas. Ideas are a lot like plants. When they are small, they need time and care, and the right environment to get a grip on the world. I would love to plant some ideas and give them the chance to grow.