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  • Mark Balla

In case you can't decide whether to buy or not.

Hello to my prospective readers. Here's a look at the opening chapter of my book. I hope it leaves you wanting more:


What a glorious combination. Curtains that so totally blocked out the light, I couldn’t see my hands when I waved them just centimetres in front of my face. A mattress so large that even spread eagled in the middle, I couldn’t find the edges. The doona around me soft and full, my head surrounded by a cooling goose down pillow. A deep sense of contentment overwhelming my entire body in a way that I had never experienced before.

I lay there absorbing the complete blackness of my surroundings mixed with the emotion of yesterday’s extraordinary experience. I’d done it. I’d absolutely nailed it.


I dragged myself across the bed until I found the edge and then grasped at the darkness until I found my phone on the bedside table. The room lit up when I pressed the button. 10.00 AM on the dot. I’d slept eleven hours. For someone who usually struggles to get more than five or six this just added to the sense of elation I was feeling. 


My bladder was certainly feeling the eleven hours as well and as much as I really didn’t want to come out from under the covers, nature’s call was simply too strong. As I stood at the toilet I looked at my face in the mirror. This was the face of a man whose life would never be the same again. Yesterday changed everything.


I opened the curtain and crawled back under the covers. There was a light rain outside as I looked across Lake Wakatipu to the snow capped peaks of the Remarkables. Queenstown is surely one of the most picturesque towns anywhere in the world. What a fitting place to start an unimaginable journey.


Eighteen hours ago, as I started to walk off the stage, the master of ceremonies held up his hand and told me to stay there. To enjoy the applause from the 400 people in the audience whose lives had also changed a little today. Some were standing now as they cheered. So I stood there and thanked them. Trying to look every one of them in the eye, to acknowledge and thank them for giving me this opportunity to tell them my story.

The MC eventually came up on stage. He’d given me a hug for good luck at the start of my story. Now we hugged long and hard to celebrate the completion. One last wave of thanks to my audience and I left the stage. I took my seat among the other speakers, people who had become my friends over the past few days as we built up to this day. There were twelve of us and I was the second last. I sat next to a woman who had spoken earlier in the day. She turned to me, tears running down her face and said “Mark, I truly did not imagine anything like this from you”.


Lying in my bed the next morning, the tears started to trickle down my face too. They say the best impromptu speeches take six months to prepare. Well, I have to tell you here and now that they are absolutely right. And when your speech is built and delivered with real passion, the release at the end is something to behold. The trickle of tears became a stream, and the stream became a flood of loud and uninhibited sobbing. It was almost two hours before I was able to gather myself together and show my face in public. Even today, just over two years later, when I think of that morning, my eyes begin to well up again.


Six months earlier, I was in touch with Trent by email for the first time. His brother Jon who lived in Melbourne had suggested that Trent might be interested in my story. A couple of emails back and forth and Trent asked me if I would be happy to present my talk to Jon who would then let Trent know if it was worth taking any further.


Jon and I got together on Skype at about 8.00 PM on a Friday evening. Jon asked me to run through my talk without a break and he would save any commentary for the end. Half an hour later I was done and nervously watching him at the other end of the camera for any sign of how I’d done. He didn’t mince words. “It’s a good story, but it needs a bit of work. And it is way too long! Let’s do this again at 8.00 AM on Monday morning, but instead of half an hour I want to you to get it down to a maximum of 15 minutes”. 

It was a pretty tough weekend. I had so much to say and I’d worked really hard to “consolidate” it down to half an hour. It was really quite distressing removing so much important material but Jon had been clear. If I couldn’t get it down to 15 minutes by Monday morning he simply couldn’t recommend me to his brother in Queenstown.

On Monday morning I delivered my talk to Jon again, 14 minutes and 55 seconds. He smiled at me across the webcam and told me that 90% of people drop out when given a task as tough as the one he’d give me.


Trent called from New Zealand a couple of hours later and asked me if I would like to join the other speakers at TEDx Queenstown six months later.


All the speakers met up in Queenstown three or four days before the big event. We had all been assigned a mentor and speaking coach months earlier and had been refining our talks ever since. The few days in Queenstown prior to performing for our audience were very intense to say the least. Most of us heard all the other speakers go through their paces a couple of times or more during the practice days. Everyone except me. Trent had decided that he didn’t want anyone apart from the mentors and coaches to hear my talk before I took it to the stage. Talk about pressure!


During those four days I must have been through my talk more than 40 times. I was dreaming it. I was going over it in the shower. On the day of the event I discovered that I could get through it in the time that it took me to walk three laps of the local rugby field. Being the second last speaker on the day, I had intended to listen to all the other speakers but if I’m honest with myself, I simply couldn’t’ focus on them. I heard three or four of them but most of my time was spent doing laps of the rugby field (in multiples of three). At one stage while practicing around the rugby field during a particularly emotionally charged part of my talk I thought I might add a line to emphasise the point I was making. Bad idea! The impact of the emphasis was dramatic, driving me to floods of tears. I needed a full three laps of the field to compose myself. Lesson learned. The new line was quickly and firmly shelved.


Trent and his team had done such a great job curating the event. There were three sessions, each with four speakers. At the end of each session the audience moved to the foyer for morning tea (after the first session), lunch (after the second session) and wine and beer (after the last session). The speakers from the session just ended were allocated a table that they could stand at so that audience members could come and speak to them.


By the time I had grabbed a glass of wine and found my table, there was a queue of around a dozen people wanting to talk to me. The first person grabbed me in an unexpected hug, thanked me and said that she was feeling far too emotional to say anything else. Hugs became a bit of a theme after that until the crowd eventually began to thin out. A woman came to my table. Her eyes were red and as she started to thank me for my talk she started crying. She reached into her handbag. I was expecting her to pull out a handkerchief. Instead she pulled out a cheque book and wrote out a cheque for $10,000 dollars on the spot. I wished that I had a handkerchief of my own at that moment.

Walking up on to the stage half an hour earlier and standing in the middle of the iconic red TED circle was exhilarating. It had been six months since Trent’s invitation but I had been waiting for this moment for a lot longer than that. I’d realised a couple of years earlier that my story needed to be told, but in reality this moment was a lifetime in the making.


I looked down at my feet and thought to myself “Wow! Look where I’m standing!”. I took a deep breath, looked at my audience sitting in expectant silence and proceeded to absolutely nail it.


#TEDx #TEDxQueenstown #ToiletWarrior

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