Surrounded by brilliant speakers at TEDxNavesink, Mike O’Keeffe recalls feeling out of place as the “corporate buffoon.” He had no idea at the time how colossal an impact this conference would have on his life.

Fresh out of college, Mike had pursued improvisational comedy, which he continues to enjoy 25 years later. He worked for many years for Disney in Orlando, doing improvisational versions of plays such as Romeo and Juliet. He also performed at the Comedy Warehouse in Disney. Eventually, he attended graduate school at Monmouth University and obtained his masters degree in teaching. While Mike continued doing improv, he was immersed in his career as a public school teacher. He continues to enjoy teaching others, but came to the realization that this career was no longer his passion.

One recent summer, while working at a performing arts summer camp in Middletown, a colleague suggested that he apply to be a speaker at TEDxNavesink. He applied, auditioned, and sealed the deal. He immediately fell in love with the atmosphere and people.

The day of the event was all that he had hoped it would be and more. He commented on the buzz in the room. “Everyone in that room was smart and intuitive and knew that this event truly was something big and that TEDxNavesink was going to be huge. No one walked around gloating, ‘saying this is ‘badass’”.

Mike’s role at the conference was to serve as comedic relief. When the material of the topics would get too heavy or the audience needed a pick-me-up, Mike was sent on stage to get the crowd laughing. He succeeded.

His favorite part of working with TEDxNavesink was the camaraderie. “It’s nice in this superficial age to still see a lot of great people who want to challenge and push boundaries,” he added.

The impact TEDxNavesink had on Mike did not end when he walked out of those doors after the event. It is actually the aftereffects of the event that had the largest impact on Mike’s life. His “involvement in TEDxNavesink was one of the things that helped him make his decision to leave being a public school teacher” to pursue his passion and “work out of the classroom”.

In addition to empowering Mike to follow his passion, TEDxNavesink opened other doors for him with TED-ed.

TED-education or TED-ed is an offshoot of TED. A committee from TEDxNavesink works with this organization and Mike has become a large part of TEDxNavesink’s involvement. The objective of TED-ed is to develop a program to help young people create their own TED talks. So what’s Mike’s role? Well, Mike’s the guy who will go into different schools and teach children how TED works for them. He still continues to pursue his passion of being a teacher, only not confined to the traditional rules and structures that teachers must abide by nowadays. Mike says he is now happy to work with “people who want to put children first” at TED-ed.

Mike gained so much from this conference and he hopes attendees and future speakers are able to do the same. He hopes they are “empowered to know that they can do great things” and hopes that people are willing to “take that leap” just as he did.

What’s Mike’s advice to someone who can get involved as a volunteer with TEDxNavesink? “Don’t walk, run”.

Tickets to TEDxNavesink on April 11, 2015 are on sale now. So, run to get yours before they are sold out.


Interview with Mike by Jordyn Magenheim, TEDxNavesink Intern and Monmouth University student

Photo of Mike O’Keefe by Doug Dresher

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