TED

Making it to TED

Ted_logo

Last week Friday, I realised a big moment in my life. It came about so swiftly and required so much effort and preparation that I didnt have much time to reflect on it in the lead-up, and when it was over…I was too depleted for days to switch my brain on again or put pen to paper.

That moment was TED. My first. Not as attendee…as SPEAKER! ( Lol…I am willing to put myself through torture again should  anyone think my future ideas worthy of another talk!)

And to be totally honest…it was not quite TED Global, it was TED X Melbourne– an independently organised event licensed by TED. It’s like the Teddie Bear version, but it’s also the edge of innovation from whence Big Bear TED draws it’s next hits, so not exactly a walk in the park! And it’s the same sort of crowd…highly intelligent, accomplished change agents, tech savvy, edge-dwelling, hyper-connected, passionate about ideas and with ambition to change the world. As audiences go, I don’t think they come any more challenging than that!

The next big hurdle was finding an “IDEA WORTH SPREADING” within the theme of the event: Innovation. Do you know how hard it is to come up with a really NEW idea? Something that is not just an echo chamber? And that you can credibly talk to?

I had my concept very early on, then had to decide how to build it by drawing on tens of millions of accumulated ideas and distilled wisdom since the days humans started fashioning tools and leaving our interpretation of the world on the walls of caves. Then…how to narrow that down! Brevity is a quality I have sought to conquer all my life. Twitter has made an enormous contribution, but I was hugely challenged in picking out what to put in and what to leave out in 18 precious minutes whilst weaving drama and story, tension and resolution, strong beginning and climactic ending, with emotional connection.

I read somewhere that a good speaker on the paid circuit, (ie one who earns a living from conference speaking and does not have another day job on top of it) would spend up to 35 hours to prepare a 1 hour talk.

I would suggest that one can trebble that time for a TED 18 minute talk- especially if it’s not something you do day in and day out. 

I had about 1 month notice of the invitation, and early on decided that it wasn’t enough time to work with slides. Having attended TED Global twice as an audience member, as well as being the curator for AMPLIFY FESTIVAL and a regular at PICNIC, PopTech, Aspen Ideas Festival and the Business Innovation Factory, I have found that slides blur in my mind after a day of talk after talk after talk….so the presentations that demanded that I listen to only the speaker were somehow retained with greater impact.

But another reason for this decision is that I am accutely aware that as a digital immigrant born in 1961, I simply haven’t mastered the mouse flick to sell my shtick effortlessly and slick. So I said: pass. More pressure therefore on ME to keep my audience enthralled- and that in the last slot on a Friday afternoon!

Most people who know me would think I am very comfortable with public speaking. I do a lot of it and I have overcome shyness…but this time, I was throwing up for two days- the last time 5 minutes before I went on the stage! Whether it was stress or if I caught the same viral enteritis that brought down my 13 year old daughter’s friend who flew to Melbourne with us, I dont know. The poor kid was so ill and feverish that I had to arrange for a chauffeured car to take her to the airport to fly back to her mum as I took off for the Melbourne Convention Centre 30 minutes before my speaking slot. All in a day’s work for a working mum!

But it’s true what the experts say: “It all comes together when you go live on stage!

When I walked onto that big round red rug and saw the clock ticking….18:00, 17:59, 17:58, 17:57..instead of the choking anxiety that debilitated me moments before, an invisible fairy godmother cloaked me in a beam of light and confidence from who knows where! In practising, I did an early version of the talk to two of my team members, and the only other practise audience I had was my daughter and her sick friend in the hotel room- the rest was me in the bathroom mirror! So I was quite taken aback when the audience actually laughed….I hadn’t anticipated that….my kids always say my jokes are “SO LAME”!

I had taken a bit of a risk with a message that was truly heartfelt, but that many of the social media and internet junkies ( of whom I am an honorary member!) could construe as being anti social media or anti-computers. And indeed, some did. But I was relieved when by and large, the feedback I had at the post TED cocktail party and ever since then in a constant stream of tweets, blogposts and LinkedIn requests, that my talk HAD provoked reflection and stimulated people to think more deeply. ( The video is not yet available, and I will insert it when it’s up, but my talk was about The Maker Instinct- the relationship of how we learn by making things in a physical sense and how using ALL our senses and intelligences, underpin our ability to create and innovate.)

My final reflection on this experience I could not include in my TED Talk….I needed the reflection time after for its message to crystallise although it did pop into my conscious mind as I was in the process…..and that is:

The “MAKING” of a speech is in itself an enormous act of personal ( and professional) innovation and courage.

It forces you to let go of fear, to find courage, to hold opposable ideas in your mind, to anticipate objections, to think with both reason and emotion, to experiment, to fail, to stand up and try again.

(The proviso is that you do it yourself…don’t outsource it! )

And THAT’s why I’d jump at another opportunity like this. Speeches are a pain…they take HOURS to prepare, can totally tank if you misread your brief, but you learn so much about how to communicate and engage others in the process.

So here’s my next big idea:

I think delivering an 18 minute speech on a big idea or value should be a mandatory hiring test for all people leaders!  

( Hint: That may be an idea worth spreading! What do you think? Shall I start working on that in case someone wants to give me another go at this? )

(On 25 Nov I received the video link to YOUTUBE- so now you can see me in my imperfect glory…and you can see I’m actually having fun!) 

 

Advertisements

Losing my virginity: Review of my first TED live at Oxford, England, 2010

Good morning at 200km/h on board the 7:30 am Oxford to London train. I am
meeting ( on a Saturday morning no less!) the lovely @annemcx  for a quick
champagne at the refurbished St Pancras station that I hadn’t seen since
its opening. Then its onwards to Heathrow and Bangalore, India.

This is a rare hour of fasting after a bloated week of
intellectual gluttony at the table of TED. But the city of Oxford with it’s
breathtaking natural beauty, magnificent architecture and centuries old
culture in pursuit of knowledge equally contributed to the Epicurean
overload. There is only so much a girl can absorb, so I have had to pace
myself carefully – I still have 12 days to go and India and China lie
ahead!

To summarise, TED is FULL-ON!

I am nor sure they have perfected the formula yet, but given how profitable
TED is, it is clearly a highly successful recipe. Even so, they are open to
feedback, and here are some of my observations.

I had a stimulating experience, met interesting people outside of my usual
swimming stream ( everything is outside my usual swimming stream given
where I usually swim in the South Pacific) , expanded my perspectives and
insight into a few areas and picked up a few ideas to introduce for
Amplify.

Was I blown away? Afraid other than the live performance delivered up close
and personal by Annie Lennox, I didn’t get goosebumps or cried or laughed
till it hurt, but then again, I am quite hyper-connected and insatiably
curious already. As most innovators say, there’s nothing new under the
sun, just new combinations. On that score, a Dutch lady researching
products involving pigs was amusingly revelatory.

As far as conference logistics go, I found the sessions too long and my
attention wandered. Each session runs around 105 minutes or 1&3/4 hours and
includes 5 back-to-back slots with a LOT of slides( 1 is sometimes music).
There are 4 of those a day, sandwiched between good long conversation
breaks, too long lunches and just long enough nightly feasts groaning under
the bounty of plentiful so typical of wealthy societies.

So, in a day, you hear from around 20 different presenters, see about 200
slides and film clips, meet about 50 new people, and this carries on for 5
days in a row! If every speaker delivers 3 key messages, that’s 60 per day,
or 300 for the week….not counting the ideas sparked in the conversations
with the countless very bright people, or the 10 books you may buy to
supplement your reading. Can you see why I was not adding to this cerebral
load by trying to maintain a constant Twitter stream and blog beyond
session 1- my RAM was having a helluva time processing just what was coming
at it.

Sitting here now trying to recall the session highlights week, it’s become
a bit of a blur already, and in 3 weeks from now I know my recall will be
even less. But does that really matter as long as my subconscious mind has
absorbed and connected these messages into my neural pathways? Or perhaps
Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, is right- my online habits have
shrunk my attention span? Or maybe Jonah Lehrer is right- maybe my parallel
processing capacity has expanded thanks to our increasing digital
ambidexterity. (I am not sure what it was prior to the Internet era, I
didn’t baseline it!) I reckon having those two speakers side by side at a
TED line-up would make for a provocative experience!

The theme of TED Global 2010 was “and now for the good news”. Maybe that’s why
newspapers don’t report it- it has low impact on us! I liked the first
session the best out of the whole day conference because it’s underlying
message about the pervasive narrative in our heads that drive our behaviour
is one that I totally subscribe to. A highlight from the week was a
continuation of a theme I picked up at the Aspen Ideas Festival from the
@gregmortenson talks, and that is: We need a new narrative for many things. What could
the world look like if we changed the narrative around power,
inter-cultural collaboration in living on a finite planet with finite
resources, and tolerance for difference and styles of engagement with
Islamic nations.

The ideas presented by the 5 Middle-eastern speakers had the biggest impact
on me. (See program guide here)  They were:

  • Naif Al-Mutawa, Creator of The 99. (Watch this when it goes live! )
  • Elif Shafak, a novelist ( she told a beautiful story about the stories that separate and connect us)
  • Jamil Abu-Wardeh, a TV producer with a wicked sense of humour
  • Maz Jobrani, Iranian American stand-up comedian and social commentator
  • Zainab Salbi, a woman survivor of war, activist and social entrepreneur

I also found Sugata Mitra, an Education Researcher delightful to watch and listen to. A man totally in his element and exuding passion for life and fun.

Its a bit unfair picking just 6 out of the line-up, but what use would a review be if it praised all equally? The standard at TED is high and getting ever higher due to the open sharing of events like these online, a point that curator Chris Andersen made in a talk he gave titled: “Who’s the teacher?”

The Oxford Playhouse is a challenging venue. A dark theatre and the lack of
air conditioning in a venue filled with 750 bodies, stage lighting and a
ton of digital equipment combine effectively with lingering jet-lag to
transport you to the Land of Nod with alarming regularity. Mercifully, free
coffee flowed all day and I found the simulcast lounges adjacent to the
Playhouse a welcome alternative. But you have to wonder about traveling
that far at great expense to watch these sessions on a screen…so I had to
fight feelings of guilt when I used them instead.

The evening events were very well designed and executed flawlessly though I
thought they could have benefitted from a bit more variation- it was the
same formula and even exactly the same wines every night (no champagne???). A few games, some
music or entertainment would have been good? I was a bit cocktailed out by
the end and didn’t go the farewell BBQ and river boating and opted for an
afternoon blitz around the historic Cotswolds instead.

Now to the people. A good international blend, probably 2/3 rd from the UK
and North America, with a sprinkling of the well-heeled from Asia-Pacific,
Oceania, Central & South America, Africa and the Middle East. Largely Gen X
and Boomers, not any Gen Y or millennials except for staff. It looked like
the sexes were reasonably evenly represented though I’d put men at 60% and
women 40%. The most significant common factor would be social status and
income brackets – these are the influencers and decision-makers and it seemed 
largely private sector.

An observation though…polls by show of hand and audience reaction to
ideas revealed an alarming degree of uniformity in opinion. Is it
self-selection whereby only people of a certain demographic are drawn to
these events? Is it because only speakers of enlightened and liberal views
participate? Or dare I say there is a touch of group-think in “the TEDster
culture” as the organizers proudly refer to their followers. Where are the
outliers, I wonder, and how do you bring different voices to this hugely
influential platform where more than 500 million pairs of eyes have
participated in live webcasts or downloaded video content?

Another observation is the fact that from the podium we preach sustainability, growth without impact, over-consumption, etc…but then we add to it by gift bags full of stuff we really don’t need. My challenge to TED organisers ( and all those who emulate them) is…re-think goodie-bags! We all have more than enough shit in our houses alreadty! This is hypocracy in its worst form. And another suggestion: Could the next TED be completely plastic free and use only glass containers and aqua fountains and porcelain cups please?

Will I rush back and do it again? Yes, but not before I have explored other
conferences that are a bit less mainstream and more edgy, like The Singularity Summit. 

I actually think that I enjoy the Facebook Sydney TED Salon  experience more.
This is not a TEDX, but a random group of 15-25 people who formed 4 years ago,
meet at someone’s home once a quarter to watch TED videos selected by the rotating
host, which ensures diversity of taste, and projected onto a sheet ( or a big TV) and then discussed over BYO
wine and finger food. We watch about 4-6 TED talks a night, muse over them, debate pros and cons and check in on who
is doing what, and thus link our respective work and interests in Sydney. It’s great!

So, in conclusion, if I rank the conferences I have attended in the past 3 years in terms of my favourite inspiration for the AMPLIFY Festival that I produce in Sydney, they are:

  1. Picnic in Amsterdam, who ties with
  2. PopTech, Maine USA
  3. TED Global who ties with
  4. Business Innovation Factory, Providence Rhode Island

OK, any contrarian views, questions or comments?