18 December 18 - Taking time to be inspired at TEDx

A few Saturday’s ago I was lucky enough to attend my first TEDx London conference event. Its focus was on London Women and the theme for the day was ‘Showing up’ and to highlight the challenges that people are facing every day while trying to shape the future we all want to see. The aim of the event was about starting a movement of ideas that nurture hope, positivity and resilience - ideas that can change the world.

As a conference speaker, and now co-organiser of the London’s Calling Community Conference, within the Salesforce circuit, I looked at the TEDx event with different viewpoints, consumer, speaker and organiser. 

The Consumer:
The venue was large and easy to get to on the Southbank. The organisers had arranged a deal with the food stalls outside with discounts on some and the ability to bring food inside.
Upon registration we were given a goody bag, with items such as a notebook and snacks to keep you going throughout the day and other bits and bobs from sponsors.
The mix of speakers. You don’t get to choose who you’d like to listen to, you just stay in your seat and the next one is rolled out in front of you. There was a quick turn-around of speakers as most would only have a 15 minute slot. It was a pacey agenda. At the end of the day you have heard so many speakers, covering a wealth of topics. I had to keep notes just to remember their subject areas and key points as I wouldn’t have retained it all.
The format of the day opens you to topic areas that you wouldn’t normally go to listen to and everyone had a takeaway point to share. 

The Speaker:
The chance to speak at a ‘TED’ type conference would be amazing. We now see more and more speakers, such as Simon Sinek, storm ahead with their careers after having a moment on the TED red carpet dot. The increase in your own personal brand to say you’ve been a TED speaker is palpable.
The speaking slot is in front of a large audience, and the whole audience. Your time is also short, generally only 15 minutes in duration, so you need to make your point punchy.
It makes me wonder, what would be my subject? Would any of my current topics be too narrow, would an audience be interested to listed? And ultimately, how do I get that opportunity to be selected in the future?

The Organiser:
This is where logistics really comes into play here. There were 950 people attending, with over 2000 on the waiting list and a world-wide live stream. It makes you wonder that they could have easily hosted in a larger venue, or would that have damaged their exclusivity?
We noticed that crowd control wasn’t great to moving people into the auditorium, the queues crashed over the front entrance, making it difficult for people to enter and register.
Traditional Salesforce Community Conferences follow a similar set up to Dreamforce, where there are multiple talks on at the same time and the delegates get to choose their preferred track. With all TED talks, everyone sits together to hear everything. For the organiser you have a lot less speakers to gather for the day’s format so that can be perceived as easier to manage.
Merchandising is now becoming trickier, especially if you are having to appease a regular conference-going audience. Everyone already has enough cloth bags and t-shirts bulging out of their homes, in addition to a wide selection of random branded items as souvenirs. So, what do people now want or need? Saying that, a few days after the event, I did see a woman walking to the station with her TEDx bag proudly on her shoulder, so maybe its just me with swag fatigue, except for socks. I always love a good pair of socks. 

Catering. The organisers chose a venue where they didn’t worry about catering. They hooked up with the street food outside the venue and encouraged delegates to wander and enjoy the selection for lunch. For the afternoon tea break we did also take advantage of a cake stall. As a conference organiser, not having to worry about feeding people, and all their food preferences can make life a lot easier. Pie-gate anyone?

So, the event itself, what was it like you wonder? Well there were 11 on stage speakers across the day and then, for the last session, we switched to a live stream of the TEDWomen in California where we watched another 9 speakers in cinematic style. Interestingly, there was only one speaker who identified as a male for the day. It started at 13:30 and finished close to 22:00. As customers we had plenty of break times to grab food and take a break and allow the sessions talks to filter into our brains. 

Here’s a few of my highlights from the day:

Dr Alice Bunn, international Director at the UK Space Agency. If her job title isn’t enough to make you go wow alone, then her message was about how in space there is diplomatic cooperation between countries such as USSR, USA, Japan, China and Europe. They all work together to build satellites and share data as no one owns space. The most powerful example of international cooperation by mankind is the space station. If we can do this in space, then surely this should be achievable on earth? 

Jess Wade, who works in plastics electronics for Imperial College of London was a last-minute stand-in for Angela Saini who wrote the book; Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong. Jess was motivated after reading the book to then write over 270 wiki pages on Female Scientists. She realised that women were under represented in Wikipedia, as history has been written by men, about men, for men and mostly, white men in the USA. The Science industry as a whole, is still biased towards men and this stops girls from choosing this as a future career option. Jess has also championed to get a special edition of Angela’s book into all schools so this could act as a turning point to help young people’s perception of science.

Josie Young, a Feminist AI Researcher, working at Methods suggested that assigning a gender to a chatbot is poor design and constrains what is possible for the AI potential. People need help to identify their own bias in their design in their technology and try not to replicate a human, such as a white woman in the guise of Alexa and Siri; made by men.

In all, a long day with a ton of input and talks from inspiring people whom have overcome their personal struggles and were willing to share their stories. Reflecting back to my speaker ambition, it makes me wonder if I have anywhere near the level of content to stand up and be counted along-side them. Well done TEDx. 


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