Are schools killing creativity? What makes a great leader? How can I find happiness? Who are you, really? These are just some of the questions TED speakers have tackled in the past.
Hence, you can probably tell why I’ve always been a big fan of TED talks. So much so, in fact, that I used them as a reference in my Zoology degree dissertation, and will regularly tell people that they’re totally missing out if they haven’t already delved into this enlightening (and often quite shocking) online resource.
So, as you can probably tell, I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing TEDx (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks live in my hometown of Bristol on Thursday 2nd November - and it did not fail to live up to my expectations.
Here are my key takeaways from the day which - just to warn you - range from educational, to inspiring, to just plain random. I hope you enjoy!
Hosted at Colston Hall, TEDxBristol did an impressive job at turning the venue into a adult-sized playground for this year’s theme “Dare To Disrupt”. With VR headsets, a ‘wellbeing centre’, goody bags, and a variety of activities, workshops and extra talks to attend, I think it’s fair to say the excitement was palpable from the moment I walked in.
Unsurprisingly, the main room was decked out with a giant screen, incredible sound system and beautiful light array, lending to a scene similar to that of an epic rock concert - just with double the nerds, and half the sweat.
Key venue takeaways:
- Regardless of the event theme or topic, if you’ve got an awesome venue, you’re going to get the buzz started from the offset
- Always start on time. People get restless, very quickly.
- Avoid over-crowding the venue with activities or create an easier way of seeing what’s on, where. I for one felt like I was constantly running around trying to see everything and missed a few talks as a result.
Mena Fombo ‘No. You cannot touch my hair’
Topic: How “Any form of unwanted or uninvited touching is completely unacceptable” - a problem that is especially prevalent for black women (and men) who have their hair grabbed in public by strangers.
Key takeaways: Topically, Mena managed to address very serious subjects- inequality, social justice and objectification of black women - in a witty and compelling way. She combined both her own experiences with shocking historical stories and wholeheartedly involved the audience, making them feel physically part of her international campaign “No. You Cannot Touch My Hair”. This was somewhat symbolic as she got the audience to use our own voices, as she does in raising awareness about cultural differences and what is/is not acceptable. Overall, an awesome talk to start the day.
Charles Radcliffe ‘Facing Fear. Three Steps to surviving the robot revolution’
Topic: How can we thrive in our current period of exponential technological advance? We need to think of the wider application of technology and how it will impact human lives economically.
Key takeaways: Whilst I feel Charles could have used a few more statistics or shocking truths/videos to really engage his audience, this talk was powerful in its suggestiveness. He presented a new approach to robotics: the what rather than the how. What are we going to do to survive unemployment caused by the robot revolution? What will be our economic value?
Moving away from the doom-and-gloom approach, Charles believed that there is a path towards “removing the stigma of joblessness” whereby “automating labour will make people free to contribute to society in other ways”. I found this talk particularly questionable, especially with regards to automating agriculture, but an interesting one nonetheless!
Nura Aabe ‘No more us and them. Disrupting attitudes with autism’
Topic: Nura’s talk was a real journey. It explored both her frustrations with Somali culture in that it has no word for “autism” (the only translation means ‘mentally unwell’) and western doctors, who did not seem to understand Somali culture. As a result, Nura and her son Zak, who has autism, were often caught in the middle.
Key takeaways: I came away from this one with simple awe for Nura. She is a total inspiration for anyone wanting to confront a big change or challenge in their life. Her opening line of “What does uncertainty mean to you?” really stuck with me. This talk could have invoked a lot of sympathy but, instead, Nura turned this into a wonderful piece of motivation and positivity.
Martyn Ashton ‘Free-wheeling. Why you don’t need legs to ride a bike’
Topic: Having been something of a legend in the mountain biking world, Martyn Ashton’s life changed drastically when an accident left him paralysed from the waist down. Despite this, Martyn decided to experiment with new sports,such as kayaking and wheelchair racing, until he eventually learnt to ride a bike again - just in a new and innovative way!
Key takeaways: Martyn was easily the most relaxed and personable on stage, coming across as very comfortable with who he is. For those seeking to become awesome event speakers, Martyn is definitely one to look to for inspiration . Not only was he amusing, but I still have no idea if he was making his talk up on the spot or had memorised it extremely well before. Possibly a mix of both. Here are some my favourite Martyn quotes:
“It wasn’t the end of the career, it was just a change in it”
“It’s the excitement and energy that made this possible...and that’s passion”
Antonia Forster ‘LGBTQ and polyamory in animals..Yes it’s natural!’
Topic: Antonia’s talk challenged the idea that LGBTQ and polyamory are "unnatural", by using a range of incredible examples from the animal kingdom. Some of these included homosexual penguins that raised a chick, fish that change sex, organisms with more than 2 sexes (one fungus has 28,000!) and the fact that 60% of bonobo mating occurs between two females.
Key takeaways: Antonia was amusing, animated and passionate in her talk. Having used this as a platform to come out, she really made this experience relevant to her. As a speaker, she did a fantastic job at making the audience feel like they were “part of the joke" - and totally shocked the crowd when she summarised her talk as a rap. Somehow I don’t think anyone will forget Antonia...
Other TEDx Highlights
- Alan Bec and Ester Crawley both had tense and compelling talks themed around chronic fatigue syndrome - a condition that has a surprising lack of knowledge or understanding in modern day society.
- Joshua Luke Smith was wonderfully eloquent in his talk, addressing some key issues with modern day society through powerful spoken word.
- Music by Toby Corton and Roopa Panesar was stunning. They made a powerful and welcome change to the usual talking on stage!
Favourite new discoveries:
Mind Doodle: If you are like me and enjoy mind-mapping out ideas, Mind Doodle is definitely one to play with. Whether brainstorming, event planning, or making notes on a talk, I will definitely be using this nifty platform in the future.
You can also see Mind Doodle’s creation of a TEDx speaker profile mind map.
Solverboard: A dynamic online forum, Solverboard was an interesting way of sparking debates between attendees and speakers. I’m not sure this will really kick off at events, as submitting a “challenge” is a lot more taxing than tweeting (and I still haven’t received a reply for my comment!). However, I think this is a great platform to apply to businesses when a problem (challenge) needs solving and so requires input from a variety of team members.
Best non-profit organisations
Did you know that a used prosthetic leg is seen as a biohazard in the UK and cannot be used again in the EU?! No? Me neither.
Not only is this bad for the environment, but it’s also a ridiculous waste of a valuable resource. Hence Legs4Africa was founded, which uses intelligent recycling to donate UK equipment to amputees in developing African countries. Find out more about the their story here.City to Sea
With a mission is to stop plastic pollution, City to Sea started a #SwitchtheStick campaign last year which was successful in calling all UK suppliers to make cotton bud sticks out of paper. This will now stop production of over 320 tonnes of single-use plastic annually! An incredible achievement, and this is only one of their many campaigns.
To summarise, this year’s TEDx Bristol really embodied their slogan “Ideas worth spreading”. I went in open-minded and came out mind-blown. It exemplified slick event management, worthwhile workshops, intriguing stands, and a diverse range of inspirational speakers and musicians, and I only went for one day!
So a big thumbs up to TEDx from me, you did an awesome job.