I went to my first ever TEDx event six years ago, and it’s a day I remember well. More importantly, I remember how I felt.
It was 2011, I was working as an intern, writing press releases for a well-known battery brand and ringing print technology journalists day in and out off a spreadsheet. I usually got hung up on, and it often felt like I was trying to sell double glazing to angry people. Rechargeable AA batteries. Not so chic. But practical. Please could you mentioned them in your Christmas feature?
But there was one week at work where a cool thing happened, my boss told me the battery brand client were going to be sponsoring a TEDx event at the Observer newspaper. My job was to make sure the battery products were all set up during the breaks and I was briefed to do my Sales Pitch to people who came into contact with the product. At any other times I could sit and watch the TEDx talks. During the breaks my Sales Pitch consisted of just chatting about the talks, Jude Law’s hair and asking where people’s boots/clothes were from, but y’know, we’re not all born IRL Saleswomen (also in my defence it’s hard with batteries, like surely you either need them for something, or you don’t?)
None of my colleagues wanted to go to the event (it was on a weekend, duh), but I couldn’t wait. Any opportunity to be inspired! This was during my phase of saying “YES” to literally anything! Because! It might steer me in the direction of my dreams! And the speakers were Cory Doctorow, Vivienne Westwood, Jude Law and Mariella Frostrup for goodness sake! A TEDx! (I actually wrote a blog post all about it, all those years ago, which you can find here.)
I remember feeling really stuck in that job, pretty bored of selling batteries to people over the phone. Was this the London dream? Discussing Lithium and rechargeables with old male technology journalists? But I was at the very beginning and there was something so exciting about that. Going to events like TedX kept the flame burning. I knew I wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what it looked like.
After going to this event, listening to these talks, feeling the speakers passion, something shifted. I knew, there and then, what it all meant. I wanted do brave things. I wanted to stand up there and talk about something I was passionate about. I wanted to try to not fall into a lifestyle routine that could rob me of my passions.
So thinking back to this day, re-reading the old blog post I wrote (remembering how I stayed up late in bed writing it frantically into the wee hours) made me smile. Sometimes we remember days that change us somehow. Big or small. I feel lucky to have documented so much of my life on this blog because I see things solidly in front of me. How I was, how I felt, how I acted, how I found everything so exciting, how I started getting cynical…The Circle Of Life ‘n’ all that.
But I still remember the whole day so well.
So when I was asked to do a TEDx talk hosted in Hull the UK’s 2017 city of culture, months and months ago back in the Summer, I obviously said yes.
But, when the day starting creeping up, I even contemplated trying to pull out of doing it, I was so nervous.
I genuinely thought of ways I could make it go away, but the lovely TEDx organisers were so brilliant at making me feel calm again. Even though my nerves were clearly starting to show through my emails.
Like all things out of our comfort zone that we can even start to dread, it’s never as bad as you think it’ll be. And in fact, I absolutely loved the experience. But it wasn’t just the “getting my talk done” bit that was the great (even though I am so happy I did it and thoroughly enjoyed it); it was meeting the TEDx team, getting to know the other speakers at the dinner the night before, listening to their inspiring talks and having chats in the green room backstage.
One of the speakers Jody Day showed me tactics on how to manage nerves. The Wonder Woman pose as well as other breathing exercises. I heard Ness Knight practice her speech in the shower room. Sarah Louise Davies was doing stretches and practicing lines. We were all being totally ourselves backstage, opening up to each other and it felt really supportive.
What was my idea worth spreading? I spoke about our online identity / virtual selves.
Which identity is your true identity? I wanted to discuss the new challenge of having an online and offline identity and the dangers of relying on your ~Internet Presence~ to define who you are. In Werner Herzog’s new film Lo and Behold a gaming addict knew he had a problem when he was ‘spending more time in the online world than in a real life world.’ Can the same be said for people who sit on Twitter or Facebook for hours every day? Can your online and offline identity truly match up? Will there always be gaps and different projections of your thoughts/looks/opinions? How do you bridge that gap and find one true identity? Is that necessary? Or even possible?
I will share the video once it’s up on the TED Talk YouTube.
A bit about the other speakers:
Professor Brad Gibson opened with a talk about aliens, worlds and extraterrestrial life. I learned a lot from this talk, well, because Brad is very clever. He is a professor of Astrophysics, and has actually discovered some space science stuff and won awards. His talk blew my mind.
I loved the talk by Dr John Curran on culture. John is an anthropologist (which I find so cool in itself) and works with top brands on how culture works, the importance of internal culture and how it benefits creativity and performance. John’s talk was focusing on how “culture” is messy and imperfect – and how understanding this is the first step to getting somewhere good.
Babak Sayer’s talk was deeply moving. Having surviving eight years of horrific war on the Iran-Iraq border and now teaching businesses on leadership, his story was remarkable. He honestly and openly shared his story of post-traumatic stress disorder, dealing with moving country with nothing, supporting his autistic son and how he coped with starting over again and again building things from scratch. His talk gave me perspective and his message was powerful: whatever barriers you face, you can always define who you want to be.
Phil Bell-Young presented a talk was all about science, but more importantly how to get people to engage with science. You have to make it fun. It was really interesting hearing him talk about how many things you have to consider before presenting a talk on science – you have to engage all ages, academic level and location. We should all care about science – but it does matter how it’s communicated as it can really effect how involved we get.
I learned what an “algorave” is from Alex McLean. Crazy stuff. Algoraves are dance parties where people dance to algorithms that are live coded. I learned so much about code, patterns, numbers, sounds, loops and how algoraves are all about living in the moment.
Jody Day gave a very moving and powerful speech about being childless, not by choice. I have heard stories in the past of women who didn’t want children. But I’ve never heard a talk by a woman who talks about the grief not being able to have kids. Her talk was called “The Lost Tribe of Childless Woman” and she is the founder of Gateway Women network for childless women. I learned that 1 in 5 women over 45 in the UK are without children, a huge section of society that is often overlooked in media, politics and marketing.
Sarah Louise Davies spoke about the importance of playing. Moving. Being your 8 year old self again. The talk included amazing improvisation skills, playing with words, new research on changing our physical DNA by doing the very thing you were born with: the art of play. It made me want to dance, sing, jump around more.
Sadly I had to go and catch my train before seeing the next two talks, but that is why it’s so good that they go on YouTube afterwards. Dr Isabel Pires spoke about biomedical science, specifically what cancer can tell us about itself. Ness Knight, a record-breaking explorer, spoke about the surprising things she’s learned about Planet Earth and also gave some shocking statistics around how much time us Brits stay indoors. I can’t wait to watch them in full.
Thank you to TEDxHULL organisers, fellow speakers and the audience for being so warm and welcoming. What a wonderful experience it was.