I spent yesterday at TedXGranta.  Presumably, you’re familiar with the TED conference – TEDXs are smaller, local conferences which follow the same format of short presentations and conversation, under license from TED, but organised and run locally.  There were a wide range of talks, some of which I found myself more interested in than others (as you might expect), but right now, rather than listing them all I’m more interested in drawing out the themes which ran across the talks, as these felt like the ‘bigger’ ideas hidden within the more specific, smaller, ideas of the speakers.

The first two presentations were by Tim Morley – talking about teaching Esperanto in Schools, and Eben Upton – talking about using the Raspberry Pi to bring back proper computer teaching to schools.  They shared a common concept – it was about giving children a simplified device – or language – for the purposes of piquing their interest and making their own discoveries.  It was likened to giving people a recorder to get them started in music.  A friend commented to me that he tried learning Esperanto as a child and never got anywhere.  I responded that he also had a microcomputer in those days (which is what the Pi seeks to be a modern day version of) and took to it like a duck to water.  It isn’t about making everyone a linguistic master, its about democratising opportunities to find out what you love.

A second big idea was the benefits that come from empowering minorities.  David Constantine’s NPO Motivation provide wheelchairs for the developing world – but his motivation went far beyond simply offering mobility – he wanted to offer self respect and participation in society.  He’s doing a truly fantastic job.  Closer to home, Flack – a Cambridge listings magazine is offering the same benefits to the City’s homeless.  Rather than focussing on the problems of homeless people, Flack encourages them to use their talents, skills and creativity.  Again, its all about empowerment.  We also saw a video presentation of Susan Cain’s speech about introversion (which is making a bit of a buzz right now).  While I have some issues with the contents of her speech (thats another blog post… and probably a second post once ‘ve read her book and seen exactly what her ideas are in depth), she points out the modern society is marginalising introverts – potentially a secret oppressed minority in front of our eyes (or, in may case, behind my eyes.  Introverts will get that joke… extraverts, maybe less so).  She also says that empowering introverts will bring new and better ideas which can change the world.

The final big idea was that we should bring the things to the people.  Raspberry Pi and Esperanto are examples of this – the low cost (of the Pi device, or of learning Esperanto well enough to teach it to others) puts them into the hands ofchildren who can benefit.  Shelly Katz displayed his new instrument / performance device: the Symphonova.  its a device which will allow him to bring the sounds – and live reactivity – of an orchestra onto a far smaller stage.  And also a device which will allow people with my personal levels of musicality to sit amongst and play within an orchestra.  Tim Hayward (once a writer for the Guardian, and now the Guardian of the sticky buns) talked bringing the foodie revolution which has happened in the high end restaurants of London, into the smaller indie venues on the high street.  He’s starting by saving Fitzbillies – something I have to approve of, even if gluten intolerance means I’ll never again taste the benefits (That said, my wife, who is frequently sniffy about British cakes seems to have become a convert to his Chelsea Buns, so I assume he is doing a good job).  Finally Tim Minshall taled about the problems of bringing engineering to the people – because people didn’t know what engineering is (just as an aside, while I’m sure children don’t know what Engineers do – do they also not know what inventors do?  Or games programmers?  Or chemists?  Could all the problems in his speech be that he is being more abstract than he needs to be?)

I haven’t mentioned everyone here – the talks were eclectic, and I’m only picking on the things that kept coming up time and time again.  I could have easilty considered a few more (engineering + design changes the world.  Art + Technology = wow.  engineering + art + emotion = wallace and grommit).  But time is short.  And there is one more thing I want to address:

Presentations are what has made TED famous.  TED presentations are flawless.  And yet the quality of the presentation skills at TEDXGranta was variable.  To be fair, no one was awful – when you’ve been to as many tech conferences as me, you’re prepared for far worse speaking, but time and time again I was raging to myself “If only I could have spent a little time tweaking this guy’s words.  If only I could have had an hour with these guys showing them how to use the stage more, or how to put down their notes and speak from the heart.  If I could teach how to keep track of the clock, and make it their friend.  If I could redo their slides – or convince them to throw them away”.  Presentations are important to me.  Every presentation at TEDXGranta had really valuable content – and I feel picky by complaining about one aspect.  But its communication.  Without both action and communication, ideas are nothing.  And a less than stella presentation (and this is a learnable skill folks, not something you have to be born with) distracts from the communication.  It makes the idea a little less valuable.  And a little less likely to change the world.  And the ideas I heard yesterday are already changing the world.  And need to be heard more.

Susan Cain said it ” There is no correlation between the best thinkers and the best speakers”.  This isn’t an excuse folks.  If you have good ideas, you have to learn to find a way share them.  Thats why I write this blog.  Thats why I love TED in all its forms.  It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert.  If an idea is valuable, it’s up to you to ensure you show it in all its beauty.


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