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TEDxExeter story: Jeanie Honey, organiser

When two people independently suggested to me that I might organise a TEDx event, I dismissed the idea, saying I hadn’t got time, I didn’t have the right kind of contacts, and various other excuses. However the seed of this idea was planted and somehow wouldn’t go away. Having been to three TED conferences I realised that organising a TEDx event would be a great way of getting to know people in Exeter and Devon who are enthusiastic about what they do and who are making a difference in the world. I also had an instinct that if I worked on the project with a friend it would be a lot more fun and we could share the load between us. Claire Kennedy came to mind immediately because I knew she loved watching TED talks and our children are friends with each other. So about a year ago now I was having a coffee with Claire and tentatively suggested we might organise a TEDx event in Exeter. Much to my surprise and delight she gave a very positive Yes to the suggestion. Probably just as well at that point that neither of us had the least idea of what would be involved in terms of hours of hard work.

We didn’t know how many people or organisations in Exeter knew about TED, so we thought we’d start small – maybe 100 people or so. The first step was to read all the rules on the TEDx website for organising an event and to apply for a licence. As no one had so far organised a TEDx event in Exeter we were able to take the name TEDxExeter. The licence was granted within days of applying – in June last year. So suddenly we realised this really was going to happen.

There were several factors early on which gave us momentum. One was that my brother Chris Anderson, the TED curator, agreed to speak at TEDxExeter, and in fact we organised the date of the event around his diary. There was also a weekend training conference for TEDx organisers just before the TEDGlobal conference last July, so I went to that to learn how to do it! There were TEDx organisers from all over the world, and it gave me a real sense of being part of a growing and exciting global network. I met the organisers of TEDx events in places like Cairo, Baghdad, Ramallah and Jaipur, as well as organisers from the USA and UK. I picked up lots of tips from talking to people, and over the months we have had a certain amount of mentoring from the TEDx team in USA as well as from other TEDx organisers. So that’s been a real help.

Claire and I spent last summer looking around at possible venues to hold TEDxExeter. We wanted to be reasonably central in Exeter and it had to be somewhere where we could provide lunch. Also having decided on the theme, we were already thinking about how to provide food that was sustainably sourced. I think we must have looked at almost every city-centre church and theatre that Exeter has. Meantime as word started to get out that TEDxExeter was going to happen, people started getting in contact and we discovered that there were in fact a lot of TED fans in Devon. Lots of people said to us “This is so great, I was thinking of doing a TEDx event but haven’t got round to it yet”.

No venue seemed quite right until we looked at the Northcott Theatre up at Exeter University, which seemed ideal, especially when we realised that we could combine it with having the breaks in the Great Hall. We had an anxious few weeks waiting to hear if the Northcott would agree to have us. They had funding concerns, and agreeing to give us a Thursday afternoon and a Friday would mean that the theatre couldn’t be used for a drama week. There were twists and turns along the way as we hoped for confirmation, and finally in October the Northcott was confirmed as the venue – time for champagne – and then the realisation that we were now planning for 460 attendees! The Northcott proved to be a brilliant venue for lots of reasons and they were very generous with their terms. So fingers crossed that we will be able to book them again for next year.

From the time we got our licence onwards, Claire and I were looking for speakers and performers for the event. We spent many afternoons googling people who we thought might be great speakers, looking at their websites and getting in contact. We shot out arrows in all kinds of directions in the hope that something would come of it – sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. We went to elaborate lengths to try and contact Chris Martin of Coldplay, a local boy before he was an international superstar. No luck on that front, but great that his mum called us to say he would be out of the country in April but would otherwise have been interested. However lots of people did say “Yes”, and as word got out that the TEDxExeter line-up was going to be really interesting, people started to email us asking to speak or perform. So we spent many hours in a local café, meeting not only potential speakers and performers but also potential team members.

Some people who got in touch turned out to be key people, like Rupa from the Innovation Centre at the University. We developed a good relationship there, where she gave work experience to young people who helped us produce html documents and other publicity, and her husband Clive became the person who took charge of our social media. We gradually built a team with other key people who had skills that Claire and I didn’t have, like doing the website. During the autumn 2011 and all through the spring 2012, we had regular team meetings where there was a great team spirit and lots of energy and ideas. It was a huge relief to find that we had a core team of really committed people and that lots of the jobs could be delegated and shared. We had great debates along the way about how to do ticketing, whether or not to have goody bags, how much to advertise the event, and how to make it accessible to lots of different groups in the community. Some ideas evolved gradually and came out of other things, like the desire to give people information about local opportunities which turned into the Connections Stand.

Raising enough sponsorship was a real challenge and in the end boiled down to approaching companies or businesses that had personal connections with people we knew. Claire’s husband Sean produced an excellent visual presentation about TED and TEDx, which also helped a lot in trying to persuade companies and individuals to give money. At the end of the day, we managed to cover our costs, but it was a big challenge persuading businesses to give money to an event which from their point of view was an unknown quantity. Now that TEDxExeter is firmly on the map, we hope that finding sponsorship next year will be a lot easier.

Coaching and preparing the speakers was another big part of organising this event, and involved numerous meetings and phonecalls. What they would talk about, how many minutes we would give them, and then the whole question of how to plan the programme, what order the speakers should go in and which TED talks to screen. Oh and how many and which performers to have. We agonised over all of this. Hiring a film crew was also a huge decision, and something that was completely outside of our experience before doing TEDxExeter. Tobit and his advice proved to be completely invaluable.

So TEDxExeter has been a huge learning curve for Claire and me. We’ve had times of tearing our hair out, we’ve laughed a lot and more than anything we’ve got to know lots of truly wonderful people. The day itself went better than we could have hoped, and we have been thrilled to bits by all the enthusiastic and positive responses we’ve received. It’s exciting to see lots of action and ripple effects resulting from it all, and we hope that the inspiration and challenges and connections will continue to bring about positive change in Exeter and beyond. And with our fantastic team we’re now planning TEDxExeter 2013!

Reflections on the day

I’m collating links to blog posts and photo collections here, so if you have written anything, please email or tweet the link. And please revisit occasionally to see if there are any additions.

From the blogosphere

Tobit Emmens has blogged on his role as production manager, and is especially interesting on observing the stresses and strains of performing, and the intensity of looking after the speakers.

Stephen Bateman, in his GreenWise blog post, particularly liked Polly Higgins’s talk, which he described as “truly earth shattering”, hopefully not literally!

Cathy Debenham, blogging on her Yougen site, found it “wonderful to spend last Friday being inspired by 20 amazing people who spend their time looking at how we can make the world a better place to live, rather than analysing the problems to death.”

Andy “GeekDad” Robertson said in his blog for Wired that: “Ideas rather than brands and personalities were the winners and that, I discovered, is both a rare and emotionally engaging experience.”

… and the Globe and Mail has blogged about Andy’s talk from the other side of the Atlantic.

Sue Read “spent the last two days wondering how I can condense a whole day of ideas and what I want to say into a blog post”, but managed to on her blog artbythesea.

Ben Emmens had “expected first class ‘brain fodder’ but hadn’t anticipated the spiritual dimension to the day”, so ben thinks… “Here’s to TEDxExeter 2013, and in the meantime, let’s not rest in our efforts to create a more sustainable world.”

Clare Bryden (that’s me, the storyteller!) has written a few posts based around TEDxExeter talks:
Science and heart, referring generally to TEDxExeter
Carbon irony, in response to Antony Turner’s talk
Totnes, twinned with Narnia
, questioning the assumptions lying behind Rob Hopkins’ use of this image
Games people play
, trying to get my head around Andy Robertson’s talk

Now how about this for an idea? Joey Lee from the Hub on the Green writes of a couple who watch one TED video in bed every morning.

During one of the breaks, Rashid Maxell shared a story on generosity.

Pictures worth a thousand words

Tobit’s time-lapse video gives a great sense of what was involved in the production set-up.

Behind-the-scenes photography from Benjamin “bart1eby” Borley.
… photos of the speaker rehearsals
faces of TEDxExeter, featuring the lovely Tom, Marieke, Sara, Varun, Alex, Jackie, Gabby, Tobit, Jhenna, Oriana, Claire, Greta, Jeanie and Tom from the team… but not me!
… and front-of-stage photos throughout the day

Action!

Let’s turn ideas into action – please sign this petition to Tim Cook CEO of Apple now! I’ve just signed, and I can see that other TEDxExeter-sters have too. Go on, what are you waiting for?

What other actions has yesterday inspired you to take? Maybe it’s too early, and you still need to take time to reflect on the day. In which case, don’t let daily life swamp you again that you forget to keep reflecting.

Or maybe Satish inspired you to find your inner leader, or Bandi to campaign on mobile phones, or Alistair to volunteer, or Jackie to write poetry, or Mike to live with enough, or Kevin and Hugh to connect more with your food, or or or or. Whatever it is – great! Let’s make a difference, together.

Tweflections on the day

A selection of tweets

@GeekDadGamer : The only framework I have to make sense of @TEDxExeter is a spiritual one. Not expected that, or the emotion.

@JohnWLewis : Superb #TEDxExeter event today. Substantial concerns about sustainability topped by @TEDchris catching people doing something right!

@TPiMBWAcademic : @BandiMbubi Amazing speech, absolutely deserved the standing ovation! pure inspiration! tears in my eyes #MakingTheDifference #TEDxExeter

@thomasinamiers : Ye gawds!!! #tedxexeter just too good. Music, dance, inspiration and transition towns. What more can you ask for???

@Chris5NA : If #robintransition put Totnes on the world map then #TEDxExeter has put Exeter on with a brilliantly organised & excellent event. Thanks

@anormanwalker : Am buzzing after an inspirational day. @TEDxExeter has given me more soul food than the last 10years worth of sermons! #letsdochurchlikethis

@KirstiAfS : Reflecting on an inspiring day at #TEDxExeter & what engaged me most: personal stories (especially from childhood ) + passion. And Taiko!

@Northumbrianman : Jackie Juno #TEDxexeter laughed till I cried; rhyming arses with catharsis pure genius

@trevorgardner59 : Brilliant day at #TEDxExeter – Challenging, enjoyable, disturbing, stimulating, and powerful. Much to consider and savour

@nickex5 : well done to @tobite and all involved in #tedxexeter for a fantastic day. Inspiring, provoking and funny!

@Boudicca77 : ” @TEDxExeter : Go @LilyLapenna just got them all dancing! #TEDxExeter ” wasn’t expecting to dance to Jessie J when I started this day, fun!

@ben_emmens : @GeekDadGamer really got us thinking today > now we’re seeing ‘gaming’ through a different lens! Thank you! #tedxexeter

… and this from a teacher at St Luke’s College, Exeter, who brought her students along for the day …

@MrsBoyson : What a fantastic day at #TEDxExeter , we have a some VERY inspired students, thank you!

Struggling to pick favourites

@YouGenUK : @alukeonlife So difficult to answer. Maybe Satish Kumar, Peter Cox, Lily Lapenna & Polly Higgins #TEDxExeter

@TPiMBWAcademic : #TEDxExeter An amazing day! really inspiring speakers @LilyLapenna, @PollyHiggins, Bandi Mbubi, Satish Kumar, @TonyJuniper in particular!

@Bunyipbeads : At #TEDxExeter today, my favourite was the guy from #lovelocalfood but the whole thing was inspirational.

@willdickson1 : At #tedxexeter listening to some great speakers #scillaelworthy #satishkumar @LilyLapenna #hughfearnleywhittingstall and #chrisanderson : )

@Harriet_UoE : #TEDxExeter I’m probably biased, but I think Peter Cox’s talk was best so far. His new approach to tackle #climatechange cld have big impact

Our speakers liked it too!

@LilyLapenna : Well done to our 2 amazing organisers @ClaireKennedy24 & @JeanieHoney Visionaries & true forces of nature. #TEDxExeter

@GeekDadGamer : @LilyLapenna @ClaireKennedy24 @JeanieHoney here here. Wonderfully run. I felt nurtured and supported as a speaker.

@dicksonmike : Truy energising and inspiring day at #TEDxExeter yesterday – superbly orgnaised, great speakers – roll on 2013?!

@BandiMbubi : @SaksExeter Thank you! Great to meet you and so many passionate people wanting to turn dreams into reality #TEDxExeter #sustainability #DRC

@TonyJuniper : http://yfrog.com/gydmxsdj TEDx Exeter packed out. Awesome event. Well done to Jeanie and Claire for putting on such a great event

And finally…

@GeekDadGamer : Behind the scenes insight and great reporting. @ClareBryden ‘s @TEDxExeter Blog is an exemplar.

Thanks Andy : -)

So that’s it

Thanks to the Northcott, to the volunteers, to Tobit the production manager, to the speakers, and to us the team. We went down to the stage to take our bow, and I managed to fall over the scenery. Oh well! Flowers for Jeanie and Claire, the wondrous organisers.

The videos of the talks will be posted on Youtube in a couple of weeks. Of course, everyone has their own subjective experience and interpretation, but I hope this blog could be a way of reminding you about the talks in the meantime. Enjoy!

Chris Anderson talk

Chris Anderson BWCurator of TED and Jeanie’s brother, starting with a big hug – aaaah! He’s left the red spot and is shaking the hands of the front row. Staple-guns at the ready! But phew, he’s back on the spot.

He’s changed his talk from the City 2.0, and instead is looking at what he’s learnt from past TED talks about sustainability: the world in seven lenses. He firmly believes there is cause for optimism, so even though he starts with the message “we’re in trouble”…

Lens 1. The long view says that things have been getting better. Trade brought connections and drove innovation. In the past we had to work for 6 hours to afford one tallow candle. Now we work for 1 second for electric lighting. Despite what we see of the evidence, we are living in the most peaceful time in human existence. Snippet of Hans Rosling’s talk on life expectancy and family sizes.

Lens 2. Our brains are bugged, so we don’t recognise happiness and well-being. If we recognise it, we can navigate around it. Cartoon: “everything was better back when everything was worse.” Our genes are wired to want more. We need to take a moment to smell the roses.

Lens 3. Our media are fundamentally flawed, in the way they appeal to our lizard brains. We respond to drama and bad news for other people, We’re looking at shorter and shorter time periods, so we see the peaks and miss long-term trends. The actual News of the actual World should be “Global Health Shock: 1700 children saved from horrifying death”.

Lens 4. “Growth” does not have to mean “more”. Today we’ve heard about numerous ways of re-imagining the economy. Better experiences don’t have to mean more stuff, and the knowledge economy can help drive this.

Lens 5. Urbanization is humanity’s golden hope. TED speakers have changed Chris’ view of cities. The proximity of people, even in slums, drives innovation to make change. The carbon footprint per person is much lower within cities. The movement to the cities has released some pressure on the countryside. City mayors (often) can do what national governments can’t, because they can work within local communities.

Lens 5. Sustainability comes from knowledge, not just nature. Knowledge has given us a lot of tools, and choices that make our lives joyful.

Lens 6. Problems are inevitable. Problems are soluble. Stewart Brand: “We are as gods, and have to get good at it”, from a position of humility not arrogance.

Lens 7. People are not hungry mouths, but creative minds, not a burden, but an asset. Half the world’s population – girls and women – hasn’t had the possibility of reaching their potential, but things are changing.

In our connected world, knowledge can spread and humanity can get wiser.

Jackie Juno performance

Jackie Juno BW… is a locally-sourced, free-range, organic poet, so can be enjoyed guilt-free. She will start with nursery rhymes, and build to a crescendo of beautifully crafted brilliance.

“Jack and Jill went up the hill, because everywhere else was flooded.”

Shout out for the organisers – Jeanie, Claire and the rest of the team. Thanks!

“Teignmouth muse, incorporating personal, societal and environmental health” rhymes ‘arses’ with ‘catharsis’, name-checks Nietzsche and mentions the gap between rich and poor, and two seagulls sitting on the roof of a van.

“The 99%” is a new poem written for today, like the “Pirates” poem she wrote in the morning and performed over lunch. Aaaarrrrr! We’re all standing up for the world. “Here is a holy place to be … and the time is exactly now”, which is enough.

Cheers for her, as for Polly earlier.

Polly Higgins talk

Polly Higgins featureWhile representing in court a man who had been badly injured, Polly looked out of the window and reflected on how we are damaging the earth, and thought a thought that changed her life: “the earth is in need of a good lawyer”. She continued considering what needs to be put in place. Humans have human rights, what if the earth had rights too? The whole body of existing environmental law isn’t working – look at the Amazon. She discovered that many people were thinking like her, including millions of indigenous people.

Homicide against people, genocide against population, we need a new language to describe what is happening against the earth – ecocide. Can we make ecocide into a crime? Three months of research later, Polly realised the answer was yes, ecocide could be the fifth crime against peace alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, geocide, and crimes of aggression. All are crimes against life and the sanctity of life. What is happening in the Congo is a sad example of the spiral of resource depletion and war. The law of ecocide should act as a disruptor to this spiral.

A definition of ecocide: “the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

There are two types of ecocide: human-caused, and naturally-caused ecocide due to events such as tsunami. The law can be framed on nations to give assistance when something like this occurs – a legal duty of care. It won’t be possible for other nations to tell the Maldives there is nothing they can do about climate change and rising sea levels. Ultimately, we are in this together.

In international law, there is a principle of superior responsibility, which places responsibility on heads of state and business leaders whose decisions affect millions of other people.

The earth could be viewed as an inert thing, and we then put a price tag on it and abuse it – the ambit of property law. The earth could also be viewed as a living being, and we would think in terms of stewardship.

There is a parallel with the fight against slavery and the slave trade 200 years ago, viewed as a necessity preventing economies from collapsing. 200 companies then said they would work it out using market forces, but instead the UK government listened to the campaigners and the changes to law were made. With a period of transition, none of the companies went out of business. Today there are 3,000 companies arguing that fossil fuels like the Athabasca tar sands are a necessity.

It is currently the law of corporations to put profits first, and maximise returns to share-holders. Ecocide is about prioritising people and planet above profit, and a recognition that we can open the door to a conflict-free world where life and innovation flourishes.

Martin Luther King once said that when our laws align themselves to equality and justice then we will have peace in our world. Ecocide as a law will allow us to align ourselves with natural justice.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talk

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall feature“It all started with a fish”, when his Dad decided that it was time for his six-year-old son to learn to fish… in west London with a length of bamboo, a piece of string, a bent nail, and a piece of Mother’s Pride as bait. He sent a bored Hugh off to look for worms, and a minute later called him back to help with a monster catch. Hugh later identified it as a mackerel – laughter – a fish largely reputed to live in the sea but according to his Dad had obviously swum up the Thames and taken a wrong turn. Ten years later, the truth of that day finally emerged – the clandestine trip to the fishmongers, the smuggling on to the nail while Hugh was off worm-hunting, the hit on the head with a stick before he realised it was already dead and gutted.

But it was still a gift, as Hugh wouldn’t otherwise be campaigning about fishing in the North Sea. He made a connection that day. The best food is food with a story, that you feel connected with in some way. That brings us to a place of eating enjoyably, healthily and sustainably.

Honey is an amazing food if you think about it, coming from so many plants around your own landscape. It’s so much nicer to eat a home-baked cake, or to buy it from a local baker who makes the food. And to buy veg from a local organic farmer such as our sponsors Shillingford Organics – there were vegetables changing hands in the Great Hall earlier!

Mackerel is the great democratic fish of the British coast, as anyone can jump on a boat for an hour and have a good chance of catching dinner. Proust had his madeleines, and Hugh has his mackerels – not at all pretentious! Mackerel, like Hugh, are fantastically broad-minded eaters. They’ve been successful, and until recently had the status of being among the most sustainable fish in the North Sea. The Marine Stewardship Council has defined a sustainable harvest equivalent to 5-6 portions per year for every person in Europe. But there have been almighty squabbles and agreements have fallen down, and because fish is big money, the quotas have been exceeded by 30-40%. So the MSC is withdrawing its sustainability mark.

So what can we do? Hugh has decided to spend one more season cooking, eating and feeding mackerel to his family, and serving line-caught mackerel in his restaurants, while keeping an eye on the situation. And us? Keep catching that fish, and raise a new generation that is connected with our food.

We’re on a continuum between plastic processed food that we have never touched and hunter-gatherers. We need to move closer towards the hunter-gatherer end, and in doing so move towards a more sustainable food future.