TEDxExeter story: Nicola Evans, 2012 attendee

The fifth of our short series of stories from speakers and attendees at previous TEDxExeter events. Claire met Nicola at the Northcott as she was buying tickets for TEDxExeter 2015. It’s an inspiring start to the new year.

 

Completely unrelated to TED, my partner Sarah and I had been thinking for some time about making our wills more meaningful than splitting our estate into small portions and distributing amongst members of our family, who didn’t really need it. Whereas, as a whole, it was a not insignificant sum that could make a real difference.

There were a number of things floating around in minds, including:

  • We had recently visited Costa Rica and were quite taken with the ethos of the country: no military, for which they were nominated a Nobel Peace Prize – a lot of their taxes go into the education of their children. Whilst they are a relatively poor country economically, they consistently perform well in the Human Development Index and have twice ranked the best performing country in the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index. It is also on schedule to become the first carbon neutral country in 2021
  • We believe that the only thing that will radically change the world is education. Not just academic but an understanding and embracing diversity through knowledge
  • We believe that children are our future and, although we don’t have any of our own, we need to invest now to help them make things better for future generations – it really is our duty
  • We believe that women have a huge contribution to make but in many parts of the world are still considered second class citizens and victims of atrocious human rights violations.

… but it wasn’t until TED that all of our thought began to gel into a coherent plan and the starting point was at our first TEDxExeter in 2012, when we heard Mike Dickson talk on “What is enough?” We were genuinely inspired, so we hi-jacked him over a sandwich at lunch time and he subsequently invited us to meet him in London to discuss our plans further.

Sarah and I then gave each other space to consider what we wanted to do individually and when we came together to reveal our thoughts – guess what? They were exactly the same:

We wanted our money to be used to set up or support a school for the education of mainly female (but not exclusively) children in Costa Rica or a similar country (more research needed). We have subsequently set up a trust to do just that.

TEDxExeter gave us the freedom to think differently about things and empowered us to act on aspirations beyond those for ourselves.

TEDxExeter story: Bandi Mbubi, 2012 speaker

The fourth of our short series of stories from speakers and attendees at previous TEDxExeter events. Bandi spoke powerfully about the Congo and fairtrade mobile phones, and the Congo Calling campaign was launched on the back of the enthusiasm generated by his talk. We’re looking foward to hearing from him again in 2014, when he will give us an update on the campaign.

 

The invitation to speak at TEDxExeter came about through Claire Kennedy. I have known her since I first arrived in England. I fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo 22 years ago because my activities there as a student activist placed my life in danger. I came to the UK and claimed political asylum and Claire acted as my lawyer. We have since been friends. She has been aware of my personal commitment to social justice both in the Congo and in the UK.

The situation when I first left the Congo was bad, but it was getting even worse every year. Since 1996 over 5 million people had died because of the on-going war. Rape was used, and still is, as a weapon of war. The vast majority of people live in abject poverty in spite of the Congo’s immense natural wealth. I felt compelled to act. Speaking at TEDxExeter offered me a precious opportunity to raise awareness and to mobilise people to act like the international community did during the anti-apartheid movement. I trusted in the ability of people to act for justice for the Congo, but I was unsure about the angle to take to appeal to them. I needed to give them the tools to enable them to act. How could they act in a way that could make difference?

Claire as a curator was both supportive and tough. She introduced me to the TED commandments of public speaking, the dos and don’ts of great talks. Her mantra to me was “prepare”. Giving a TEDx talk was unlike any talk I had ever given before. It is not about reciting facts or telling an interesting story. It is about sharing an idea. The key question for me was “how can I rally global citizens to act on the Congo in a way that helps build peace and prosperity?” The answer I came up with was to ask people to use their consumer power in a way that exerts pressure on technology companies so that they would source their minerals from the Congo more responsibly. In so doing, the trade in minerals would not fuel the war but help the local economy through legitimate trade. I enlisted the help of friends, both Congolese and British, to help me with the process. They were invaluable in reducing my workload. There was a lot to be done, including design, research and crafting of the talk. They helped with fact-checking everything, even information that I took for granted. They served as a friendly but critical audience. They were like midwives helping me deliver my baby.

I felt many emotions, mostly anxiety. Whilst preparing for the talk, I wondered about its final content. How would it be received by Congolese people and those around the world. Would I manage to condense everything I wanted to say into 10 minutes? I felt nervous about the task ahead. The preparation took every spare moment I had. I was often away from my family and friends. On the actual day of the event, though I felt nervous, I felt hopeful about the impact my message could have on people in the Congo. Anxiety gave way to a great sense of hope. The audience in the theatre was very attentive and receptive. They gave me a standing ovation. I was recalled to the stage to acknowledge properly their applause. It is then that I felt a personal sense of responsibility to carry on.

Giving a talk at TEDxExeter not only helped me think through my idea but it also gave it the exposure it needed worldwide. It gave me credibility in the eyes of many stakeholders. I received numerous invitations to speak, some of which I could not accept for lack of time. I still work full time, running the Manna Society, the largest day centre for homeless people in South London. Campus Party, the biggest technology conference, invited me to speak at their event in Berlin. At the event, moved by my talk, the lead worker at Facebook UK invited me to give a talk to their employees on the same topic. They have since offered assistance in publicising further our message.

Because of the outpouring of support I received from people, I led the formation of Congo Calling. We campaign for the ethical management of Congolese natural resources to help build peace and sustainable development. Many of those who have come on board were in attendance on the day I gave the talk at TEDxExeter. The campaign is more structured now. The organisation has charitable status and a team of trustees. The organising committee of TEDxExeter have been very supportive of our work.

The campaign demand that technology companies source their raw materials more responsibly has gained traction. With the help of student groups, we successfully persuaded the University of Exeter to adopt a procurement policy that favours technology companies that source their minerals responsibly. As a result of these student groups, the National Union of Students adopted a similar policy and recommended that their member guilds promote training around conflict-minerals from the Congo. Our increasing profile has enabled us to engage policymakers in the UK, Europe and US. We are campaigning for the political, commercial and legal frameworks needed to ensure the use of conflict-free minerals in our technologies, and are working in partnership with international and Congolese NGOs. We are now actively fundraising to increase the scale and scope of our work. All this has resulted from one 10 minute talk and the power of an idea.

TEDxExeter story: Holly Moore, 2012 & 2013 attendee

The third of our short series of stories from speakers and attendees at previous TEDxExeter events. Holly was one of a school party at TEDxExeter 2012, and loved it so much she returned with a friend during half-term in 2013.

 

After our visit to the first TEDxExeter in 2012 on a school trip, Hollie and I knew that we would be going again in 2013. The buzz of the day was outstanding; excitement, inspiration and ideas coloured every conversation after the talks. 

Whilst every talk in its own right was wonderful, a few stood out, sitting in my mind nearly two years later. The first, a breathtaking 10 minute talk by Bandi Mbubi entitled “Congo calling”. Delivered in a calm, yet persuasive manner, Bandi talked about the need for a “fair trade cell phone”, and how, whilst the mobile phone is an “instrument of freedom”, it has also become an “instrument of oppression” due to the lack of regulation of mining in the Congo. 

Another presentation that stuck with me was “Making greenhouse gases visible” by Antony Turner.  Antony spoke about applying the common concept of pictures helping stories to come alive to the visualisation of our carbon output. He showed us pictures that his company, carbon visuals, creates in order to allow us to compare our emissions to “a landscape we are familiar with” and truly grasp their size. 

Upon leaving TEDxExeter 2012 with our minds thoroughly exhausted, Hollie and I set on the task of ensuring a school trip again the next year. However, when the date was released, dilemma struck – TEDxExeter 2013 was during a half term. So, as a pair of 16 year olds, we decided to take matters into our own hands. With a little help from one of our favourite teachers, we managed to secure tickets for the following year. 

Arriving outside the Northcott in the early morning, I could feel both excitement and nerves curdle in my stomach as it became more and more obvious that we were the youngest people there. However, as I stepped inside, it became apparent that these feelings were completely and utterly unjust. Upon our entrance, we were greeted and welcomed by staff and fellow audience members alike, and the familiar buzz of what we were about to witness sunk in. 

One particular talk stood out for me in the 2013 line up : Jo Berry’s “Disarming with empathy”. After sharing the story of her father’s death due to an IRA bombing, Jo demonstrated the power of true forgiveness. She told us how, in her efforts to get something positive out of what had happened, she was led to meet the man responsible, and how by humanising the enemy, she could finally understand the circumstances leading to the death of her father. When the talk had finished, the audience rose to their feet, giving Jo a deafening and everlasting applause. 

TEDxExeter story: Sarah Bird, 2013 attendee

The second of our short series of stories from speakers and attendees at previous TEDxExeter events. Sarah Bird enjoyed TEDxExeter 2013 so much, she volunteered for the organising team and is co-ordinating the volunteers for 2014.

 

Last year I was drafted in as a last minute addition to the TEDxExeter 2013 volunteer team, and I jumped at the chance to be part of the local expression of the global phenomenon that is TED and TEDx. The day itself is mind-blowing. And tiring, because of course it is tiring to have your brain repeatedly stretched like silly putty. You know all those studies on neuroplasticity and the capacity for brains to change? They worked that out by scanning the brains of TED delegates before and after a conference.*

For me, the success of TED lies in its simplicity and focus on quality over quantity. We all know that it’s difficult to concentrate for longer than about 20 minutes on one thing, that a picture can paint a thousand words, and that positive, quality communication of a great idea can change people. TED simply brings these ingredients together.

TED and TEDx events also bring together like-minded people and gives them a space where they can share their passion and ignite each other’s ideas like sparks off a block.  And when I say like-minded, I don’t mean alike in terms of culture and background, because there are TED aficionados from all over the world and all walks of life. But they are alike in that they are usually open-minded, eager to learn, positive, and ready to change the world. You will meet critical thinkers at TED and TEDx conferences, but you are unlikely to meet many jaded cynics. Cynicism uses up too much energy when you’re a busy person with stuff to do, like sail the world in a boat made from plastic bottles (Jo Royle), or campaign for Fairtrade phones (Bandi Mbubi), or trek to the north pole (Ann Daniels), or grow guerrilla vegetables (Pam Warhurst), or become a community pirate (Kester Brewin).

So if you’re reading this with your ticket in your hand for TEDxExeter 2014, you’re in for a treat and I look forward to meeting you there. If you missed out this year, join the community anyway by following TEDxExeter on Twitter, reading the live blog from storyteller Clare on the day, and marking the 2015 ticket launch in your diaries now (though you might be ahead of the team on that one).  

*Almost definitely probably true.

TEDxExeter story: Andy Robertson, 2012 speaker

The excitement over the release of the tickets for TEDxExeter 2014 showed just how important the event is to many people. We’re planning a short series of stories from speakers and attendees – their own unique perspectives on the previous events. Shortly after the first ever TEDxExeter in 2012, Jeanie Honey wrote about the thrills and spills of being an organiser. Andy Robertson spoke at that event about sustainable perspectives on video games. Here’s his story.

 

AndyRobertson_story

The invitation to talk at TEDx is a strange one. Prestige, celebrity, kudos and possibly fortune await those whose “idea worth spreading” breaks out into the larger TED orbit. Equally though it’s a lot of work to talk to a few hundred people for 10 minutes or so without being paid.

I’d do it again in a flash.

More than the ups and downs of public speaking, online reception and resulting connections, ideas and projects, it was pivotal at a personal level. You see, TEDx events have built into them the idea that ideas worth spreading come with people attached. A TEDx talk is a personal thing to do, a bearing not only of your best idea but the best of your self in public.

This slowly dawned on me during the four weeks or so I spent writing, rehearsing, self filming and testing my talk on friends. What started as some novel ideas about video-games – my intentional category mistake of talking about them as if they meant something — had to be brought down to land in me as a person.

Having a reason to do this, and slowly realising it was too late to back out now, meant that I spent time working out what it was I really thought about the video-games I wrote about on a daily basis.

It’s here I found not only what I really wanted to say, but what I wanted to pursue after I’d said it. There was a collision in me; video-games and theology and community and creativity. The result was my 10 minute talk about how we might sustain grown-up talk about video-games, but not only that. I also knew myself a little better.

This is why I’d do it again. This is the opportunity offered to TEDx speakers and this is what makes TEDx such an engaging event not just ideas worth spreading, but the people that come with them.

Andy Robertson is now a freelance family gaming expert for the BBC and runs Family Gamer TV YouTube channel.

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!