The Importance of TEDX

This post appeared yesterday on my public speaking blog The Toastmaster.

Thanks to Toastmaster Glenn Marshall I was accepted to be part of the photography team for TED-X Waterloo which took place on Wednesday. For those of you who don’t know TED, it’s an incredibly important web-based phenomena that features 18-minute talks by some of the most interesting and important public speakers in the world. There are talks on TED which will cause you to wonder and marvel.

The TED concept is spreading and now local communities like Oakville and Waterloo hold their own day-long TED events which are video recorded and streamed and shared online to a worldwide audience.

Doing the photography at TEDX Waterllo was incredibly difficult and I’m only half way through reducing and processing the 1500 images down to around 100 finished photos suitable for showing on the web and for use by next year’s TED organizers to promote the event. When I’m finished they all will be up at my online gallery Peter West Photo.

But one of the good things about being on the photography team was I got to listen to all of the speakers and I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you,

So the following is an evaluation using language and terms that the members of my Toastmaster group will understand.

Right off the top I noticed there was a lot of content without delivery and a lot of delivery without content.

If I was to score the speeches, it became immediately evident that content was way more important than delivery. In those speeches where the speaker had something to say I would score them consistently higher overall than the really slick speakers who didn’t have much to say.

Story, folks, is everything. 

If you don’t have something beautiful to say, being able to say anything beautifully isn’t as engaging as the most inexperienced speaker who speaks from their heart.

BTW the speaking roster included Izzeldin Abuelaish, known around the world as the Gaza Doctor, who lost three of his daughters when they were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli tank. The doctor spoke passionately about is determination not to be victimized twice. While a bereaved father, he has refused to succumb to hatred as a result of his loss. I cannot image this man’s pain and I cannot imagine myself as committed to peace.

Mathew Ho was one of two Canadian high school boys who launched a Lego man into space. I think it was Mathew who said that last year he couldn’t buy a ticket to be in the audience and now one year later here he was on the TEDX stage. Nice point by Ho.

All in all there were 12 speakers and two video presentations along with a couple of musical numbers.

In evaluating the speeches, it’s my thought that almost anyone in First Oakville Toastmasters who had a couple of years of Toastmastering under their belt and who had developed some speaking skills would have done really well on the TEDX stage. That is, of course, if they had something to say.

So what makes for great content? Great even epic or life-chaing experiences helps. Trying to sell anything, even something the audience needs, doesn’t work. This is the bane of motivational speakers. They maybe slick and they may have information that can help you in life but their message pales in comparison to the simple story told by a someone who speaks from their heart and not just their head.

Oerall, when I was leaving I was a bit disappointed in the quality of the talks. Sure a couple were amazing but most were, as mentioned above, sometimes self-serving and occasionally just downright confusing. After one of the talks one of the other photographers turned to me and said “Just what was that all about?” I had no idea either.

So I finished the day at 9 p.m. walking in the dark down the sidewalk to my car and as I passed two teenage girls sitting on the curb waiting for the bus I asked them how they enjoyed TEDX. And both girls looked up at me and gushed: “It was amazing!”

And in that moment looking into their glowing faces I got it.

TEDX isn’t about the quality of the speeches. Great speeches are always welcome and it’s not even the content that’s key. It’s the concept itself.

There’s a poem that is central to understanding Buddhism. It’s called The Identity of Relative and Absolute or the Sandokai and it speaks of what’s real and what’s imagined. In the first line of the poem, the author speaks to how Buddhist thought moved from India to China by saying: “The mind of the Great Sage of India is intimately conveyed from West to East.”

In this phrase the writer is saying that the actual thoughts of the Buddha were shared one person to another (intimately conveyed).

And so it is with TEDX.


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