“I felt very privileged to be on a journey with these incredible people, and play a small part in bringing ideas that can really move the needle into the public arena.”
This July, I took a really exciting step. After 12 years curating and coaching TEDxLondon, TEDxLondonWomen and TEDxEastEnd events, I was delighted to collaborate with TED Countdown Summit 2023 in Detroit, Michigan, as part of the curation team.
Working closely with speakers to help them bring their ideas into the public arena and move the needle on climate-critical topics.
Here are my five reflections on TED Countdown 2023.
Things that stood out to me – for every person on stage, there’s 10x that behind the scenes:
“It was like starlings in a murmuration.”
At a TED Talks event, and indeed a TEDx event, there is an incredible collective effort that goes on behind the scenes. The sheer scale of it was mesmerising.
To be a part of and see all these people deeply committed to pulling ideas forward. Being behind the scenes was a really cool process. It was like starlings in a murmuration.
Giving a TED Talk is a huge opportunity. As a new member of this team, it gave me a reminder of that freshness and awe and wonder that my speakers would be coming at this from.
Within that, there is a balance you have to strike with speakers.
You need to get them to understand what an incredible opportunity this is. But you do not want to paralyse them with fear.
What really surprised me – was a lot of these speakers weren’t sure why they’d been invited. They were unsure if their work was contributing to the conversation in the way the curators perhaps thought it did.
It just shows – the best speakers are conscientious and focussed on their work.
They aren’t preoccupied with “being inspiring”. (Something Simon Bucknall and I discussed on the Speechless podcast – Why being inspiring shouldn’t be a goal).
Why? You don’t tell an inspiring story.
People are inspired by a story. It’s an audience led thing!
Instead, focus on gaining real clarity on the impact you want to create in the world.
Great speakers are simply doing the work.
The ideation and scripting process will be different for you versus another speaker – everyone requires a different approach:
“As a curator, my job was to keep the faith along the way.”
There is no one formula when it comes to ideation and scripting.
Every single speaker requires a different approach – from your psychological to your cultural contexts and chosen subject matter – as well as your experiences in the past public speaking – there is no fixed template of “how to create a great TED Talk”. I know this from the TEDx world.
It’s so unique.
Sometimes the creative stars align and the first draft is spot on.
Sometimes we go 180 degrees and try out loads of different things.
No matter what route, every single person was able to get there. There’s no shame in taking the long way round. Essential work is done and the twists and turns of the process help you to iron out the kinks in your storytelling.
As a curator, my job was simply to keep the faith along the way. Providing a reliable (and human!) cornerstone that my speakers could come to rely upon to give clear notes, practical advice and emotional support.
If you’ve got no ego, are willing to ruthlessly self-edit, and you’ve got an idea that could change the world – the TED or TEDx Talk format and experience might be for you. I share the key elements to consider on the this episode of the Speechless podcast – ”Welcome to my TED Talk”: How to give a TEDx Talk.
Annoying speaking advice you need to hear again… practice and passion make perfect:
“Your content is always going to be more important than your delivery.”
There’s no substitute for practice. Practice is the best antidote to nerves. The more rehearsed and practised the lower their nerve levels were. This doesn’t mean practice will be a linear process where your talk just keeps getting better and better. It’s an up and down process – some days better and some days worse. Push through this.
Passion will always land. No matter your job title or where you’re from – CEO or student, scientist or artist, Indigenous leader or online influencer – if you care and are passionate – it comes through. Energy and enthusiasm is contagious! The underlying factor for a successful talk was always a person’s pure passion for their subject matter. Your content is always going to be more important than your delivery.
- How Shanxi can break free from its coal addiction, with Xiaojun Wang.
- How a climate resilient cacao farm in the Philippines is regenerating people and planet, with Louise Mabulo.
- The one fashion strategy to save the planet, with Amy Powney.
- How Uruguay shifted its energy sources to 98% renewable, with Ramón Mendez Galain.
- What is Indigenous forest guardianship? With Antoinette (Nonette) Royo.
- How are mini-grids are making energy accessible in Sub-Saharan Africa? With Tombo Banda.
Climate action requires some non-negotiables… let’s give credit where credit is due:
“It’s what frontline, black, brown, migrant, and Indigenous communities have been telling us for decades.”
TED Countdown started in 2019. What’s changed between then and now?
It’s clearer and clearer that there are non-negotiables when it comes to climate action. And that means giving credit to the people who’ve been ringing the bell for years.
It’s what the frontline, black, brown, migrant, and Indigenous communities have been telling us for decades.
That climate collapse is happening.
That communities in the Global South; poorer communities around the world are dying and have been ignored.
Only now is the rest of the world waking up.
This needs more acknowledgement.
After a year of unmitigated climate-related extreme weather conditions and disasters, it’s becoming increasingly clear for everyone to see that what these communities have been saying for decades is true.
When will our leaders start listening? And take swift, decisive action to save lives?
Countdown 2023 delivered some cold truths on a warm planet.
Let’s hope for more stories of perseverance and triumph for 2024.
Although I’m hopeful, we’ve still got a way to go.
Every thought, word, and action counts.
My favourite moments of the week
“I need Al Gore’s life regimen!”
Detroit is a special place. Being in Detroit was so powerful. It’s an incredible city. It reminded me of what’s possible when people stay in their community and try to make something better. The sheer power of having that belief in your community to never leave was awe inspiring. It’s not a place I would naturally go, but it forced you to be very present in the city and see what they are doing re pollution and climate industry.
I need Al Gore’s life regimen. I am in awe! From his iconic cowboy boots to his larger-than-life stage presence, Nobel Laureate Al Gore’s blistering talk and sheer energy blew me away. His no BS call out of the fossil fuel industry and how its blocking progress was incredibly satisfying to watch firsthand.
The route of activist-politician is an exciting idea. The energy in the room when we heard Justin J. Pearson and David Lammy’s conversation was electric. It was like Justin was delivering a sermon. He completely captivated the attention of the audience. His route of activist-politician is also a really exciting idea. You can tell he cares about people and he cares about rights.
Discovering the Climate Mobsters – Environmentally conscious mobster comedy sketches courtesy of @squilliam_peters. You gotta watch this. Capeesh?
Vegan soul food is the best. Eating really good local vegan soul food not only fed my soul, but was super satisfying and tasty. It was so fun to experience the local cuisines and discover new delicious vegan combos I hadn’t tried before.
I felt very privileged to be on a journey with this event and play a small part in bringing those ideas that can really move the needle into the public arena.
After a decade, this is why TED is still so powerful.
You can find the talks over on TED.com: https://countdown.ted.com/
Thank you to Josephine Philips, Marcelo Mena, Jonathan Foley, Neil Vora, MD, Xiaojun Wang , Ludmila Rattis, Gopal Patel, Aruna Rangachar Pohl, Amy Powney, John O’Donnell, Oral McGuire, David Biello, Logan McClure Davda, Shiv Soin, Jon Mallow, Briar Goldberg, Lindsay Levin, Nicole Ng – it was a delight to work alongside you all!
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