Life It's the 20th of July at about 8:30 in the morning and I'm standing outside the newly opened Everyman Theatre on Hope Street in Liverpool, looking through a glass door at a table with a sign on it which says TEDx Liverpool. The event doesn't start until nine o'clock, but such is my excitement at actually seeing in person something which I've only previous glimpsed in online videos, I've arrived super early. I'm chatting to a fellow visitor whose travelled across the pennines from Ilkley to be here. He's something of a fan. This isn't his first TEDx. This is mine.
TEDx, like its parent has an odd reputation. Some simply dismiss them as a kind of hipster school in which the holier than thou preach to the unholy, filling in the gap for some who aren't fulfilled by evangelical teaching. That is evident in some of the more airless talks, its true. But that's just one genre. Like their shorter spiritual (sorry) cousins, the Ignite talks, at their best they can be a concentrated way of learning about a subject you might not otherwise have thought about from an expert you've never heard of. As I was about to discover.
09:00Having missed previous events due to work, I knew I had to turn up to this one, at least to see what they're like, to see what happens. Plus I wanted to experience the new theatre without the hustle, bustle and scrum of a play. I certainly got that, although when the door finally opened at a little after nine o'clock and I was the first through, there was still the sense of wanting to be in the right place to get a good speck even though we wouldn't be entering the auditorium for at least an hour. I was beaming as I gave my name to the volunteer behind the counter, beaming as I picked wrote my ID badge.
Cue networking in the upstairs bar area. Or as is usually the case trying not to embarrass yourself in front of a stranger (with the slightly nervous handing over of the ostentatious Moo card with this blog's URL on it), the door opened and we filed in. Or rather the doors opened while I was in the toilet which left me with a mad dash into the auditorium to find a seat. As is always, always the case with these things I installed myself at the front in an empty seat so that I don't have to dodge the head of another human being and have a clear view of everything.
Then the ten minute wait for something to happen, punctuated by a further bathroom visit. If you're on your own these events are always a bit, well, lonely, because the people on either side are always in a group, either because they met someone outside or its some kind of long term friendship commitment. I did manage some small talk with my neighbour, telling her about the Ignite talks at Leaf. Oh and passed on another ostentatious Moo card with this blog's URL on it. Do people bother with these I wonder? Do they, like me have bowl full on their desk? Are you that person?
Herb Kim of Thinking Digital Ltd, is our host and after the above introductory video, he wanders onto the performance space and welcomes us to the event. I'm very excited. The various speakers are all lined up on chairs to the side like contestants on Whose Line Is It Anyway? some of whom I recognise, and not just because I recently followed them on Twitter. Everything looks just as it does in the YouTube videos. I glance around the audience and there are grins aplenty, contagious bliss about being a room with a big red TEDx sign. Let's begin.
Adrian Hon is an old friend of the blog. He wrote about his year for Review 2005. This is in the inspirational speaking genre of TEDx talk and was a fine way to start the day because of that, because it's everything that people expect a TEDx talk to be. For more of his work, he still has a blog, and also writes on Medium. If you look closely enough you can see me in the reverse shots. It's during Adrian's talk that I convinced myself that I might want to join the 21st century and buy a tablet computer soon.
Aha, TEDx immortality. Given how unlikely it is that I'll ever be invited to speak at a TEDx, at least I'm a participant. During the talk, Professor Solomon asked the audience for ways in which viruses can be transmitted and after all the expected mentions of human contact, I suggested the cash machine, entirely forgetting for a split second that this was being recorded and would eventually end up online. The audience thought it hilarious and it gave the Prof a decent feed line. In my defence there was a story back in 2011 about cash machines being as dirty as toilets and even earlier Japan was providing cash points to customers that were easy to clean.
The new Everyman is a very, very nice theatre. In the round like the Globe and the various theatres in Stratford now, there's an intimacy to the space which wasn't always the case in the old building, especially when performers were up stage. There are chairs throughout rather than the old benches up the side. But it still retains the feel of that space with the brick walls and furniture, a conscious decision, as Bodinetz says in her talk. None of which is to say that like the whole rest of Liverpool (ish) I don't miss the old basement Bistro. Nowhere else is quite the same.
Rivetting. Not all TEDx talks are talks. Sometimes they're interviews and in this case a useful choice for the end of the first session with the audience's concentration flagging and perhaps not quite able to hold their attention through something with a more complex structure. Ward's an excellent communicator and Kim simply lets him speak, acting as the verbal equivalent of a prompt sheet. The anecdote about the public meeting is shocking, but there's nothing about it which feels like it couldn't and doesn't happen now somewhere (cf, this recent This American Life).
The event also included these musical interludes. Three items which have nothing to do with the music. Firstly, the YouTube comments which are essentially an argument about what instrument she's playing. Secondly, the number of phones and ipads immediately held up by audience members recording the performance. Thirdly, the event photographers who moved around throughout the performance taking pictures, which was a bit distracting and now seems to be the norm at these kinds of events. This happened during the music but hardly at all during the talks (as far I can remember). Thank goodness there's this HD video for posterity.
11:45Lunch was a bit of a shambles. In the run up to the day the organisers asked that we pre-order a lunch from the Everyman at the cost of five pounds, choosing a sandwich. I chose cheese, expecting it to be a plated affair of some description. At the end of the session I went straight to the toilet (again) and thence to the room where the lunch would be picked up to find brown paper bags on a long table with our names pinned to the side. Shrugging, but still full of the TEDx mojo I picked up my bag which as I walked away promptly bottomed out, a bottle of water, apple, packet of crisps and packet of sandwiches falling to the floor.
I shrugged again, telling the volunteers, that it was ok, it was fine, all very stereotypically British. Except, pathetically, it wasn't ok, it wasn't fine, not least because I'd been stuck with cheesy crisps and an apple which had been on the floor and a wet packet of sandwiches, the condensation on the cool water bottle having gone all over everywhere. Plus glancing around the bar area I saw that others had been given a banana (which I would have prefered) and flavours of crisps I might actually have liked. So I did what I rarely do, I went back and told them all ,the while wondering internally if it wouldn't have been logistically possible to have everything but the pre-booked sandwich available separately.
Yes, that was mistake too. The volunteers had rather been stuck with the whole thing. One of them went to ask a manager with me following, only for us to be told that we'd be seen to when they'd finished with whatever they were doing. The volunteer apologised. I told her it was fine again, because it wasn't her fault and she'd rather been stuck with the whole thing. Then I told her it wasn't because it wasn't, because everyone else seemed to have got their lunch without any bother. So she took me downstairs to the main restaurant where I was able to swap this soggy food, for food I might actually enjoy, like a banana and a packet of ready salted crisps.
Shuffling in for session 2 it became apparent that unlike nearly every such event I'd been to, seating was an every person for themselves affair in which your original spot was of little interest to anyone. Nevertheless I dashed down the stairs like a character from a Wes Anderson film, barged my away through the front row and managed to grab my original seat along with a couple of my original neighbours who then asked me to take their picture with the giant teddy bear. Unless this happened at the beginning of the second session. Either way, I also took a picture of the bear as you can see. I don't think I got his best side. Not sure why everything is so red.
Here's another classic example of TEDx talk, the twenty minute lecture. Baffling but brilliant. Best moment is about three minutes in when this Professor Shears describes something which is amazingly complicated then says, "So, so it's quite simple really..." The laughter speaks volumes. But notice how as the talk continues she's essentially modifying the content because she's realised the level of knowledge within the room isn't quite what she expected so elucidates much more simply. This seems to be a much truncated version of a talk Shears gave at the Royal Institution last year, the whole hour of which is at their YouTube channel.
Even though I couldn't attend the food festival at the weekend due to work (not doing things due to work at the weekend happens a lot), I was brought home one of Lunya's Catalonian Scouses for tea, with its spicy sausage and more tomato and peppers. Gorgeous, although the accompanying bread went a bit soggy in the box. But otherwise, I like Lunya, just as I like all of the shops in the city centre which provide an alternative to the many hundreds of Tescos. Though as this talk reveals, not being a supermarket can be difficult even if what you're offering is this special and unique.
I visited Homebaked during the Liverpool Biennial 2012 (nostalgic sigh) so this was an unexpected and useful update on the project as well as some background to what happened during the festival (nostalgic sigh again). Now the ambition is going well beyond the bakery into regenerating a larger area which is all to the good. By this point the audience seemed to have adjusted to the slightly random nature of the talks and relishing what would come next. Although it's also fair to say that even after all the lunch, both of these talks made me feel very hungry again.
Aha Graham, if only, if only. For years I said that if I ever did win the lottery, I'd travel the world. Turns out you "only" need about thirty thousand pounds. Considering what he's done and where he is, Hughes manages to remain relatively humble, entirely appreciative of the ludicrousness of the whole thing. Unfortunately the sound on this video is horrible, not picking up the auditorium audio from the Skype feed clearly. As an alternative, Graham actually turned up to TEDx Salford last year and gave a similar talk.
More music. More photography throughout. The video thankfully doesn't pick up the ever present beep of one of the camera as each shot was taken. I persevered through my hyper-awareness of other humans. How much does this bother others? Did any of the audience members find this distracting or do I just have an inherent lack of concentration? Perhaps there's a TED talk about this somewhere and if there isn't, it should be. I have the same problem with books. I can barely read tie-in books on noisy buses whereas other passengers seem to be able to pile through literature.
In all of the networking before the show, whenever I asked someone why they were here, and even when I didn't ask but they ventured the information anyway, they said it was to see Sir Ken Robinson. To which I replied that I hadn't heard of Sir Ken Robinson. To which they gave that look, the look I would assume would be something along the lines of that given to anyone who turned up for Glastonbury last year and asked who The Rolling Stones were. But I'd missed this 2006 talk and the ensuing fall out, largely because I was still on dial-up at home and couldn't watch videos easily. One person told me it entirely changed their life. If only I could have afforded broadband back then.
From what I heard and now seen, I think that Sir Ken has managed to become something of a prophet by stating a piece of common sense which most others had overlooked. With charisma. Notice how he assimilates the talks he's heard so far into his answers and utilises them as aids in communicating his own message. Luckily, it's a good message of the sort which might have saved me no end of trouble early on, and even though I don't think seventeen is an age when anyone should be making decisions about their future, I can't also blame the younger version of me for my current inertia.
14:45The coffee scramble. The several giant flasks of coffee, hot water, tea bags and milk all stood next to each other in the middle of a counter which would have been fine for a few beverage hunters but with several hundred crowded around a complete mess as everyone had to first get a cup, then move along to the coffee and then to the milk, except there was no sense of order as is so often the case at these sorts of events. I did manage to get some black coffee in the end, which was nice and strong even if sheer luck meant that some of it didn't spill over. This was scary.
For the third half, Sir Ken assumed presenting duties, beginning with one of my favourite Guardianistas and a message which I wish I paid more attention to on a long term basis. I brazen it, ala Pyramids of Mars quite a bit, but that's not quite the same thing. Harriet Minter's profile is here and her most recent column is about the reaction to Emma Watson's UN speech and the grotesque misogynistic fallout. She's interviewed Arianna Huffington. This is the Women in Leadership section (which looks rubbish in the beta version of the website - the classic version is much more distinctive).
"Awe, doesn't that nearly make you like Facebook." Tough speech this and I think Dan's relaxed approach kept the audience on side. As Apple have noticed over the past few weeks, you can think you're the most user friendly company on the planet, think you're doing everything you can to help the user, but if you do anything which they're not expecting or which is entirely outside the bounds of their taste like give them a U2 album they didn't ask for or a software update which destroys the usability of their phone, they'll hate you.
By this point, I'll admit, I was getting a bit tired. As you can see from some of the reverse shots the target time for each of these talks is twenty minutes and the concentration of them all in the same day was pretty challenging. At home, you have the luxury of being able to watch a couple before moving on and of clicking away if it's not something you're that interested in. The ambition of this is spectacular but I wonder how many of us could safely accomplish the same feat especially with the commitments we might have back home.
Hello Adrian and poor Adrian for needing to correct Sir Ken right at the beginning about his origins. It's fitting that Adrian appeared at TEDx Liverpool given that he helps organise the Ignite meetings and Social Media Cafe, both of which have also featured versions of this talk but with less of his CV, most of which I was entirely unaware of, especially in regards to early mobile browsers. Back in 2009, his Bubbalino appeared at an earlier TEDx Liverpool and can be memorably seen in action during Alison Gow's talk.
Which is what it is. The audience participation at the end was an awkward moment (not least amongst the speakers still sat the edge as you can see) in which a couple of people stood right up, then a few more, then some more, then me, then there were some walk outs. These sorts of interactions always depend on the crowd and their level of enthusiasm. As you can see from the video people did seem to get into the spirit by the end.
The day ended with this final wrap up from Sir Ken which reiterated some of the points from his interview and his original 2006 TED and was an inspiring way to end the day. One of his key messages, that you shouldn't be afraid to say you don't know about something if you're also willing to learn. Apart from team sports featuring balls that aren't Netball, this is something I've always tried to live by and if TEDx Liverpool proved one thing, it's that this is generally a good thing. If only everyone, especially in leadership and political positions believed it too.