Up until about 6 months ago, I only had a few basic tatters of information about TED Talks. I knew it was an annual conference, or… something. I’d seen a few talks on the website and thought it was an interesting concept, but it was only when I was invited to help organize Thailand’s first TEDx event, TEDxBKK (the ‘x’ stands for an independently organized TED event under the main TED umbrella), did I truly get an understanding of what a powerful, important and tremendously enjoyable event they can be. The big day was February 13, 2010, and it went of superbly, thanks to a great team that really personified what TED is all about. Another reason I got a backstage view of the whole thing? I was asked to be the host.
The man with the plan was my friend Rob, a TED fan who acquired the rights to hold his TEDx event in Bangkok. Since planning began, I’ve had a lot of people ask me exactly what TED is, and it’s kind of a hard question to answer. Cutting and pasting from their website will give you this:
A suite of short, carefully prepared talks, demonstrations and performances on a wide range of subjects to foster learning, inspiration and wonder — and to provoke conversations that matter.
Essentially, it’s a bunch of people interested in a wide variety of stuff who enjoy listening to other people talk about a wide variety of stuff.
Long story short, months of planning, discussion, suggestions, counter-suggestions, scribbles, notes, and late night beers gave the team what turned out to be a pretty solid lineup of speakers and a schedule which made sense. With the help of some generous sponsors, the team managed to get brochures designed, publicity going, posters printed and the venue (at the Ruamrudee International School) ready for action.
Attendance was good, although not all who said they’d be there actually showed, but that’s to be expected with any big event I guess. I had put my notes for the show on my iPhone instead of writing them out on little notecards, which actually worked out not bad (although the Notebooks app cost me $6!). If I’d avoided writing everything down until the night before the event and given myself time to memorize it, I might not have needed to glance at it so much. But for the inaugural event of a large and complicated conference with guests flying in from around the world, it went off remarkably well. A summary of the speakers:
- Apirak Kosayodhin, Bangkok’s former governor, opened the event with a speech on behalf of the PM, and then gave his TED talk on the foundation he runs, the Asian Knowledge Institute, talking about Asia’s emerging ‘Generation A’.
- Fellow Canadian Julie Lavioe talked about how Bangkok wakes up and showed some really cool photos from around the city as people set up and tore down food stalls, sold their wares to Bangkok’s salarymen and got the city ready for another day. Best part: “People don’t like pictures taken of them when they first wake up, so to empathize with them I put myself in their shoes” as a giant closeup of her just-awake face filled the screen.
- Robyn Treyvaud gave a speech on the effect that constant internet access is having on today’s generation, noting that parents must be responsible to instilling a ‘digital moral compass’ in their child, and that we’re the first generation whose entire lineage will have access to nearly our entire lives via our digital footprint. What are you going to look like when they take a peek into your digital history?
- Filmmaker, producer, writer, director and all-around cool dude James With gave a talk about the technology behind Avatar and how 3D movies and TV shows are just the beginning. It was an interesting dichotomy to see a guy with an unruly afro, cowboy boots, leather jacket and an “I ♥ NY” t-shirt talking so fluently about some seriously hi-tech stuff. He also admitted he had a crush on Neytiri, which made me glad because I’m not the only one.
- Akansha Shah, a student at the school where TEDx was held, talked about emotional intelligence and how the human brain works it into our daily lives. I was blown away that a 16-year old could speak so eloquently about such an advanced subject. As I said after her talk: “When I was 16 years old, I could barely tie my shoes. Suddenly I have great faith in the future.”
- Daniela Papi gave a very prescient presentation on how building a thousand schools won’t do jack for a poor community unless you have the people to make them into centers of learning. She had some great stories about her time in Cambodia and some sobering details on how a good deed can actually do harm if it isn’t properly thought out.
- Colin Gallagher came from Hong Kong to give us his interesting experiences in how he’s integrating iPod’s and other technology into his classrooms of elementary school children, what effect it will have on them as they grow up, and the importance of using the right tool for the right job at the right time.
- Canadian performance artist Ronley Teper performed one of her songs, a really unique ditty that combined chirps, warbles, clicks and Ronley’s dynamic voice to give us a song that sounded a bit like Bjork but also something totally unique.
- Zoltan Radnai, the community manager for presentation godsend Prezi, gave a talk that displayed how Prezi can enable people to tell better stories. Several people I talked to after his speech were totally blown away by it, and one guy asked me how anyone can even use PowerPoint after seeing Prezi in action.
- My friend Chris Mitchell gave an interesting speech on his experiences diving with Great White Sharks and how he’s come to appreciate their powerful beauty, despite being locked in a cage as the giant thing thrashed about inches away trying to rip a huge chunk of tuna free from its hook.
- Virtual world guru Chris Smith, who described himself as a ‘digital nomad scavenger’ gave a really neat presentation that saw him have a conversation with his online avatar as he gave us a tour of Second Life.
- Brooke Estin talked about her life as she jets between 2 continents promoting the idea of the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. She had some really interesting insights into how the business of philanthropy is evolving in the 21st century. Favorite part: Hero Rat, where you can ‘adopt’ a rat that does some pretty nifty landmine removal work in Cambodia. I showed my emotional intelligence by suggesting it would make an awesome cartoon.
- Bruce Poon Tip, one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs and founder of Gap Adventures, gave a great presentation on sustainable tourism and how it’s possible to see a country and help its people at the same time if you structure your business correctly. He had several cool stories and some great pictures.
- The final speaker was a beautiful, amazing woman named Prae Sunantaraks. Her parents nicknamed her Fluke because she was born 3 months premature, a condition she didn’t have time to worry about as she grew into a healthy child. In her teens, she was diagnosed with retinis pigmentosa, an incurable degenerative eye condition that will eventually leave her blind. Despite this, she had an outstanding, positive outlook on life and appreciated the opportunity to have her other senses developed to a level that sighted people never experience. She told a story of the first day she realized she couldn’t see green anymore, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She closed with a quote from Helen Keller: The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. I haven’t been that close to breaking down into pathetic sobs since Goose died in Top Gun.
And that was TEDxBKK. I think it was a great success, and the feedback was very positive. The after party was held at the legendary QBar, where organizers, speakers and guests partied late into the night. I only put a few pictures up here, but a quick search of ‘tedxbkk’ on Flickr will yield more results. You can also search for the hashtag #tedxbkk on Twitter.
The whole thing was really amazing to be a part of and I now have a much better understanding of the power of collaboration and the badassery that can come from the sharing of ideas. Many more TED talks can be found on their main site – highly recommended.