TEDx 2015: Review

Confession: while I’m a huge fan of binge-watching Ted Talks while I should be writing essays, I’d actually never been to a Ted event until yesterday. And now I’m really regretting not going to TEDx St Andrews events before, because it was incredible.

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For the past couple years, the TEDx St Andrews team has chosen a theme for their annual conference. In 2013 it was the 600th anniversary, last year it was “The Power of Play,” but this year they opted to go sans-theme so that they could open it up to all speakers and all kinds of talks. I think that was definitely a good call! Although they had the overarching TED umbrella of “what makes a good idea?” each speaker brought something totally different to the table. There were also ten of them, so the £15 ticket was an absolute steal. (Plus you also got a sweet goody bag and coffee.)

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Host Olivia Lapeyrolerie got everyone warmed up (literally) with some quick exercises that involved humming and hugging strangers. Even though the speakers were really the focus of the event, I really enjoyed Olivia’s hilarious commentary that kept everyone laughing over the course of the day. Another awesome feature of the conference was the Assembly App, which generates mini profiles from LinkedIn and lets you network with speakers and guests. They displayed comments from the audience on the stage between speakers, giving all the talks a really interactive feel.

All of the speakers were incredibly accomplished, well spoken, and engaging. If I had the time I would give you a summary of all their talks, because I was pretty much hanging on their every word. But I could go on all day, so I’ll just give you some of the highlights, and hopefully they’ll make you want to get a ticket for the next TEDx St Andrews conference.

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Political writer and journalist Roger Cohen gave the first talk of the morning, and he told a “trunk in the attic story” which explored the concept of trauma and the impact of the past on people’s lives. As an IR student I found Roger’s talk particularly interesting and can’t wait to finish this essay so I can do some more research on his incredible career.

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Next, documentary photographer Jon Tonks talked about his book Empire, a project that took him to the far-flung reaches of the South Atlantic to the British Overseas Territories. Not only do Jon’s photos give you a sense of the geographical isolation of these places, but also there are some really cool stories behind them. My favorite was about how Jon, on a rocky volcanic outcrop in the middle of the ocean, snapped the last photo of the very last cow on the island.

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The third speaker was Zynep Dereli, Managing Director for APCO Worldwide’s Istanbul Office. She discussed the national versus the business economy, and how we’re governed equally by corporations as we are by states. Her list of accomplishments is a lot longer than I have room for, and she was an inspiring speaker to listen to.

MLitt student Francois-Xavier Ada discussed the need to redefine and recalibrate our perceptions of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and the problematic nature of an international poverty line, ending with a call “not to strive to be rich, but to live well.” My friends and I found ourselves thinking a lot about what he’d said, and it sparked some really interesting conversations during the lunch break.

The other great thing about the breaks during the day was that we could wander around the Byre and explore the mini-marketplace tables with representatives from ACHIK, the Fine Food and Dining Society, Accenture, and Teach First, to name a few. There was also coffee out there, which was much appreciated early in the morning!

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We also heard from Erling Kagge, a world-famous explorer and the first person to have ever reached all “three poles:” North, South, and the summit of Mt Everest, and from Darshita Gilles, who gave a stirring talk on millennial power and how to address complex business and social challenges in a sustainable way. Fourth year Oli Clayton also gave a talk on the dangers of the comfort zone which hopefully inspired the audience to get out of theirs a little bit.

After another break, essayist, journalist, and writer Simone Barillari talked about Global Hamlet, an online crowd sourced work which he hopes to have curated by the world community. As a comparative literature student, this was one of my favourite talks. Reading everything on Global Hamlet’s Facebook page counts as studying for my exam, right? David Low, Performance Lead for Mobile Applications at Skyscanner was up next to talk about being a programmer, or “being an old guy in a young person’s industry,” and puns about pie, among other things. He had the audience in stitches for his entire talk.

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The penultimate speaker was Tess Serranti, President of Africa Continental Holdings. It was really interesting to hear about her experiences as both a businesswoman and as an adviser to the government of Ghana on energy and privatisation sectors. Spoken word poet Agnes Torok was the last speaker, and she ended the day on the highest of notes. Her piece dealt with building resilience through happiness, and it completely blew everyone away. Agnes researches happiness, “daily, small scale, boring happiness,” and believes that it’s something that happens when we take care of our communities and social relationships. I definitely came away from her talk with a new perspective of the word happiness, which is really the whole point of a TEDx event, in the end.

I’m really glad that I went to TEDx St Andrews. Other than some minor hiccups with seating, the whole day ran like a well-oiled machine. Thank you and congratulations to the TEDx committee; if this year is any indication, St Andrews has a lot to look forward to next year!


Images courtesy of Jan Vacula for TEDx St Andrews.