Not a TED speaker
TEDx is the offspring of TED Talks, and the trouble with TED talks, it is claimed, is that everything is awesome, ideas are 'worth spreading', but very little is actually remembered. They're nice videos to watch, but how much do you actually learn? For many, these events can be little more than vacuous and self-congratulatory, where presentation style takes precedence over substance. TED Talks often end with a standing ovation with the audience whooping and whistling, as the spot-light bathed speaker basks in the glory of their 16 minutes or so of fame. It seems more like a cult of celebration and celebrity than something designed to inform and challenge. What's more, I have never seen any dialogue with the audience - presumably it would be too messy and unpredictable for TED. Because no critical element is present, any idea can be presented without fear of challenge.
TED takes a lot of care over how it selects its speakers, grooming and training them to present in the style approved by TED, and only when they are ready are they let loose to entertain the paying audience. TED makes a lot of money presenting its goods in this wrapper. It's true that many of the speakers are very polished, dynamic and persuasive. I have no idea to what extent TEDx is run along similar lines, or whether it's a great departure from its bigger brother, but it seems to adopt the same format, and the main difference is that it is scaled down and appears in a venue near you. Here's an rather unkind, but brutally honest and humourous take on the formula that lies behind many TED talks:
What does speaking at a TED event do for an individual? Apparently it looks good on a CV, but so does a life-saver certificate or a stint working in a voluntary organisation. What does it actually mean? I've met and worked alongside several TED speakers, and they are genuinely nice people, but I have never met one who has been willing to talk openly about the hoops they had to jump through to become a TED speaker.
I have been approached twice for nomination as a potential TED speaker. Both times I declined. I wouldn't presume. My most memorable speaking engagements to date have been in places such as the Royal Institution, The Royal Society and numerous universities around the globe. I didn't need to do anything other than turn up and speak. I have been lucky to speak at many truly amazing events, and the larger the event, the more pressure there is on keynote speakers to entertain. But entertaining is only one small aspect of public speaking, and hopefully substance still takes precedence. For me, the most important thing is that audiences should be informed and challenged, and that whenever possible, they should be able to have dialogue with the speaker. So I will continue to speak at events when I'm invited, but I won't be speaking at a TED event, and I'm quite happy it will never appear on my CV.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Not a TED speaker by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.