Andrey Egorov, Open University Skolkovo CEO, TEDxSkolkovo and TEDxMoscow Founder, TEDx Ambassador to Russia, and Svetlana Fominykh, Head of the School of Speech ‘A Person of the Word’ and the organizer of TEDxNovosibirsk, who recently attended her first ever TEDGlobal conference, shared some insights with us.
To find out more about what TED is, see the article TED2014 TED2014 – the story. Vancouver–Whistler–Moscow–Skolkovo.
TEDGlobal (TED’s ‘younger brother’) is seen as more of an international, cross-cultural event than TED. In previous years it was held in Edinburgh (and prior to that in Oxford), and it therefore attracted a lot of people from European countries.
In 2014 TEDGlobal was held in South America for the first time ever. The event was two years in the planning. At the TED2012 conference, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, gave a TED-talk on how to take Rio and other cities into the future.
The conference was entitled ‘South!’ and was held in Rio in October 2014.
The theme was chosen for a reason. Many countries in South America, along with other countries in the southern hemisphere, remain to this day little-known, ‘wild’ places on the map. Yet these countries have long been important sites in terms of political decision-making, a cradle for the development of culture and innovative entrepreneurship, for the birth of modern art and for the promotion of radically new urban solutions. And above all the people in these countries are open and friendly, and bursting with ideas which are ‘worth spreading’.
Compared to previous TEDs, there were no real superstars at TEDGlobal in Rio (previous TED speakers included the likes of Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Elon Musk, to name but a few). There were quite a number of ‘local’ speakers, however, and this made the event interesting.
My dream is to hold a TED event in Russia, at Skolkovo, so I always look at the way TED events are run with this ambition in mind. I always try to do a bit of PR work on behalf of our innovative city as well.
TED has been a source of inspiration to me for many years, but I never thought I would be able to attend a TED conference. The tickets aren’t cheap, as you will be aware. But the idea had taken root somewhere in my mind. And then one evening I just sat down at my computer and ordered my tickets: one for the conference and one for the flight over there. What was I expecting to get out of it? A healthy dose of inspiration, of course, and the chance to hear about new ideas, network and discover new projects. I wanted to see how it all works, how events on this scale are organized and run, and meet the legendary people who created this international movement.
As a public speaking coach, I really wanted to find out whether there was a secret to giving an authentic TED talk – and if so, what it was. When you get the opportunity to see 100 brilliantly prepared talks in the space of just five days, it gives you an enormous amount of material to analyse. And on top of that I had never been to South America before, but had always dreamed of going there, so the opportunity to attend TEDGlobal in Rio, of all places, was an important factor.
Did the event live up to my expectations? A lot of people have asked me whether the trip was worth it, financially. It's hard to answer the question: you cannot measure the experiences you take away in terms of money. My overall assessment, though, is this: yes, it was worth it, without a shadow of a doubt. If I had to list the things I got out of my trip to TEDGlobal in order of importance, then at the top of the list would be something that didn't even occur to me when I left for Rio. This was the fact that I was able to meet organizers of TEDx conferences from all over the world. As it turns out, they constitute a huge, friendly community. The people in it are always pleased to see one another and eager to help one another out. I have already benefited from assistance and advice from event organizers from Europe and America. On top of this, I now know that wherever I go in the world there will be people I can class as friends in almost every major city. In second place, of course, is the value you get from the talks themselves, and from the speakers' ideas.
As regards the talks: they were a mixed bag. Some were brilliant, some were merely good, and a few were nothing special, and fairly forgettable. When I observed the speakers I always had one key question in my mind: what is it that makes a presentation outstanding? And I managed to find an answer. It is the ability to improvise and respond to your audience – to be natural and alive even though your talk has been carefully planned. As for the speakers, the thing that struck me most – apart from their incredible projects – was how friendly and approachable they were outside the auditorium. A lot of them, by the way, can't wait to come and give talks in Siberia, which, as a TEDx organizer, I found really inspiring.
It's hard to describe what each of the hundred of presentations was like; videos of them are going to be uploaded to TED.com in the coming months.
Let me mention just a few of them.
Grimanesa Amoros from Peru talked about how traditions and culture from the past can be incorporated into modern technologies.
Tasso Azevedo has reduced the amount of deforestation in the Amazon by 80% over the last 10 years. Would you really have thought that possible?
Then there was Rodrigo Baggio: he set up a committee in Rio to provide access to computers and IT, and it has thus far opened about 800 centers in 12 different countries, thus giving access to new technologies to disadvantaged groups of the population.
Fabien Cousteau (the grandson of Jacques-Yves and son of Jean-Michel Cousteau) talked about the 31 days he spent in an underwater lab in the summer of 2014, collecting data about the effects of climate change and pollution on the world's oceans.
Melissa Fleming from the UN presented some data which suggested that more than 50 million people around the world are refugees who have had to flee their native land. These people live in special camps and have no access to a normal education. What impact are they going to have on the way the world looks, from a social perspective, in the decades to come?
Wendy Freedman is in charge of a project involving the construction of the giant Magellan telescope in Northern Chile, which may one day tell us whether there is life on other planets.
This same subject came up, incidentally, in the film Focus on Infinity, which we organized together with the Polytechnical Museum during the Contemporary Science Film Festival 360°.
Michael Green shared some ideas about how GDP, which was introduced at the start of the 20th century as an indicator of a nation's wealth, does not always work effectively today, and proposed the Social Progress Index as an alternative. This would include statistics about quality of life and reflect the true level of a country's development..
Miguel Nicolelis studies brain-to-brain interfaces (he once connected rats' brains to the internet and enabled monkeys to control primitive robots using their minds); in conjunction with 150 other researchers he designed a robotic exoskeleton which enabled a paraplegic man named Giuliano Pinto to kick a ball to mark the start of the World Cup (in June 2014, in Sao Paulo).
And, of course, one new trend worth looking out for is passinho – a dance from the favelas, which incorporates funk traditions, involves complex choreography and seeks to express the social problems faced in the slums.
Passinho lessons help to solve a social ill by encouraging young people to turn their backs on crime and put all their energy into art.
What about providing access to the internet in remote corners of the world, using antennae and small satellites? Syed Karim has already established the Outernet, in an attempt to resolve this problem.
Soon (in 2041) the moratorium on mining minerals in the Antarctic is going to come to an end. In order to protect the continent, Robert Swan is already working on a campaign to extend it.
Dozens of talks from the last TEDGlobal event will soon be posted online, on subjects such as the legalization of soft drugs, 'fragile' cities, protecting disappearing musical traditions, temporarily freezing everything on our plates, the Snowden files (a presentation by the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who spoke to Edward Snowden), social movements, the boiling river in the Amazon, self-governing organizations, a test for early diagnosis of cancer, a programme for personalized digitization of emails and many others.
Even the ad that was on TED looks quite inspirational, by the way.
It's well worth watching!
TED constructed its own theater right in the heart of Rio, on Copacabana beach.
For TED this is standard practice: when they organize conferences, they try to build their own unique theater every time (they even did so in Vancouver, where there is a state-of-the-art conference center – they built a TED theater inside it).
The theater was put up on the beach, and a bridge was put up over the Avenida Atlantica linking it to Rio's most famous hotel – the Copacabana Palace, which hosted some of the events and arranged screenings of others.
TED is a real challenge for an introvert (and I am an introvert, even though no-one believes me when I say that). There you are surrounded by a thousand incredibly interesting people from all over the world, and you’ve only got five days: the clock starts ticking, it gets harder and harder to do your ‘elevator pitch’ with each passing day, and you want to get to know the people you’ve already met a bit better, or sometimes just sit in a quiet corner for a moment, but you're constantly thinking: what if my most important bit of networking is still ahead of me?
And it’s like that every day, from early morning until midnight at least. The arrangements for networking at TED are top class, as you might expect. The tours, receptions, parties, group activities, long breaks, badges and TEDconnect are all wonderful networking tools. I got a huge amount out of it and I'm going to put it to use in the way I run my events.
A few words about Rio. I fell in love with the city straight away, with every fibre of my being. I made friends on my very first day there, with some people I met while out and about in the city. Rio is a place of dizzyingly beautiful vistas, but also of incredibly warm, approachable people, who are open not just on the surface but, as it seemed to me, with their whole souls. They were similar to Russians in some ways, but with a little more warmth. They are always eager to have a dance or embrace one another. I've no doubt the Brazilian sunshine and the climate play a big role in that.
On the day we were due to leave Rio, instead of heading to the beach we set off to the favela of Santa Marta to paint people’s homes. We were inspired to do so by the artists Haas & Hahn (real names Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn), who use their art to change the face of some of the world's most deprived urban areas, and whose presentation we had seen.
I hope that life in the favela got just that little bit better as a result of the TED participants visit.
Plans for the future
On 2March 21, 2015 I am planning to organize TEDxNovosibirsk for the third time. How have my views about the way the event is organized changed, after this trip?
The first thing that comes to mind is the speakers. I always thought it would be really hard to find some truly awesome speakers in Siberia, who would have innovative ideas and be able to expound them in a way that captured people's imagination. Generally speaking, that is indeed the case. I therefore went to Rio with the intention of finding great speakers in Rio and inviting them to Novosibirsk. The longer I spent in Rio, though, the more I sensed that foreign speakers – however inspiring they may be – are not the answer. My mission as an organizer is to unearth some of our local talent in the field of public speaking, and bring them to the attention of as many people as possible in Siberia and Russia. It is about helping them become better public speakers and helping them promote their ideas and projects. After all, it's so good to know that in Siberia we're more than capable of thinking, getting things done, and inspiring people! This simple thought fills me with pride in what I have just started doing.
The second simple thought that occurs to me is this: it's about networking, or, to describe it in more human terms, bringing the people at these events closer together. I am planning to organize events which will help bring people together, before, during and after TEDx, and have already started working on them. In my view, this is just as important as ensuring the talks are good. Because TEDx is an event for the intellectual elite in our society – those who are breaking new ground. And it would be wonderful if these people were to start saying hello when they bump into one another after the conference, and then make friends and help one another with their projects. At that point we would be able to say that TED's mission to spread ideas that are worth spreading had been achieved. And I would just love to live in a city like that!
A third thought that occurs to me: it concerns the kind of people at the event. The people you meet at TEDx are, as I said, wonderful. There's a 'but', however! The people with the greatest resources in our city, who can genuinely have an impact and change the status quo, are rarely seen at TEDx. That's what my experience has been, at any rate. And the new task I am setting myself – though I have not yet worked out how to go about it – will be to get these people on board – as audience members, partners or even speakers.
These are the three main areas of my organizational activity, and I would be happy to share my experiences and ideas with other event organizers.
That's true! It's an idea which I try to get across to the organizers of TEDx in Russia every single time: we must stop calling on speakers who are already well-known, and ask them to give a talk for the umpteenth time.
Instead we should be searching for new heroes – heroes from the present day. They might be people with ideas which are breaking new ground at Skolkovo, academics from Akademgorodok (the research village), young artists, talented buskers or anyone with an idea worth spreading. And then, perhaps, we might finally see the first speaker from Russia taking to the international stage at a TED event.
This is exactly what we are involved in – this winter we plan to organize a TEDxMoscow called 'Possible is everything', a theme which fits in very nicely with the Skolkovo way of doing things
Materials belonging to TED Conference, TEDConnect, TEDxSkolkovo, TEDxNovosibirsk, Favela Painting & Other Projects, Kat Haber, Jose Cruset were used in this article.