I applied for a ticket to TEDx Toronto on a whim and then found myself getting excited about attending. Some are surprised to discover you must submit an application to become a “delegate” at a TEDx event. These are independently organized TED-like conferences, but on a smaller scale than the famous California gathering.
Kudos to the organizers of TEDx Toronto for running the day smoothly at the lovely Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor Street. From the moment the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played the opening notes of Ravel’s Bolero, I was a TEDx fan. Music was used nicely to break up the day, with performances later by Choir!Choir!Choir and Maylee Todd.
But what about the content? I especially enjoyed the talk by Keith Vanderlinde, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. With beautiful photos and eloquent words, he showed us what it was like to live at the South Pole for a year. His use of humour was perfect and his delivery was well paced.
Nav Bhatia was a surprise to me. Billed as the “Raptors Superfan,” he spoke about his experience as an immigrant who happens to be Sikh, and how he made his mark in Canada and continually gives back to the community. He is succeeding at changing peoples’ perceptions of Sikhs, he says.
Child activist Rachel Parent is passionate about healthy food. She leads a campaign to have genetically modified foods labeled in Canada. How hard could this be? Pretty hard, it seems. Rachel is one to watch. For a teenager, she is a fabulous speaker.
John Cruickshank, publisher of the Toronto Star, is concerned about voter apathy and a lack of engagement by young people in the political process. I enjoyed listening to him speak about media today; what a great communicator.
Jamil Jivani of the Policing Literacy Initiative, a group with new ideas to improve police services and community safety in Toronto and abroad, grabbed our attention with his story of growing up in a bi-racial family. A brilliant young man, he is another one to watch.
Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden spoke from the heart about how his mother supported his efforts in sports, and how he found his own ways (sometimes unorthodox) to learn and excel.
My favourite of the day was comedian Sabrina Jalees, who talked about coming out as a gay person to her Indian/Swiss family. Sure, she’s hilarious, but her insights were also perceptive and thought-provoking.
I don’t want to forget to mention the emcee, Drew Dudley. Hands down, he was one of the best I’ve ever seen, seamlessly seguing between speakers with the right balance of insight and humour. When I heard about his original TEDx speech, Leading with Lollipops, which went viral and transformed his career, I looked it up. Well worth watching, here.
As you can see, when I attend a conference I consume the content from two perspectives: the ideas themselves, and how they are delivered. You can have the most amazing message, but if you’re not a skilled speaker, you’re not going to communicate it.
Unsolicited advice for speakers
Here’s my unsolicited advice for future TEDx speakers:
- Be authentic. Show your vulnerability.
- Slow down. Yes, you’re probably speaking too quickly.
- Don’t fear pauses. Use them for emphasis.
- Share stories; don’t dazzle us with too many facts and figures.
- Don’t try to communicate too many ideas. Three is plenty.
- Be sure your message is crafted to be heard and not read. One speaker in particular seemed to have memorized what sounded like an article. Content like this is hard to follow and bores the audience.
- While you are practicing your delivery, make a video of yourself so you can evaluate your body language and your voice. Beware of a singsong cadence that goes up and down in a regular fashion, and starts to irritate listeners (well, me, anyway).
- On a technical note, you don’t have to be so obvious with the clicker; you certainly don’t need to aim it.