Lucy Dunn reviews TEDxUniversity of Glasgow's introductory talk which included more information about the society, how it will operate in the time of Covid-19, and how to join the committee.
A minute past seven, the Facebook Live swung into action. The usual audience applause was missed as Aniela Bankowicz, salon coordinator for the TEDxUniversity of Glasgow team, walked smoothly onto the podium. Reading from her black clipboard, she explained the inclusivity of the event: it was for everyone, from complete novices who had only a faint clue what TEDxUniversity of Glasgow was, to those who were preparing to apply for a committee or speaker position. Ordinarily, she would have been talking to a room full of people, but this year, the transition to online was an unfortunate necessity.
Giving a whistle-stop tour of the evening’s schedule, Aniela handed over to Heather Hooper, project manager for the coming year. Confidently walking onto the mini-stage, she smiled her hellos and directed the virtual audience to Slido, an online resource where watchers were encouraged to send in descriptions of what TED meant to them. Making the presentation interactive, the inclusivity was an extra bonus that helped to counteract the separateness one felt when watching from afar.
Another quick change - one of many throughout the night - as Khulood Khalid stepped up. Professionally-spoken and well-rehearsed, she gave background on the initial organisation from which the society had stemmed. Making the distinction between TED talks and those of TEDx, Khulood clarified any uncertainty: the latter were independently organised (the "x" standing for independent) by institutions around the world. After describing the “main mission” of the "OG"-TED organisation itself, she passed on to the 2020 TEDx conference speaker: Alejandro Serrano.
Fluent and engaging, as Alejandro dove deeper into his section, it became very clear very quickly the type of skills the TEDx team helped bring to the fore. Full of movement, but not distractingly so, Alejandro brightly described his time preparing for his TEDx speech. He discussed the hordes of ideas that fly through our minds in any one given day - 60,000 to be precise – and how we’re all capable of taking ours further, too. In delivering a mini-talk that, on paper, was in danger of being particularly cliched, Alejandro managed to avoid the cheesiness; his straightforward way of speaking unwrapped any tropes down to their unpretentious forms. Drawing out the meaning of his words by way of creative gesturing, both Alejandro’s message and sincerity shone through. With nothing but praise for the society, he described how his confidence in public speaking had sky-rocketed. The well-organised, bubbly team were described as a community of people keen to expose themselves to new ideas; through delivering much-needed support and aiding hours of practice, they had helped take his thoughts from paper to the public.
A few agonising seconds dragged on after Alejandro had finished speaking, but, gradually questions from the 20-person online audience began to roll in. How to get over a fear of public speaking? “Practice, practice, practice!” Alejandro enthused; no hesitation. Could he give more detail on how he took his idea to the main stage? Eloquently, he discussed how he had started with a strong vision, broadened his scope, and conducted his research. An apparently uncomplicated process, laid-back Alejandro made it sound as though any man off the street could whip up a TEDx talk, had he wanted to.
However, technical issues were not content on suppressing themselves for much longer: after Alejandro walked away from the podium, the next speaker, Teresa Baños, appeared to have her entry delayed by Zoom complications.
The audience observed some painful to-ing and fro-ing: Heather announced that Teresa would only be a few minutes and Teresa appeared on the screen shortly afterwards, however, the technologies appeared to engage in some petty squabble. Facebook Live refused to let the well-renowned and better-favoured Zoom steal all, or any, of its momentary glory. A visual tug-o’-war included points where Teresa was unintentionally interrupted by Heather, with another confused silence whilst Teresa ascertained whether she was truly on-air or not. A few more seconds ticked on and, thankfully, the struggle appeared to subside: finally, Teresa was good to go.
“Let me fix your sadness!” The motif transcended into a battle cry, becoming gradually more and more agitated, and aggressive. Teresa, to her immense credit, had not been left daunted by the technical hitches; she spoke clearly, emphatically, emotionally.
What, at first, had appeared a surprising poetry recital transformed itself into a thoroughly emotive and resonant speech. Teresa had picked upon a matter common to most: dealing with the emotions of others, and ourselves. With each sentence, her point was restated and enriched: trying to be the saving grace every time a friend feels down not only centres ourselves in another’s experience, it invalidates their emotions. Instead of speaking, wide-eyed Teresa pointed out, we should listen. We do not own the feelings of others, or even ourselves and, in relinquishing our control of both, only then do we have the freedom to be at the mercy of our minds.
Turning towards deeper philosophical questions, she asked: “Are feelings broken? Do they need fixing?” We pondered ourselves, Teresa’s strong gaze - impressive, as she was surely only pinpointing her webcam - feeling strangely personal. Her extended water metaphors were plentiful - including thrashing at waves, creating ripples, treading water and, just when they risked submerging the audience, she reigned her imagery in. A further mention of a flotation device veered her dangerously close to going overboard, but her buoyant tone changed to become more serious past this point. Her message was beautifully simplistic yet confidently powerful, and one that is wholeheartedly tied into the millennial culture of self-acceptance and personal growth. Delivered both fluently and with compassion, she concluded: “Your presence is more powerful than you think it is.”
A quick Q&A came and went, and we were taken back to Heather. She passed the mic onto Aniela who gave some more information about the events that TEDxUniversity of Glasgow hosts. There was curiously little mention of changes in event format due to the malingering presence of Covid-19. Whether that was because the team didn’t want to put words to a likely unfavourable reality, or because they have more faith than the rest of us in the government’s ability to guide us through a second wave, was left unclear.
The now-routine Q&A followed each mini-speech by leaders of the many teams within TEDxUniversity of Glasgow. Not quite as enthralling as the talks from the two previous speakers, they covered important points about the range of positions within the committee and appealed enthusiastically for new applicants. Jumping on the government-trending QR code hype, three were displayed on-screen, giving viewers access to the TEDx Facebook pages and application forms. With a slightly stilted ending (who really understands how to sign off a virtual meeting smoothly?), Heather waved her goodbye and the Facebook Live came to a close.
Overall, a judgement of the entire introductory talk rests upon whether the beauty of the speeches was offset by the stilted hesitancy of the connecting sections. The technical hitches had appeared to arrive primarily for the main speech itself, although they remarkably did not do anything to detract from Teresa Baños’ talk. In fact, both speakers came across as extremely captivating, and it was almost saddening that they only spoke for the short while that they did.
In the time of Covid-19, hosting any kind of event has its challenges, virtual or otherwise, and things are never going to flow perfectly. Elements of both talks have stuck with me since, and in finding myself pondering the questions Teresa, in particular, raised, it’s safe to say that TEDx worked its magic. I’m excited to see what will be in store for the team this year, and I wholeheartedly hope that next time, I’ll get to be there in person.