Tag Archive for: TED

First Reflections on TED Global 2012

I am in Amsterdam now, doing research for Eye of the Beholder, having traveled directly here after TED Global ended on Friday. I had thought I would blog throughout the meeting, but it was all so intense and non-stop that I preferred to just live it and reflect on it afterwards. Just a few thoughts now, and more later as they come to me.

It was a whirlwind of talks, social events, and chatting with new friends. Many of the talks I heard were mind-blowing in some way or another; I met a large group of amazing, intelligent, curious, and accomplished people; and the parties (and after-parties) were lavish!

By the time of my talk I was still nervous, but I had already seen that the audience is so receptive and eager to hear what the speakers have to say. As I climbed the stairs to the large stage after being introduced I felt so much positive energy washing over me. As I looked out at the huge audience I recognized many of my new friends, and saw how ready everyone was to hear my story about the philosophical breakfast club. It was so much fun to tell it, and the feedback afterwards was amazingly positive. What was thrilling was how fascinated this group of non-academics and non-historians were by the philosophical and historical story I wove for them.

Bruno Giussani introducing me on the stage of TED

Bruno Giussani introducing me on the stage of TED

You can see the description of my talk—and two photos of me while on the stage—on the TED blog here.

I’ll have more pictures soon, and—with luck—a video to share.

TED Bookstore

The eight guest curators at the TED Bookstore

The eight guest curators at the TED Bookstore

The folks at TED invited me to be a “guest curator” of the bookstore onsite during the TED Global meeting next week. The bookstore stocks books by the speakers as well as those selected by a few guest curators. I put together a thematically connected list of ten books (fiction and non-fiction) and wrote up small blurbs about each one, as well as a brief “curation philosophy.” I decided to go for a fun list that reflected what I’ve been reading lately and a few old favorites, rather than something more scholarly and mundane. I’ll post the full list and the connection between them next week during the conference. As a taste, here’s the first book on my list:

1. Waterland, Graham Swift
Takes place in the Fen country of East Anglia, in bleak marshlands wrested from the sea—a sea that wants the land back. Spanning 240 years, the book weaves a tale of empire-building, sluice-minding, eel reproduction, brewing, incest and madness, adding up to a thoughtful reflection of the nature of history and memory. Both history and memory, like the sea, are fluid and ever-changing. A magical book.

I’ve also been asked to do a book-signing for The Philosophical Breakfast Club in the bookstore the morning after my talk. The TED bookstore will be seeing a lot of me!

Notes on Preparing for TED Global

I have been preparing to take the stage at the TED Global conference—now only 19 days away, as the TED.com website helpfully reminds me! As it is for almost everyone who speaks at TED for the first time, this is a completely new challenge for me. One thing I’ve discovered in the process is that

No podium
+ No notes (or PowerPoint bullets)
+ Audience of 800+ people
+ Only 15 minutes
= Sheer Terror!

At least I know I’m not alone! As bestselling author Susan Cain described it in a lovely essay for the New York Times Book Review a little while back, at the speakers’ briefing the day before the TED conference she realized that “I probably wasn’t the only one trying to figure out how to get onstage without falling down or throwing up!”

On the more positive side, I’ve realized how useful this process has been for me. Not only has my practice with giving a talk without notes or any kind of crutch begun to make a difference in my other speaking engagements (and I’m sure it will perk up my teaching as well), but I have also found it to be intellectually invaluable. There has been a bit of an epidemic of TED-bashing lately (mostly by people who have not been invited to speak at TED conferences, I might add, or those who went but did not deliver stellar talks). But for me, whatever happens on the TED stage, it has been a wonderful experience in learning how to find the most important message in my own work, and to present it in a fully accessible—and brief—way. I’ve always believed that if you can’t explain your ideas to an interested and educated (though not necessarily specialist) audience—either your students or a general public—then you need to work on clarifying those ideas. Even complex scientific and philosophical concepts can be explained; perhaps not in all their specialist and technical glory, but enough so that others can grasp the nature of those ideas and why they are important. That belief has been underscored by working on my TED talk. And I would now add that anyone working on something that fascinates himself or herself should be able to come up with a 15 minute talk about why it is so fascinating. I hope I have managed to do that. We’ll see soon enough!

The Philosophical Breakfast Club at TED Global This June!!!

I am incredibly excited to announce that I will be giving one of the famous 14-minute TED talks at the TED Global meeting in Edinburgh this June.

The theme of the TED Global meeting this year is “Radical Openness,” and the program reflects the eclecticism of that idea. I will be leading off Session 10, titled “Reframing,” which also features an artist (and President of the Rhode Island School of Design), a “computational architect,” a “femtophotographer” (photographs light), a musician, and a behavioral economist!

See the complete program here.

The organizers have put together a fabulous group—I am eager to learn from each and every speaker, and am thrilled to be able to share with the 900 attendees my story about the men who helped invent the modern scientist.

I’ll have more to say about TED Global and my preparations for it in the coming weeks.