TEDx: prepare to be inspired

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Tamar Ziff gets the lowdown from event organisers Yousra Elbagir and Farah Fazalbhoy on the much anticipated tEDx Conference 2014, as it returns to the Bubble for the third year running .

The Saint: When did you guys first get involved with the organisation of TEDx?

Yousra Elbagir: We were both head of content last year, and the organisers – who were graduating – handed down the role to us. Last year was the first real TEDx talk; technically the TEDx University of St Andrews franchise began two years ago, but it was quite small.

Farah Fazalbhoy: We initially just saw the advertising for it and applied – we all know TED talks, so we were curious to see how it could be implemented in the University.

TS: Why did you decide to get involved in this initiative?

YE: Well, we just really like TED talks. Two years ago it started out as this tiny thing, and now it’s grown so much – it’s important to have a brand like this in St Andrews.

FF: Also, TED talks are basically the one accepted procrastination tool that everyone turns to – it’s the not-so-guilty guilty pleasure: you’re learning something, right? It’s cool in that it creatively presents topics and ideas in an interesting way that encourages people to learn more and explore. No matter where people are from in St Andrews, they are drawn to the name. We need to draw people out of the Bubble and into a greater world of “ideas worth spreading”.

TS: How do the speakers get chosen?

YE: Last year, as the heads of content, we were more involved in picking and contacting the speakers. We essentially choose five or six speakers from a variety of different fields, researching each in depth and then bombard them with emails.

FF: It was really difficult – it was the first time that this had happened in St Andrews, so nobody had heard of us. We got a lot of rejections, and had to send out virtually hundreds and hundreds of emails. Luckily, in the end, we managed to get some pretty great people.

YE: This year, due to the success of last year’s conference, the calibre of speakers has really gone up. We set the bar pretty high last year, for our inaugural event.

FF: A lot of people have become extremely keen – now we have people emailing us, which is great, as we no longer have to chase after everyone.

YE: Ultimately, we look for speakers from multiple fields of research, all having to do with our theme, which this year is the ‘power of play’; basically, that innovation and lightness, as well as a desire to explore and play with ideas, can be adapted to create absolutely anything.

FF: The best thing was stretching that theme to the sciences. This year, we have two doctors speaking: one, Dr Philip Jungebluth, is an expert in regenerative medicine, and the other, Dr Amy Carton, is a cancer researcher who actually led the think tank which came up with the ‘no makeup selfie’ initiative on social media.

TS: Apropros, how did you come up with the theme?

YE: Well, we had a Skype session over the summer about this – we needed something snappy, something catchy. Our head of content, Louis, gave us the word ‘play’, which we liked, and we decided to build on that. The ‘power of play’ is short and memorable, good for quick-marketing, but it is actually largely inspired on what happened at the event last year.

FF: We had a comedian last year, Gavin Oattes, come and speak about his initiative called the “Tree of Knowledge”. His talk was called ‘Life’s a Playground’, and it consisted of him making everyone in the crowd, including Louise Richardson, play hide and seek. He is actually hosting this year’s conference, which is perfect.

YE: We wanted to continue on with the theme of playfulness and imagination, so the ‘power of play’ worked nicely.

TS: Were there any speakers you really wanted to have this year?

FF: We wanted the guy who started Spotify – I can’t remember his name, but he would have been a big draw. These days, it really doesn’t matter what people actually do, it’s all about the brand. I could tell you his name, and you wouldn’t recognise it, but I say ‘the founder of Spotify’ and people would be like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s amazing!’ It would have been something really cool, which many people would have wanted to see.

YE: The tricky thing is choosing people who are great speakers as well. There are tons of entrepreneurs, CEOs of companies and other really successful people that don’t know how to give a TED talk. They can lecture, but being a good speaker and doing a TED talk is not the same thing – you need to tell an exciting story through your experiences that can be applicable to everyone.

FF: That’s the difference with TED, really. Other societies invite speakers to give talks, but it’s all about their lives – themselves – and not necessarily applicable to everyone. We need speakers to engage and really share ideas with the audience. What matters most is what they impart on us, what they leave us thinking about.

TS: Which speakers are you most excited about this year?

FF: I can’t wait to see Teio Meedendorp, who led the search and discovery of the most recent Van Gogh painting.

YE: Yeah, that’s because you’re an art history student! I personally am really excited to hear the speech by Abiodun Williams, president of the Hague Institute of Global Justice. Considering the turmoil and crises in the world at this moment, what he has to say will be incredibly relevant, and I look forward to hearing it.

TS: Is there any message you would like to leave our readers with?

YE: With the job market situation as it is and the prospect of real responsibilities and burdens ahead, we will all leave university with a heavy heart. I feel like it helps to hear from people who have braved – and succeeded in – that world already, and know from their experiences that it is not all bad. It is an area for exploration that we can take advantage of and should not fear.

FF: Wow, well, I can’t think of anything that truly embodies the meaning of TEDx… We have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into it, all in order to truly make something out of TEDx at St Andrews. We want people to want to see it, to want to learn and share their ideas, to put themselves out there. That is the point of TEDx, and what students should know is that we should not be afraid to explore and develop our ideas, and share them with the world.

TEDx conference “The Power of Play” will take place on Saturday 26th April. Ticket sales are available online.

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