TEDx Ottawa: A Resounding S.U.C.C.E.S.s!!


TED conferences are mind-blowing, but expensive and far away.  Sp when I heard about the TEDx concept (locally organized TED events) I was excited to hear that an event was being organized in Ottawa!  But how was a local event going to compare to TED conferences which regularly attract the worlds top thinkers?

The same weekend, I was trying to complete my presentation on a very compelling book that my wife bought for me: Made to Stick. This timing was very fortunate for my presentation because TEDx provided so many great examples about how to make ideas ‘Sticky’. I thought I would use the S.U.C.C.E.S.s acronym used by the book to illustrate some of my key take-aways from TEDx Ottawa:

S – Simple: Keep your message core and compact to increase the chance that people remember the one most important thing you want them to act on.

If someone really succeeded in getting their message across, I shouldn’t have to look at my notes! And one great example of this was Bob Ledrew who’s key message was to “Sing your song.”, which was all about remembering what things you were passionate about in your youth, and making sure that you make time for them in adulthood.  His personal story about his rediscovery of his passion for music, and his ‘House’ concerts was very inspiring.

U – Unexpected: If you can break a person’s guessing machine you keep their interest and increase the chance that they will absorb your message.

For me the ‘unexpected’ story that stuck with me most from the day was Ray Zahab‘s story about how he entered a Yukon ultra-marathon, and the mental and physical battles he fought during the race to convince himself that he could finish it.  At the end of the race he then says “Nobody is more surprised than me that I finished this race.” and the race marshall responded: “You didn’t just finish, you won.”

Cindy Chastain and Kip Voytek surprised me by clarifying the difference between ‘cooperation vs. collaboration’, and how most ‘collaboration’ strategies actually are about cooperation.  This surprise caused me to furiously write down their proposed approach to collaboration, which I will use!  As a result, I have a lot more ‘pleasure in not knowing’.  😉

C – Concrete: Everyone will take in your message using their own filters and lenses, you must make your message concrete to ensure that your audience gets your message, regardless of their background.

Images and video are fantastic ways to make your message concrete and accessible to a wide audience.  Najeeb Mirza used a video shot in Afghanistan to illustrate how people around have more in common than you would think!  It made me laugh to see a bunch of turban doffing Afghani tribesmen talking about who had the best cell phone.

Williams Jans‘ message about how ‘Bad Roads Bring Good People’ was driven home by his many great photos and video showing how friendly and happy people can be at the fringes of the inhabited world, and showed the joys (and laughs) of learning new languages!

Finally, Mark Levison talked about how images are ‘Google for the mind’ and there doesn’t appear to be an upper limit to how many images the brain can process.  So many of Mark’s comments echoed the ‘Made to Stick’ concepts that I ended up giving him my copy of the book when I was surprised to find out he hadn’t read it!

C – Credible: To get people to believe your message, you need credibility.  The book has many suggestions on how to accomplish this, but I used some TEDx presenters to illustrate.

Tracey Clarke has credibility for many reasons.  First of all, she is the managing director of Bridgehead Coffee, a company who has beaten the mighty Starbucks at the own game (in Ottawa anyway). This should be credibility enough, but then teaches us more about the dynamics of coffee business than I thought possible in such a short presentation!  Her many stories, pictures and detail about Bridgehead’s stance on coffee supply made me proud to be a Bridgehead customer!

Robert Mittelman, a Kiva Fellow, leant a lot of credibility to Kiva’s microcredit initiatives by his experiences with the program abroad.  It was good to hear how this money was being used, and how the inspiration flows both ways: debtor to creditor, creditor to debtor.

E – Emotional: In order to get people to act on your message, you have to hit them in the heart with it; with emotion comes action.

Mark Blevis and his message of the importance of children’s books really hit me at an emotional level.  It made me realize how I really didn’t recognize the importance of these books in providing children context on how to interpret and interact with their world.  The reminder that this is actually a high art form of imparting messages in a compact way to people with a limited vocabulary.  So is this emotion making me act?  Absolutely.  Just one week after TEDx I am sure I have had at least 4-5 conversations about the significance of children’s books!

S – Story: If you tell your message as a story, there is no way that your audience can remain passive. The act of listening to a story (as opposed to just a bunch of facts) forces the listener to build the mental image of the story as it is told, which increases the chances of the listener remembering it.

Danny Brown‘s presentation was all about story telling, digital storytelling in particular.  He told of the new Star Wars series that lost the viewer because it forgot that telling a human story was the important part, and not all the technology that enables it (actually I think it WAS Jar Jar’s fault).  I really liked how he compared the Millenium Falcon to everybody’s beater first car!

Nothing illustrates the power of story like Jowi Taylor‘s Six String Nation ‘Voyageur’ guitar!!  Every piece of this guitar has a story, and is perfectly united to his message of ‘One Canada’.  There was certainly a lot of emotion in his stories as well, as there were several that brought a tear to my eye, and the passion of Jowi about telling these stories was clearly apparent!  The best part about this guitar is that, for all the stories that are built into this guitar already, the guitar itself is creating so many new stories that are being captured by Jowi.  All Canadians must hear the story of this guitar, and I am certainly doing my small part.

I don’t want to diminish any of the other presentations by their omission here!  I got at least one great nugget from each presentation, and many great discussions with the presenters in the interludes.  It was a fabulous event, exceptionally executed.  Even the box lunch was fabulous!  I hope all people that attend TEDx events around the world are as lucky as we are in Ottawa to have such a great experience!  An experience worthy of the ‘TED’ name!

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10 Responses

  1. Hey there Adrian,

    Thanks for the run-down – great to recall all the amazing presentations from the day, can’t wait to see the videos.

    You’re right – the whole day was incredibly well-planned and run, and every TEDx will have to step up to enable such an awesome experience – great job by Allan, Suze, Kneale and everyone else 🙂

    Cheers!

    Danny.

  2. Hi Adrian,
    Great summary. I just watch your slide show, good job on that too. There are quite a bit of material there that some excellent food for thought.
    There is a TEDxWaterloo coming up in February. I’d hope to attend but unfortunately I have committed to go a conference in Toronto that day.
    Hope you are keeping well (and warm) in Ottawa.

    Savio

  3. Wow! What a great summary, Adrian. And, I’m honoured to be a part of it.

    Thanks for sharing your take on TEDxOttawa. When the videos come out, I’ll watch them through your eyes for a whole new experience.

  4. Hey Adrian,

    Excellent post, well-thought out reflections of your experience at TEDxOttawa. That is the point – we all get something different but the core of the messages are what we relate. That is exactly what you have I spoke about today with regards to the event.

    It was a blast and it seems everyone has already comitted to do it again. Can’t wait!

    And thank-you for being an excellent production assistant on the lights!

    km

  5. Thanks for the summary, Adrian, and for featuring Voyaguer as part of the slideshow.
    Now, if only I could accomplish that kind of “stickiness” when dealing with funders or corporate sponsors! Sounds like I might be able to use your expertise in that department.

    Best of the season,

    jowi

    • Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments (and presentations!).

      Jowi, it is really perplexing that Voyageur has any trouble with sponsors. Maybe it’s the nature of it’s message: i.e. It’s ‘owned by all of Canada’ so it’s hard for corporate sponsors to see their angle. MP’s see a lot of risk in supporting it because unity is a touchy issue when it isn’t referendum season.

      I’ve got some ideas, but I will share them in an email. I’m sure I will cover a lot of ground you have already explored, but maybe it will help a new idea pop up!

  6. “made to stick” is a fantastic book. I actually bought a box and gave them out to people. I use The SUCCESs acronym to guage my own presentations but I never thought of applying it to an event as you did. Very smart.

  7. Oh, and for anyone reading that wants to actually see the videos, they are now available: http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDxTalks#p/c/31FD8D2B1D8CD72E/0/AtjiJXLo_Ro

  8. […] those of you who read my review on TEDx Ottawa or participated in the event, this talk reminded me a lot of Tracey Clarke’s talk about […]

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