In November 2014 I was invited to deliver a TEDx talk in Cyprus, a completely random invitation from event organisers I’d never met. The invitation landed in my inbox toward the end of a year-long personal experiment, one that challenged me to undertake a brand new experience every day, for a year. 365 things I had never done before. It meant saying YES to anything that came my way. So off to Cyprus I went.
There is that saying that writers use – ‘that everyone has a book in them’. There was a time when if you wanted to share an idea, you wrote a book. If your idea proved popular, those who read your book told others to read it too. A popular book might sell a few thousand copies, a really popular one tens of thousands. With shrinking attention spans and a world moving to consuming information visually, I think the TED talk has given the world the freedom to express those ideas without having to sit down and write the book.
A TED talk gives you 18 minutes. 18 minutes to give some background, make your point, develop it and conclude. If well scripted and rehearsed it really is plenty time. Anything more and an audience drifts off to think about other things.
No one reads past chapter three
A conversation with an author of a recently published business book cited a similar issue with his book. “No one really reads past chapter 3 anymore” he said. “So you have to write a good chapter one introducing your idea, chapter two should inspire and develop it and chapter three draw some strong conclusions. The other 6 or 7 chapters are there as a ‘nice to have’ if any reader is still with you!” I have to agree. There are many inspirational business books on my bedside locker bookmarked around chapter three and four, all piled up waiting further exploration. I have watched many inspirational talks on TED.com and bought the speakers book afterward, only to find that the 18 minute talk was it. Their book simply a stretched out version of the idea, or their TED talk a beautifully concise summary of their book.
Ideas change the world only when they are shared
My current tagline for the insight agency I run is “Passionately Curious”. It is a good description and reminder of what we should be. However before the re-branding in 2013 the tagline had read “Ideas change the world only when they are shared”. I always liked that concept. That an idea is a bit pointless unless anyone else ever gets to hear about it. Today with You Tube, Vimeo and professional idea sharing platforms like TED, we have really entered a new age of idea sharing
The printing press was seen as the ultimate idea catalyst. Until then ideas had no real way of spreading in any great manner. If you had an idea and I didn’t like it, I killed you and that was that. Your idea died with you. But then we had books and so the ideas therein could last for centuries, being read by generation after generation
But of course ask anyone who has actually written a book, self-published or not, and they will tell you. Writing a good book takes a lot of effort and discipline. The research. The writing. The edits. There is a reason most poets and writers are often pictured with coffee or alcohol in one hand and a cigarette in the other! Writing is not a stress free life
TED – Ideas worth sharing (with confidence)
But times change and today TED promises to bring us ‘Ideas worth sharing’. It gives a platform to anyone, in its many guises, to share their idea. And because the talks are available for anyone in the world to see via TED.com and You Tube, the ideas take flight. No age limits, no dogma, no subject too taboo, no idea too irrelevant
Everyone has ideas. Everyone has a life philosophy, even if you are yet to mould it into a certain shape. Everyone has a story to tell and experiences to share. Everyone should do a TED talk. But when I say this to most people their faces fall in fear. “Oh No. I could never do that. I could never stand up in front of all those people and speak. Even worse it is there on You Tube forever”.
The Opinionated Generation
Granted public speaking is a fear many suffer from, but I feel it may be something the Millennial Digital generation will overcome. This is a generation reared on opinion sharing platforms. Their diet is visual and their social media activity teaches them that they too can have an opinion. About anything. About everything. They also possess a confidence relating to their self-worth that can at times be questionable, but certainly dismisses any fears that what they have to say may not be relevant. They mix confidence and opinion, and their posts on social media, be they Selfies or You Tube videos, show they are ready to be counted. This is a generation who are ready to have their say
This generation have grown up preferring to read blogs not books, watching You Tube videos not 90 minute movies. Even their own opinion sharing platforms get shorter and shorter. 6 second Vine video, 120 character Tweets, Snapchat messages disappearing once consumed. For this generation, trust me an 18 minute TED video is like asking them to sit through a 3-hour lecture on igneous rock formation (no offence to all the geology students out there – I’m sure it is fascinating stuff!)
Read Less, Watch More
I think everyone should get involved in the TED movement. You should watch the Top 20 most inspiring talks of all time. You should wander around the archives and be inspired by the randomness of it all. The ideas across every platform, people’s stories, experiences, life work. Schools should play a TED talk at the end of every day to their students, topics varying from day to day. It is how we best consume information today. Visually through story-telling. And if you are brave enough, you should ask yourself the question “what idea of mine is worth sharing”?
It is with curiosity I wonder who the 1000s of people are who have looked at my talk online as I watch that You Tube counter click. What before could have been just a business or self-help book sitting on a shelf amongst many others, selling a few hundred copies (to my friends and family probably) now reaches thousands. It is not because my idea is unique or ground-breaking. It is not because I wore red trousers when giving the speech (well maybe a few views are!). Videos are easy to watch and easy to share. Books are harder work.
Don’t get me wrong, I still like books. I just couldn’t eat a whole one.
Ken’s TEDx Talk entitled “Time Bending: 365 Ways to Unlock Creativity & Innovation” is hosted on the TEDx You Tube Channel here
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