TEDxSeattle Highlights: My Top Three TEDx Seattle Talks

One of the highlights of my career was to have been privy to the behind-the-scenes activity at a TED conference in Cannes a few years ago.

Sitting at the back of the room next to Emily MacManus (who was Tweeting for @TEDTalks) was such a treat, as was interviewing some of the speakers – Nicholas Christakis, Naveen Selvadurai and Stefana Broadbent – all who gave me some unique insight into what it was like to be there up on stage.

Fast forward a year or two and June Cohen appears in the book I’ve co-authored – Pioneers of Digital – telling her story about how she brought the talks into the online video arena and generated over one billion views of TED Talks on the web.

So when I was invited to attend TEDxSeattle I was pretty intrigued to see what an independently organized event would turn out like………and it was very good!


Aside from a hiccup at registration in the morning, the Seattle TEDx event was well executed by a merry band of enthusiastic volunteers and curators from the local area. The venue was The Children’s Theatre down by the Seattle Center and we were comfortable in our seats for the three “Acts” that were about to unfold before our inquiring minds.

Quite rightly, we were asked not to take photos (the above was taken just prior to starting) or live Tweet, so I furiously took down as many notes as I could.

My brother-in-law (Josh LaBelle from the Seattle Theatre Group) and I stayed  until the end of the second set of talks, so we didn’t see all of them.

Here were my three highlights:

Matt Chan

Creator of the reality show “Hoarders”, Matt’s talk caught my attention before he came on stage as it was called “What Great Storytellers Know” and he immediately had us hooked with his philosophy of tapping into shared experiences and trying to engage with an audience on a deeper level. The reason why “hoarders” is so successful is that we all hoard at different levels. We all have that drawer with knickknacks we can’t get rid of; objects that hold some emotional currency. What the program does is suck us in through that lens and then take us on a crazy journey through the eyes of someone who’s got the hoarding thing way worse than us.

“Start with what you and your audience knows to get them engaged and then you can take them anywhere.”

What I liked about Matt was he was self-deprecating, funny and obviously very wise. A great storyteller to learn from.

Kelly Bloom, PHD

This was thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. Kelly came on stage to talk about “Lost and Found: Awakening the In-between”. A computer science drop out, Kelly’s second attempt at higher education found herself studying parks and leisure. Why, as she has said has happened in the past, some people find that kind of thing dull and boring I don’t know. I’m personally fascinated by what might seem an obscure study paths.

Kelly’s ethos was that parks are places where we can most be able to be ourselves. Where we’re one with nature, strolling, having fun and being able to rest our minds. In my talks about social media, I’m always banging on about authenticity in communications, so it was fascinating to hear Kelly giving us some tips on how to “make space” for being authentic and happy in our lives. She mentioned a story about playing basketball with a polar bear (yes it really happened) and how that day she’d decided to be open to more experiences.

She taught us a new word – liminality – and talked of the time while staring at a rock on the bottom of the Grand Canyon that was billions of years old, she realized she was temporary in the world and encouraged us to embrace our tiny time on this earth and attempt to be peaceful, joyous and generous.

Apparently her appearance at TEDxSeattle happened because she met one of the organizers on a plane. Hope and pray Kelly’s sitting next to you on your next flight. It’ll change your life.

Greg Gottesman

Previous to Greg’s talk on student debt, the hilarious data scientist Nick Berry had talked about all the data on the internet running to a zettabyte soon, which is (if one grain of sand is a byte) the equivalent to every grain of sand on every beach in the entire world.

So he set Greg up nicely for his rousing speech (visually enhanced by HaikuDeck) which talked about the ONE TRILLION DOLLARS students in the USA owe post-education.

Now, some TEDTalks inspire, some make you laugh, some make you cry, this just made me angry.

Angry that the rise in tuition fees is so disproportionate to the rise in anything else like wages or house prices.

Angry that student debt is the only debt that can’t be cancelled out by bankruptcy. Not that I think students should be able to take an easy way out, but that the law lets some businesses get away with taking risks, while the youth of today are lumbered for simply trying to make their way in the world and achieve the American Dream.

Greg, MD of VC firm Madrona Ventures Group, did a great job of spelling out the depth of the issue and pledging to do his bit to try and affect change. Here’s a link to his deck.

We were all fired up as we left his talk for the break and I’m already onto my financial advisor about starting to save for my 22 month old daughter’s education!

So there you have my three highlights. The other talks were good. I’d encourage the organizers to be be even more vigilant of thinly-veiled company sales pitches. Company names on some slides wasn’t cool. But the pace, balance and attention to detail of the event were all first class.

Can’t wait until next year!

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