António Rolo Duarte
Tickets sold out only two minutes after they were released. Hundreds were left to scavenge social media in desperate pursuits for that one person that might want to sell their ticket. Nobody did.
TEDxUniversityOfManchester was one of the most highly anticipated events of the year and the whole lead-up to it was not suited for the faint-hearted. In the end, only a lucky 100 people, the maximum allowed by the strict rules of TED’s home office in New York, crowded the event which took place last Saturday, April 16.
At the Rise creative space in Deansgate, a modern location adequate to the sophisticated feel of the conference, the excitement was palpable. After all, this is the franchise that has brought “ideas worth spreading” to millions across the world.
TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design was created in 1984 as a one-off event in Vancouver, Canada. It has since expanded into a yearly event plus dozens of franchise independent “TEDx” events across the world – of which the one at The University of Manchester, broadly themed "Infinite Possibilities", was one.
The idea of bringing TED to Manchester pertains to two undergraduate students, Emrana Khatun and Liz Tiong Li Chen. “We first had the idea over dinner,” Liz, who studies law, told THE MANCHESTER MAGAZINE. “We thought it would be great if we could make this happen in Manchester.”
Organization was key to this event which counted with about a dozen student volunteers, and some high-profile supporters from the banking and media industries. It took six months to make the event happen, after Emrana and Liz first started planning it late last year.
“In order to organize it, we had to get a license from TED,” explained Emrana, who studies geography. “It took a while for them to answer, but we ended up getting it.”
Both the ambition and the problem-solving abilities of the event’s team were noticeable at the conference itself. And the speakers, for the most part (a couple of them did not really understand what a TED Talk is supposed to be), delivered the goods that the TEDx franchise has accustomed wisdom-seekers worldwide.
There were nine talks throughout the day. BBC’s creative leadership trainer Steve Rawling and Marks and Spencer’s digital director Marcus East were the favorites of the crowd. They were inspiring, persuasive and often amusing. Most importantly, they had a very clear message to deliver – something that some of the other speakers did not.
Steve’s talk was about the importance of telling stories in our lives, businesses and jobs. “You can tell a person a series of facts but a couple of hours later they will only remember two or three of them,” he says. “But if you tell them a great story, chances are they will remember it. And then they will tell it to someone else.” Steve made us believe that being an infinite storyteller will open up infinite possibilities.
Marcus spoke about the dark side of technology. His opening statement summed up the spirit of his talk entirely: “I am not here to inspire you or to entertain you,” he said. “I am here to warn you”. Marcus’ talk, which for the first moments seemed sustained on conspiracy and pessimism, ended up developing into a highly coherent and valid argument. He talked about the digital revolution of our time and the danger’s posed by the use of artificial intelligence in functions which seek to harm people – the use of robots in asymmetric warfare, for example. Marcus is uncomfortable with the work of tech giants like Google who are developing more and more sophisticated robots for the wrong purposes. He says we should be, too, and surely convinced many of those in the room.
On a different level to Steve's and Marcus', some of the other talks were also engaging. Hassan Iqbal, an award-winning 18 year old entrepreneur who studies at the Manchester Metropolitan University, told us that every opportunity is an opportunity and asked us to think about what makes us different – that, he says, is our best asset. Jennifer Arcuri, the only woman speaking, did not disappoint when she argued for a redefinition of the role of the computer hacker in society – for her sake, she says, since being a hacker means she has been for months without a bank account.
Later in the day, the room went silent when Ash Dykes, the athletic adventurer who was the first recorded human to cross Mongolia unsupported, walked onto the stage to talk about perseverance. He taught us about feeling alive, but also about the value of life itself.
That was a message Shiv Tulsiani, the host for the event, seemed to know well. In a blustery Manchester day like last Saturday’s, the afternoon would not have felt half as alive if it weren’t for its solid anchor. Shiv, a final year management student, steered the event with charm and professionalism through its highest and lowest moments. He was the most visible reflection of what was a generally well-run conference.
In their closing statement, Liz and Emrana promised that this event was just the start of TED at the university. That is good news. Bring us more speakers like Steve Rawling and Marcus East, and hosts like Shiv Tulsiani, we say, and expect another full house. TMM