Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Talkfest frenzy – back to the future

The explosion in live debates and speaking events which now round out a thinking-person’s entertainment options is a marvel.  We are have Sydney Writers Festival (actually a talking festival), and there are heaps of sponsored talks like Sydney Live! as well as IQ2 debates, The Festival of Dangerous Ideas, ‘meet the author’ events, and countless public and private networks who listen to a presenter speak at breakfast, lunch and evening talks every single day. And that‘s before you watch QandA or Insight, attend your kids debates, or get to your monthly book group… (more on that later).

But the Daddy of them all has got to be TED.  Founded in 1984, successful in the 90s,  now a global phenomenon. Six talks went online in 2006, and now there are 900. The whole shabang has expanded to include 4000, yes that’s  four thousand, TEDx events world-wide. TED seems has regenerated the art of the entertaining, informative speech. You can track the  growth of ‘The Babble Bubble’ here.

If you wanted to audition for the 2013 gig in Sydney you’ve missed out. But wait – there’s more!  They just launched a radio hour in conjunction with NPR. Teachers should have a play with this amazing tool for using TED talks in lessons. Their advice on choosing speakers should be mandatory for speakers or event producers anywhere,  and there’s this fun look behind the scenes.

Saul Wurman, TED’s originator, moved on in 2003. He now plans to launch an improv ‘conference‘, which has NO prepared  speeches or  visual aids – just  ‘society’s most influential people together for a 10- to 50-minute unrehearsed talk prompted by a question’.

In the 19th and early 20th century, lecture tours and public speaking events like that were huge. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens both earned a fortune from them. Twain famously came to Australia, Dickens famously didn’t. But there is something very American about TED,  with its entrepreneurship and confidence.  Maybe because it descends from an honourable tradition.

The Chautauqua Institution was an adult education movement that started in Upstate New York in 1874, and is still going. The format – presentations by speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, and preachers, attracted thousands who stayed for days of inspiration, education, and to discuss the issues of their day. The idea spread, and spawned a roadshow known as Chautauqua Daughters. These travelled throughout rural America. Twenty-one troupes on 93 circuits, reached a staggering 35 million people a year. It also started the first book club in the US, eventually sponsoring more than 10,000 local reading circles. They began to fade out only during the great depression and when the talkies came to town.

One of these daughters morphed into the Oregon Shakespeare Festival  where visitors still come and stay for a season of plays and lectures, talks and demonstrations. Sydney’s delightful Professor Penny Gay is a regular feature on the program.

Not many of us get to TED or TEDx in person. Instead we consume TED talks on our computer or phone, or listen in our headphones on our way somewhere. But take away the technology. What we’re really experiencing is the magnetism of ‘being’ with of someone saying something interesting, and saying it well.

It’s no accident that Chatauqua survives, and that TED talks  are not voice-to-camera pieces, but people presenting to a live audience, or that the simple Q and A format is Wurman’s next move.

It’s because a spoken word event, just like conversation,  connects us to each other. It makes ideas travel, and feeds the heart, the mind  and the spirit. We’re so much better for it.

My thanks to The Eloquent Woman, where I first learned about the Chautauqua/TED connection. 


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This entry was posted on 30/04/2012 by in Presenting a speech, Q&A.

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