I was one of the fortunate that got to attend TEDx Cape Town this past weekend.
Our budget couldn’t see its way clear to allowing us the luxury of spending R600 on two tickets to the event, so I decided to show a little chutzpah and ask for a free ticket in return for a review.
I’ll get to the good stuff in a minute, but first I’d like to share with you a conversation I had with some fellow Toastmasters last Thursday evening.
My partner, Sporty, and I were explaining to them that one of our favorite things to do is download a bunch of TED Talks and spend the evening watching them (don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it okay).
I was dumbstruck when a couple of the folks at our table admitted that they’d never even heard of TED Talks before.
How could you not have heard of TED.com?
On Friday morning I had to ask a similar question of myself however, when I learnt that the organisers of TEDx Cape Town were in fact in the final stages of putting together their 2012 event, which was taking place at the Baxter Theatre that very weekend. I felt even more embarrassed when I discovered that it wasn’t the first TEDx to be held in Cape Town either.
Thank heavens for Facebook, that’s all I can say.
Why I didn’t know the event was taking place requires an embarrassing confession. It simply never occurred to me that we’d ever have a TEDx conference in South Africa. I thought I’d grown past it, but it turns out that I, like so many of my fellow South Africans, still don’t believe we have what it takes to compete globally.
I’m not sure where this inferiority complex originates from, but one thing I know for sure is that when I returned home on Saturday that ‘we’re not good enough’ attitude had been completely erased.
The first thing I learnt from attending TEDx Cape Town is that I really need to get myself a Smart Phone. I currently have a R150 Samsung that, were I to lob it with any degree of accuracy, it might serve to momentarily stun a Daschund. To be fair though, I can also make and receive calls on it.
What I can’t do, however, is tweet about where I am and what I’m doing. So while everyone around me was hashtagging to their heart’s content, all I could do is watch in envy as their comments scrolled on the screen during the breaks. I’m an avid tweeter when in front of my laptop, so you can imagine my frustration.
We arrived to find the Baxter Theatre foyer humming with excitement. Hundreds of people were milling about, queuing to register and hanging at the bar to get a much-needed caffeine hit. Nine am is early for Capetonians, even forward thinking socially conscious ones.
A final call warned us that the conference was about to start, so we raced upstairs to take our seats in an already packed auditorium. By the time the doors closed there wasn’t a single empty seat in the house, no mean feat for a rainy and blustery weekend morning in the Mother City.
Justin Beswick, co-organiser and emcee, kicked things off and pretty soon we were watching Brené Brown, aka Vulnerability TED, talk about shame. Sporty and I had already seen this talk, but watching it again with 700 like-minded peers made the experience that much more enjoyable. I’ve never had occasion to say this before, but the energy in the room that morning, and indeed throughout the day, was palpable.
The TEDx Cape Town crew had lined up a host of phenomenal speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds to entertain us, but more importantly to make us think. There were 20 bright and colorful minds in total and I can honestly say that out of all of them there was only a very small handful that didn’t have me utterly entranced.
Mbali Vilakazi captivated the audience with her moving, poetry inspired, piece in which she explained how words literally transformed her life.
Errorthoughtical Engineer, Peter Greenwall, had everyone in stiches as he explained how to upcycle failure into material for innovation by asking “Why the fail?” instead of WTF?!
Justin R Melville discussed how we can shape the future of the music business through sharing experiences and supporting what we love. I caught him on the way to bar during the break following his talk and congratulated him on a job well done. After thanking me he asked if I was a music lover. This is always a tricky question for me, because the thing is I’m not really.
“Err no,” I mumbled, and then added (as if by way of an explanation), “I grew up in the eighties.”
He said that made sense and excused himself on the basis that he was in dire need of a whiskey. I’m not sure if that was to calm his nerves after his talk or because of the conversation he’d just had with me.
People are funny creatures, it’s said that public speaking is the world’s number one fear, and yet give us a microphone and put us in front of an audience and we suddenly have the uncanny ability to waffle on ad nauseam. Fortunately the organizers knew this so they enlisted the help of a drummer to inform any potential Chatty Cathys that they were over their allotted time limit.
Hélène Smit, who spoke about how much of our behaviour is driven by the unconscious mind, inadvertently subjected herself to one of these drumrolls when her ad-libbing led her into overtime. Rather than be flustered into a hurried finish she amused us all by instructing the drummer to stop because she was almost done anyway. Her talk was really interesting though, so I for one was really pleased when he quit his racket making.
The amount of social change projects we heard about during the day was really heartening. From Lauren Gillis, a social entrepreneur making a difference one bead at a time to Arthur Attwell who, through a project called Paperight, is giving people in outlying areas quick, easy and affordable access to books, creating small business opportunities, and at the same time ensuring that the publishers still make a profit.
So many truly remarkable South Africans, and all of them do equally remarkable things. I left TEDx Cape Town on Saturday humbled to live in a country so alive with possibility.
There was an after party later that night, which, even though I’m something of a homebody in winter, I felt I should attend. After all, I had agreed to write a solid review in return for my free ticket. The event finished at about 4:30pm and the party was only set to kick off around 7pm, although even I understood that arriving that early wasn’t an option. I figured if I headed out around eight I should be fine.
Well suffice it to say I was like a kid on a sugar high after a particularly good birthday party, so the crash and burn, though entirely unexpected, was, in retrospect, bound to happen. I never did make it to that after party, in fact I only just managed to brush my teeth before stumbling to bed at 8:30pm.
In closing, while not flawless, the event was pulled off with only minimal technical hitches. Unfortunately this resulted in a few perplexed speakers whose slides had somehow been randomly rearranged. I felt for them though, I mean it’s one thing to have to think on your feet among a small group of people, but when faced with 700 I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying that must be.
I also found the registration process to be a tad confusing, but at least the volunteers manning the tables were on the ball so the lines moved pretty quickly. On a more positive note, the venue was first-class. We definitely couldn’t have hoped for a more cushy environment in which to soak up the good vibes.
All in all though, it was a truly exceptional day, and definitely one that I’ll carry with me for a long time to come. What we play is life; so let’s go do that.