Over a month ago, while we were preparing the speakers for last weekend’s fantastic TEDx Paris 2011, Prof Francine Leca asked us:
But why do you all do this, and for free?
As the conference drew to a close, and Prof Leca brought the audience to its 2000 feet, I wrote her a short message explaining simply:
You are the answer to your own question.
It was simply an amazing experience to be involved with so many remarkable people, speakers and organisers, who were all full of the TED spirit which is a thirst for knowledge, discovery, meaning and above all sharing. Francine Leca is an astounding lady whose charity has saved the lives of 1600 children whose hearts would not have let them live without an operation their families could not afford. She gives and keeps on giving. What could be more TED than that?
I also had the opportunity of working with many of the other speakers, some more than others, but even the little oratory tips clearly helped. One speaker stopped crossing his arms and another stopped clutching his head and umming, just in time for the big event. Judging by the many tweets, nobody found the presentations amateurish, and some even claimed that they were so polished as to be not very French. This shows how much the speakers worked at their delivery as well as their content, and some did make a huge effort.
Some did not want or need coaching. Etienne Klein speaks in public all the time, and passionately hates rehearsing, so there was no point forcing rehearsals on him – but he showed that he didn’t need any help. Catherine Vidal needed no help either, although she did take the time to rehearse with us to be sure she was hitting the right notes. Francine Leca improvised well around a defined framework, but a rehearsal would have eliminated one slight mix-up on the slides.
On the other hand, rehearsals and preparation certainly helped a number of talks. The first time I heard Etienne Parizot, I understood precisely nothing, but I gave him the idea of opening with 3D TV – something people can relate to – and suggested using a prop to explain his concept. He ended up using a different prop (a large cardboard box) which worked excellently, and while his talk was still quite hard to grasp because of the subject matter, the structure was clear and his enthusiasm transported the audience with him into his four-dimensional virtual reality.
Judging by all the comments and tweets, Etienne’s was among the more popular talks of the day, and that’s simply down to strong preparation using powerful storytelling techniques, and a very visible passion for his subject. If only more speakers showed that much passion.
Likewise, the bestselling novelist Bernard Werber was very interested in any ideas and tips to improve his talk, and it ended up being almost unrecognisable from the first draft. Most of the ideas were his, but he benefited from bouncing them off the team members and integrating our suggestions in some cases, and while like most people he didn’t enjoy rehearsing, he realised how much it was helping him to improve his talk. Again, a little more rehearsing might have helped, but overall he did a fine job especially considering he’s not a regular public speaker.
Bernard was another person I felt honoured to work with, and we ended up talking about writing and communicating. It turns out that his method for constructing novels is very similar to the Ideas on Stage method for creating presentations, and he gave me all sorts of writing advice. It is often said that you get out of something what you put into it. I put plenty into TEDx Paris this year, but boy did I get a lot out of it.
In terms of the slides I created for the speakers, my greatest satisfaction was with those for the renowned journalist and editor Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber. They were clear, simple and attractive, with relevant images, and it was easy for Jean-Louis to handle them and talk to them. We had worked them carefully to have only a small amount of text on each slide, just the key messages, and it was wonderful to see that all those key messages were tweeted and retweeted verbatim.
My overall impression of this edition of TEDx Paris was strongly positive. Of a huge number of tweets, very few were in any way negative, and while different people seemed to appreciate different talks, that’s fine – there was something for everyone, and a whole bunch of fantastic ideas and approaches to take away and share.
The music (from Irma and Djazia, as well as Jacques Dupriez) was excellent, the line-up of speakers was remarkable, and the organisation was top-class (note: I coached speakers and helped with slides, that’s all, so I’m crediting Michel, Sylvain, Xavier and their team and not myself). All in all, an extremely memorable event. TEDx Paris is now an event to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait for the 2012 edition.
We all left the theatre buzzing with ideas, full of energy and motivation, and determined to do something, anything, to share that energy and make the world a better place. That is what TED is all about. As Bernard Werber said at the end of his talk, “Everything good that will happen to our children will be conceived by somebody who’s alive today. Maybe one of you.” Now there’s a call to action…
Photo credits to Olivier Ezratty – his excellent gallery is here.