Last weekend I attended TedxSalford, an independently organised TED event held in The Lyric Theatre in The Lowry, Salford Quays. The “festival of the mind” featured an array of live speakers, great thinkers and innovators. The only brief given to each speaker was “deliver the best 18 minutes of your life” – a time chosen specifically as this has been proven to be the extent of most people’s attention span (a statistic I wish to dispute as I could have listened to many of the speakers for hours!)
I walked away with what felt like an adrenaline rush of knowledge and inspiration. The day was brimming with amazing speeches, but I’ve picked out my top five speeches of the day to tell you about.
My personal highlight of the day had to be Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organisation, which was set up to tackle the world sanitation crisis. Sim started out as a successful entrepreneur, but decided that he’d rather help a billion people instead of being a billionaire, so tried his hand at social work.
While the topic at hand may not be the most comfortable, ‘Mr. Toilet’ delivered a captivating, hilarious speech, adding a much lighter note to an otherwise taboo subject. Sim highlighted that a shocking 40% of the world population doesn’t have access to a toilet, and an upsetting 1.5 million children aged 5 and under die every year due to poor sanitation.
Since establishing the organisation in 2001, he has gained substantial media coverage and generated a lot of interest, holding a World Water Summit each year, opening a World Toilet College and there’s even a World Toilet Day! His aim is to train people to set up factories to produce toilets, creating employment and entrepreneurship. With the right marketing, Sim hopes that in developing countries, toilets can become a status symbol, much like the mobile phone!
The crowd favourite of the day was Jack Andraka who received a much-deserved standing ovation. He’s an astonishing teen who at the age of 14 had come up with a legitimate way to spot the earliest signs of pancreatic cancer. To even be in the same room as someone like Jack made me feel like my brain was getting bigger! He talked about how the loss of a close family member sparked his determination to find a way to spot pancreatic cancer sooner. 85% of pancreatic cancer is diagnosed late, at which point, patients will have less than a 2% chance of survival.
Andraka’s breakthrough came at the most unlikely of places – in a high school biology lesson (which he described as “the abhor of innovation”). It is the biggest advance in pancreatic cancer research in over 60 years, and 168 times faster, 26 times less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive than the current gold standard of detection, and is also 100% effective in detecting ovarian and lung cancers (no big deal!).
Lucy Hawking, the daughter of Steven Hawking, graced the stage and I have to admit that for a second I was a tad star struck. She delivered a fascinating speech, recounting stories about growing up with the world’s most famous living scientist as a dad. Lucy teamed up with her dad to co-author a series of science adventure books, with the aim of explaining complex science to young readers. Hawking got the idea at her son’s birthday party where a curious little boy asked Steven, “what would happen if I fell in a black hole?” his answer being “you’d turn into spaghetti”. The simplistic way that Steven explained the theory inspired Lucy to write books that young children can digest easily. Lucy and her dad are now on their 4th book and there are plans to make it into an animated kids’ show.
Robin Ince is a comedian, actor, writer and science enthusiast. He dropped several knowledge bombs amongst his comedic anecdotes and observations in his 18-minute slot. His delivery of the speech was just as captivating as the topic at hand. He burst onto the stage with bags of energy and really drew me in from the first sentence.
He discussed the concept of ‘mind envy’, a feeling of envy of the mind of intellectual people. Ironically, I had a serious case of mind envy after listening to his speech! His set also covered aspects of the mind and various psychological quirks that I had no idea about – for example, it’s perfectly normal when holding a baby to think for a second “what would happen if I threw him/her out of the window?” (Incidentally, it’s the people that don’t have these thoughts that we should be worried about!)
Bruce Hood is Professor of Developmental Psychology in Society at the University of Bristol and author of ‘The Self Illusion’. He gave a great speech, covering the concept of ‘essentialism’ which he demonstrated perfectly by offering £20 to an audience member that was willing to wear a second-hand cardigan that he brought on stage. A vast number of people raised their hand, not thinking much of it. But when Hood revealed that the cardigan belonged to infamous serial killer Fred West, that number diminished (understandably). Of course, the cardigan was Hood’s personal knitwear that he’d simply brought in as a prop but this demonstration helped him to explain essentialism – the idea of ‘invisible essences’ being attached to things that make them what they are, regardless of how they look on the outside, which makes no sense biologically, but our sense of morality tells us differently.
After watching TedTalks videos online for years and being completely enchanted, to see speakers in person was even more inspiring. Not only did I come away with bags of knowledge, it also taught me a lot about public speaking. I’m already looking forward to next year!