‘Ideas worth spreading’ is the tagline and ethos which has propelled the brand TED (Technology, Education and Design) to international prominence following its inception in 1984.
A non-profit organisation best-known for its conferences (wherein powerful speakers give brief, but often thought-provoking talks on a multitude of intriguing topics), TED has gone on to rack up some impressive statistics – seventeen new viewings of TED Talks begin every second – and even launched its own local offshoot, TEDx – a project which gives independent organisers worldwide the chance to host their own speakers. Fortunately, this very project last week allowed some ‘ideas worth spreading’ the chance to be aired in our very own province, as TEDx made the leap to Northern Ireland – and more specifically, Stormont Parliament Buildings.
Curated under the theme ‘Imagine’, the event took place in Stormont’s opulent Great Hall, was hosted by the BBC’s William Crawley, and allowed speakers from Peter Robinson to Tim McGarry, Jim Eastwood to Martin McGuinness to share their vision for the future of Northern Ireland – all through a series of talks that lasted a maximum of twelve minutes.
Against the backdrop of the recent debate surrounding the City Hall’s policy on flying the Union Flag, the First and Deputy First Minister both drove home the necessity of overcoming segregation in the journey towards a peaceful and prosperous future. Yet while Martin McGuinness focused on the successes of the peace process to date, Peter Robinson seized the opportunity to advocate his plans for Northern Ireland’s educational reform, resolving to ‘end educational apartheid in Northern Ireland’.
The remainder of speakers formed a diverse bunch: foreign correspondent Christina Lamb and physicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell speaking on the evolving role of women across different cultures, Hacked Off founder Brian Cathcart breaking down the recent Leveson report and reminiscing on his days as a young reporter, director of the Open University in Ireland John D’Arcy musing on everything from innovative teaching methods to Belfast’s punk scene. Tom Botwell, director of theatrical agency Coney, wondered whether theatre could change anything – or perhaps even save the world – while Gregg Fraley, keynote speaker on creativity and innovation, encouraged the crowd to flex their imaginative muscles.
Yet those invited to the stage didn’t necessarily give speeches – with musical performances from Belfast Community Gospel Choir, teenage prodigy pianist Bartosz Thiede, Grainne Holland and star attraction speaker Gary Lightbody (joined by local talent Soak, The Wonder Villains, Silhouette and David C. Clements) raising the roof and providing a welcome interlude in an afternoon jam-packed with a host of fascinating concepts.
Perhaps the most poignant talk of TEDxStormont, though, came courtesy of JP Flintoff – writer, journalist and seasoned TEDx speaker, with his speech ‘Conversations that Change the World’. Sketching a few brief personal anecdotes (of chats with a former teacher, interviews conducted through his work, random encounters with ordinary members of the public), Flintoff imbued such stories with a staggering significance, enthusing, ‘Any encounter between two human beings can be transformative. It can change the people involved, and they can go on to change other people’.
It was a moment characteristic of everything best about TED – quietly powerful, illuminating and ultimately inspirational. Flintoff’s encouragement that the crowd should leave Stormont ready to listen and not just react, his paroles that ‘you are endlessly voting in the recurring election of how things can be’, resonated strongly. Such ideas, like all those aired at TEDxStormont, were definitely worth spreading. Those present were privileged to have witnessed the first such event of its kind at Stormont – here’s hoping that, following in the vein of Flintoff’s talk, the one-day conference will inspire debate, discussion and continue to generate some conversations which, who knows, may just change the world a little.
For a full list of speakers present at TEDxStormont and further information, please visit: www.tedxstormont.com