Things learned at TEDx

Erik Dobberkau's TEDx RheinNeckar badgeLast Saturday I had the pleasure of attending TEDx RheinNeckar, my first TED-related live event ever, and here are some things that came to my mind during and after it.

The organizers did a great job, really, I must say it was one of the best events I’ve been to so far. Everyone was to wear the depicted badge around their neck so people would immediately know your name. One excellent detail: At the bottom it had a section “Talk to me about:” that you could fill out yourself. Unfortunately not a lot of people did, because for those who did it turned out to be a real conversation starter during the breaks. More than half of the guests were students from the local university, a lot of them not having written anything on their cards, and they flocked in their peer groups as they would do on any given day, instead of starting talking with a complete stranger, building relationships and so forth.

Something that seriously bothered me was the whole PA thing. Obviously there was no professional sound technician present, resulting in some minor technical hiccoughs, but what was also optically annoying was the microphones they were using, because these were really huge headsets. Okay, the decent small and skin-tone one are more expensive to buy, but when you rent the whole thing I don’t believe it’s much of a cost difference, but a huge difference in visual appearance. And you always want your speakers to look as good as possible, right?

Speaking of who I have to mention that a large portion of the speakers also have books published, which were also on display in the back of the room, and the speakers would sign them and so forth. Now, since the claim of TED is “Ideas worth spreading”, guess what I think people should do? Right, get their ideas out! So I wondered why nobody gave away their book for free or at a discount price (at least it was not announced) — which again results in telling myself the story that maybe these people are not so much interested in spreading their (partly counterfeit) ideas as they’re interested in making a buck.

Speaking of stories, I learned a very valuable lesson in the first session called “People and Economy”. Picture this: You have a great topic to talk about, you’re a great presenter, but still you don’t succeed all the way at making an impression. How’s that? Two things: Keep in mind that you have to be authentic. Don’t give the impression of putting yourself over your topic. Show humility. The other thing: If your talk covers an interrelated topic, it’s almost a sure bet that in an audience of more than 200 people there are some who either already know what you’re talking about or know even more or more precise about one single aspect you’re just scratching on the surface. That’s not a good combination with the posture of “I know I’m a good presenter”. And one more thing which I touched on, but important enough to repeat: Show humility. Not one of the speakers started with “Thank you, glad to be here” — a shame. And don’t sell your organization or product unless it’s charity. Organizers, please don’t invite these people. There are enough trade shows out there.

And the last thing I want to talk about is a personal comment on one the the stories from the first section. The talk was about change leadership, and the speaker suggested that a leader has to set an example to his followers, giving the example of the CEO of a company should not only cut costs by cutting on staff expenses, but set an example by replacing his Mercedes by a VW Golf, so employees would see “Look, even the boss is saving, that’s how serious the thing is”. The only problem with this idea is that not only employees start telling this story, but everyone who sees what’s going on. What happens is that a potential customer is less likely to do business with someone who’s looking like he’s on the direct way out of it. Instead, the thing to do is to create a story that shines a good light on what you’re doing. So if you buy a Prius or some other Hybrid, you can start telling the story of raising eco-awareness and that you’re thinking about replacing your whole car fleet with Hybrids, but since this is a major investment and you want to make sure your staff gets a high quality car, you’re testing it yourself. Now how does that sound?

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