BITS Pilani a well established private university in the Rajasthan dessert held a TedX this week and in their wisdom invited me to speak.
I have to say I didn’t really believe the email, when it arrived back in August last year, but I replied anyway and was surprised to get a quick response.
The first challenge was picking a topic. The email said that the theme set was Bread and Butter. Later I learnt that the key sponsor was Amul. As the deadline for a talk theme loomed I was in the depths of writing my first book and after a few weeks of brain freeze I tentatively asked if Work and Happiness was a good topic, I was surprised when I got an incredibly enthusiastic reply.
By the end of year, with the book completed, I was wondering why I hadn’t picked my favorite topic of Humans and Robots.
The car collected me from Jaipur and my guide was a talented well read economist undergraduate who made me question my topic again. This charming ambitious student questions started by asking my views on the current low oil prices. My talk needed to be clever. A chai break, a temple tour and 6 hours of questioning later we arrived. I hurried over the new auditorium to rehearse. I was struck by how much hard work had gone into this event and how well organised the team of undergraduates had undertaken the brief. TED’s and TedX seems to me much more about the ability of organisers to put together a great event and pick an exciting audience. In this case 40 organisers and 60 ticket holders made up the 100 audience allowance set by the Ted licence. Each one writing a detailed application to be allocated their spot. No pressure then.
In addition TedXPilani 2016 had 4 female speakers out of the 9 who were able to make it in person. This is a far cry from the stats June Cohen a Executive Producer of TED Media in 2013 a workshop says that only about 20% of the short-listed TEDx talks that come to her for consideration on TED.com are by women. I really want to change my topic – something more unique.
Life on a campus set in a remote desert is very different to the universities I attended set in big cities where the drinking age was younger than I was at the time. After the event the students with talk of their incredible start up ideas were kind enough to show me around campus while explaining how they had fun. From my perspective they seem to work really hard and for the most part seemed very happy (and maybe didn’t need my talk after all).
As I continued to worry that my talk idea wasn’t unique or terribly deep or globally relevant an audience member approached me and said my talk really connected with him. Finally I realised Tedx is about the local connection whatever the idea.