Part 1: The TEDxocet.

An Exocet missile is all the more deadly as it glides the sea, evading radar and electronic jamming until it finds its target.

There’s an anomaly at the heart of TEDx (the local grassroots decentred events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience)

The TEDx appeal is it’s unmediated impression; with the speaker appealing straight to the camera, framed by the camera lens within a black background, unsupported by powerpoint or acrobatic visual distractions. Look into their eyes with the telephoto lens. Could any snake oil salesperson thrive under those lights and the intimacy of the (socially distanced) studio audience?  I was part of Pearson College’s TEDxPCL on Friday 9th October at London’s grand County Hall venue, overlooking the Thames organised by Pearson College intrapreneur Thibeau Grumett.

TEDx’s impact is precisely because its lack of frills, its direct appeal from one 16:9 enclosed human to you through your screen. When you are in the audience all aspects of that invisible mediation are revealed, like the crew stealthily managing the audiovisual, comms and social feeds that enter the carapace of the anti-covid bubble of the film set. You sense the silent nudges and hints to keep the story within the 15 minute timespan and you see the soft glow of laptop screen bullet points and notes in the scotopic light. The rhythm and beats of the room change throughout the day as we all settled in to our chair spaces with their exclusion zones, talking to neighbouring colleagues in loud whispers like a series of asthmatic hisses.

There was also something fascinating about watching the body language and posture of the speakers becoming more alert or skittish as the time comes nearer for their slot, standing outside the camera’s frustrum. A ritual developed of catching the producer’s eye to ask a question, off-mic, hoping the speaker being filmed will remember to paraphrase for the online audience who won’t hear your original inquiry.

Like a good music album, the secret to a great TEDx is getting the mix and sequence of tracks right- variety, contradistinction, multi-disciplinarity and the unexpected being the metrics by which any TEDx event will be judged. The main ingredient though is optimism, a genetic trait from the original TED talks and their often noted silicon valley boosterism. However no-one is complaining now. Optimism through adversity is a form of nourishment these days. On one side of the camera you had the only the speaker’s face and the story unfolding, whilst on the other an audience of distanced and mask-wearing hermetically sealed anchorites. The fact that those present seemed to have a more mediated experience than those online is new. The premium of ‘live events’ is now currently in suspended animation until the Covid thaw.

TEDx speakers creep up on you, out the stage darkness and into the spotlight confirming or upsetting your expectations and world view. Stripped bare without Powerpoint or visual pyrotechnics, only the ungarnished story they tell can touch you.

Notes: TEDx PCL took place on 9th October at County Hall, London, organised by Pearson College London students Thibeau (T) Grumett (Organiser), with Annie Wisbey, Alex Tang and Gabriel Knowlson (Marketing/Communications), Evamarie Bello (Partnerships/Sponsorship), Joe Clark (Operations) and Sebastian Reca (Curation). You can see the full recording of proceedings here.

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