Running from the end of May to mid-June, UCL’s Reimagine series offers a wonderful array of short courses, masterclasses and workshops that encourage participants to reimagine their future. UCL academic staff, film-makers, writers, digital experts, journalists and many other successful industry experts make up the company of speakers and facilitators, offering inspiring insights into their chosen fields.
Hosted by Tim Beasley-Murray, Associate Professor of European Thought and Culture with UCL’s BASc Programme, ‘How to speak so others will listen’ offered participants an insight into the work of TEDx and the process of giving a TEDx talk.
Tim was joined by Maryam Pasha, the Director and Curator of TEDxLondon and TEDxLondonWomen and co-host of the Climate Curious podcast; Ben Hurst, activist, advocate, speaker, presenter, facilitator, trainer, and TEDxLondonWomen 2019 speaker; and Bethany Rose, LGBT+ spoken word poet, writer and illustrator, and speaker at TEDxLondonWomen 2021.
The conversation began with Maryam’s thoughts on why the mode of storytelling captured in a TEDx talk has become so important and what it tells us about how we communicate. For Maryam, the TEDx talk provides ‘digestible’ and ‘high quality snippets’ that communicate ideas across academia, business and other industries in an accessible way, which help us navigate the plethora of information and content that is out there for us to consume. Describing them as ‘a doorway into a field’, Maryam reflects on the fact that TEDx talks do not transform us into experts, but rather act as a tool for accessing information or ideas that may have been shut off to us before. She adds that storytelling is ‘so human’, and the concerns with storytelling that the TEDx talk is so interested in makes it a relevant place to foster ideas and discussions.
Maryam’s noting that typing ‘migration’ into the TEDx search bar brought up five TEDx talks on birds in 2010 led the panel to discuss how ‘excluded’ and ‘more marginalised voices’ fit into a venue that can appear ‘corporate’ and ‘privileged’. As a curator, Maryam feels it is important for her to bring voices that are not often heard to the platform. Since the platform has opened up and become more diverse, a search for ‘migration’ is very different. Beth felt her experience with TEDx and the fact she was not asked to censor her talk shows that TEDx is a ‘beautiful platform’ where she felt welcomed. Ben thanked Maryam for creating such a platform that ‘amplifies your voice in a way that is really important.’
Tim was interested to know the process of taking the things the speakers wanted to say and transforming them into a powerful and polished performance. Whilst Beth had the unusual advantage of having her performance half-prepared as the poem she incorporated into it was already written, she described it as ‘probably one of the hardest things [she’s] ever had to do’, which was partly exacerbated by the pandemic. Ben described it as ‘incredibly painful and difficult’, and talked of the feeling of imposter syndrome he experienced during the TEDx process, before thanking the TEDxLondon team for the support they offered him and commenting on the fact it was a ‘life changing experience.’
As Head of Facilitation at Beyond Equality, Ben focuses on challenging toxic forms of masculinity in his day-to-day life, yet he commented on how his TEDx talk, titled ‘Boys won’t be boys. Boys will be what we teach them to be’, was a different experience: ‘There’s something about having a set period of time and a script that you’ve attempted to memorize…once it’s done, it’s done, and the message is out there.’ He touched on how his talk was received differently, as it resonated with some and upset others: ‘The element of control is taken away from you in a really strange way.’ Comparing the Talk to her experience of doing spoken word, Beth highlighted how the latter is informed by her audience – ‘I don’t choose a set before I see the audience, because for me it completely depends on the mood, whose there’ – whilst the former felt like her ‘final class’, likening it to teaching a group of teenagers who interpret for themselves the lessons she gave when she was a teacher. Part of the process, she said, is having ‘the courage to be misunderstood.’
When discussing the impact conducting their TEDx talks has had on their lives and where it is taking them now, Ben commented that people started to care about the work he and his organisation were doing. He also touched on the importance of using the profile gained through TEDx to ‘amplify the voices of other people’, as well as how the work remained the most important thing for him to do following his talk: ‘Whether thousands of people have heard you talk about it or not, or it’s just a bunch of kids in a classroom, what matters matters and so you have to keep doing that.’ Beth noted that, for her, ‘TED isn’t quite finished yet’, as the fact her talk came out during the lockdown has meant the work she was approached for were ‘in person’ opportunities. Beth also spoke of her next book, a practical guide for parents that will combine her love of writing, working with people and spoken word.
The event concluded with a discussion of audience questions. When asked how she identifies TEDx speakers, Maryam spoke about finding ‘unexpected and hidden voices within a field’, encapsulating both what TEDx as an organisation represents and the enriching conversations had between Maryam, Ben, Beth and Tim. One of the most poignant take-aways from the event is that providing a space where everyone can feel welcomed to share their voice is an empowering sentiment, both for the speaker who has the opportunity to be heard, and their audience, who have an opportunity to gain an insight into a perspective they may not have heard or thought of before. Maryam closed the event with the reminder that we must all have the belief that our voices are powerful and that we have something important to say, a message that will have undoubtedly struck a chord with all the attendees, regardless of where we are in our UCL journeys.
Overall, the event was alive with powerful and compelling discussion, honest and thought provoking insights, and empowering and encouraging messages from across the panel.