Saturday’s TEDxLahore was history in the making.
It’s a bold claim to make – history is made every single day by men and women committed to doing things instead of talking about them, all around the world and here in Pakistan.
So what makes a gathering of 400+ minds – handpicked, volunteers and easily the smartest group of people getting together in Lahore that day – an important event?
Quite simply, it inspired us to do many different things.
I won’t lie to you – there’s a good chance the good momentum built up by this event – all the feel-good factors – will be washed away in the next week as real life takes over. There’s a good chance that the new connections made (assuming that you weren’t hanging out just with your friends) will be rendered meaningless due to lack of action. If you were watching the event remotely or were present, there’s a good chance this will be the last time (till the next such event) that you felt inspired or compelled to save the country or do something meaningful with your life.
But even if 10% of the people present made worthwhile connections, even if 10% of the attendees get inspired enough to start a new venture, even if 10% of the viewers get the motivation to bring people together in future events to replicate TEDx in their cities…it would 7 hours (not to forget several weeks for the volunteers who organised it) well spent.
But enough about the value – I noticed haters on Twitter and at the event and my comments from last night still hold true – screw the haters, I was inspired several times over. Despite a few poor presentations (poor in presentation skills, not necessarily in content or the speaker’s own knowledge / skills), most of the talks were well-done and entertaining, and as the day progressed they were definitely inspiring.
After the event (and during it) the discussions tended to focus on two topics: the quality of the speakers / talks and the organisation of the event. It’s a pity that so much energy was spent discussing the event and not the ideas shared by the speakers, in a way it’s indicative of our culture which as a majority likes to deconstruct and criticise instead of tackling core issues head on.
But let’s look at these two talking points in detail:
Overall, a good selection of speakers and at the end, you couldn’t leave the place without a spring in your step and dozens of ideas floating in your head. It was a bit tiring sitting and listening to people talk for 6 hours (I was never a patient student), but you couldn’t leave for fear of missing something important.
I know that many people who didn’t attend or watched from afar hold this view: it’s not necessary to go to such an event to do something good in the world. That’s 100% true, but of all those people, unless you’re not doing something already, unless you’re not making a contribution to this world beyond your detached cynicism, you’re just making excuses for your inaction. As a fact, the people who attended TEDxLahore are more likely to go out and make a significant contribution to improving the world around them than the haters trying to pull them down.
I know it sounds idealistic but it’s not. I’ve put down such events myself in the past, but here I am, 8 years on from that day in LUMS when I decided that I wanted to do something significant in my life to help the country, and I don’t think I’ve succeeded in doing much. Most of those 8 years have been spent looking down at social events like these – because I didn’t believe that they were any good. That was wrong. There was plenty to learn and plenty to be inspired about – not necessarily about the things that people were doing and sharing on stage but generally about your own ideas and making them come true.
Back to the Talks – there’s a certain expectation attached to the TED brand, plus almost everyone attending the event has been fed on a diet of the best TED Talks online. Compared to these benchmarks, it’s hard to rank any of the talks as being ‘good enough’. However, many TED Talks are average, and for a brand starting afresh in Pakistan (I know they’ve done an event before) it was a good effort.
It started out fairly well, more informational than inspirational, but from the third speaker to the end of the first half of the event, it went downhill, to the point where the crowd even spoke up in response to a speaker’s innocent question about whether they had more time. But the second half was fantastic, inspirational, educational, with several standing ovations for the speakers and a genuinely positive buzz in the audience despite being a bit tired.
You also have to understand that not everyone is the best speaker or the most interactive speaker – in fact TED Talks aren’t meant to be super-interactive. They’re meant to share ideas and their possible applications. They are meant to inspire. From that perspective, they should have gone with fewer speakers and a more compact program, but that doesn’t take away from the overall quality of the speakers and the event.
You can look at the few negatives – it didn’t start on time, some famous applicants got rejected, there were sound issues at some points, there were connectivity issues for remote speakers, there wasn’t enough done to promote the event, the theme was overwhelmingly cultural and socio-economic despite an obvious infusion of technology in every subject, etc etc.
Or you can look at the overwhelming positives – the sound worked well most of the time, whenever they faced connectivity issues they were resolved, not abandoned, to organise such an event while you hold regular jobs and without being paid for it is near-impossible, they did an excellent job of engaging the crowd whenever the mood seemed sagging, the plant a tree idea was fantastic even though many people left their plants at the event, and the live streaming worked well most of the time.
And last but not least, for a free event, this had better speakers and better content than many events I’ve paid to attend.
It’s easy to sit around and complain but the real question is, what can you do about it instead of complaining? Either fix it or shut up, and most people did neither. We’re geared as a society to accept things for free, and the TED association set the bar high, but there was genuine quality throughout, and the mid-session dip experienced at the end of the first half shouldn’t take away from an overall successful event.
It would be remiss of me not to offer suggestions for the next TEDxLahore and for all future TEDx sessions:
- Pick fewer speakers but do not compromise on their presentation skills.
- Get better sponsors. The Wi-Tribe sponsorship was excellent, so was Nestle’s, but they could have done a bit more – perhaps partnering with a local social media company to boost awareness of the event itself, working with a newspaper / tv channel to enhance coverage, working with a local production company to manage the sound / recording, etc.
I got the feeling the people in management didn’t have a lot of marketing experience, and future events should, as a requirement, have marketing folk in the mix, people who bring in new ideas to promote and reduce costs. I’m volunteering.
- Enhance networking opportunities amongst attendees. Let attendees decide to share their profiles and contact details, and allow attendees to interact online and outside the event as well as onsite. Also allow speakers the option to share their profiles if they wish to do so.
- Get the audience to rate the speakers and provide feedback to the speakers after the event. In fact, get audience feedback in a measurable, systematic way for the whole event. You won’t improve until you learn to give people what they want most.
- Manage the attendee selection / rejection process better.
- Generate enough funds from sponsors to pay the volunteers – you’ll get better work done, and on time too.
- Let me manage the next TEDxLahore event 🙂
The ideas shared on the stage got drowned out – and it’s a pity. Still, there was some excellent coverage of the event on twitter by folks like Awab, Sehar and Haris, and since all the talks will be available online, I encourage you to go and watch a few of them. Especially the ones by Dr Asher Hasan, Dr Zeeshan, Dr Nadeem and the gentleman from UK who was streamed through Skype and talked about the power of ideas in changing the world (Mr Majid, I think). These were by far the best talks, although most of the rest weren’t bad either.
The videos should be uploaded later next week, make a point to watch them.
And whatever you do, remember that taking action and working together is more important than just talking and trying to keep your ideas to yourself. Of course, there’s ownership of ideas and there’s a desire to do things your way, but you can either learn to work with other people, or you can go at it on your own. The third option is doing nothing, and that’s unacceptable.
ahmad i like your post with a blend of criticism but you know there are always something which is experienced runtime. but i must say we applause the TEDxlahore team that they cop up:)
I agree, they did a great job
Ahmed Bilal… very balanced write up. You have identified the “negatives” very correctly. Benchmarks established by TED online are difficult to achieve at this early stage. Organisers and the volunteers…please accept my comliments. Attendees also deserve some compliments for being patient and disciplined inside the hall and outside. There was no mad rush for the food, Qeues were not broken. Well done every one…
Yes, the audience definitely deserves some praise too.
You raised good points to work on for the next event. Someone should make sure you’re part of the management next time.
And the event was pretty awesome. You’re right that the speakers shouldn’t be compromised on their presentation skills, but there are many geniuses with brilliant ‘ideas worth spreading’, and just lack the know-how of presenting them to the world. I think those ideas should not be compromised for the sake of presentation skills. That’s the point where I disagree with you. Otherwise, good post.
Amna – good ideas with poor presentation rarely get the attention / respect they deserve. Taking the Musicology talk, as that’s the one that raised a lot of ire, I’m sure she had great ideas but how would those ideas ‘spread’ if they can’t even reach the audience?
Ideas worth spreading need the proper effort to spread them. Just a great idea is not enough.
thanks for the praise though 🙂
Thanks Ahmed for an excellent and balanced review. I was watching the live stream from SF, and these guy did an amazing job. But I was really disappointed on certain people on the FB page constantly complaining about the problems with speakers, the sound and management in general. Unfortunately, our culture has become very crude overtime and people are more interested in bashing instead of providing positive criticism (and on top of that they don’t know the difference between the two). But as you said, they need to understand how difficult it is to pull it off especially in Pakistan where any professional help to organize something like that is not easy to get. People were more interested in getting entertained instead of taking a moment to appreciate the efforts and ideas presented by organizer and the speakers. In the next TEDx event, perhaps a lecture on responsible social behavior would be more appropriate for our audiences.
Great analysis Ahmed. I have one suggestion here. Next time if they give you the chance to manage the event, which im sure they will after your exhaustive catharsis above, do not forget to include ATLEAST one speaker who only speaks on how to motivate ourselves and inspire others around us to do something worthwhile. I think we lack a big part of this thing. Ideas are nothing unless who feel the urge to do something about them.
Here is a small review i wrote for this event.
Ideas are nothing unless we* feel the urge to do something about them.
Loved your article – spot on. Having organized some events (World Usability Day, TEDxUMT) myself, I know it’s near impossible doing something like TEDxLahore on a part-time / volunteer basis. Given that fact, the TEDxLahore team did Fine. And I’m sure the next event will be better in many ways.
Next event, I’ll be watching for your name on the volunteer list 🙂
My great appreciations goes for all of you.. One thing I would like to know is that are we going to have sessions and talks in karachi also ?? It would be great to be a part of such event.
I am from karachi.