TedxManchester 2019 - In Summary

Yesterday, Bridgewater Hall once again hosted the brilliant TedxManchester conference - with 2,000 attendees, it’s one of the largest in the world.

The 2019 line-up didn’t disappoint, with 14 outstanding talks; some humbling, some hilarious (and one very loud!), but all inspiring and thought-provoking, encouraging us to think differently. For those who weren’t able to attend yesterday, I hope this summary is useful and perhaps points you in the right direction to learn more about the brilliant speakers and their ideas.

Founder of TedxManchester, Herb Kim, opened the conference by reminding us that it’s a day to zoom out; a day to take some time to broaden our horizons and look at life differently, allowing ourselves to reconnect with the joy of learning. 

First on the stage was Moon Ribas, a Spanish avant-garde artist who began her talk with a brave, protracted silence, explaining that she would begin when there had been an earthquake somewhere in the world. The purpose of this became clear, when, following the predicted earthquake several minutes later, she spoke of her ‘sixth sense’ gained by implanting an online seismic sensor inside her body which allows her to feel earthquakes through vibrations. A choreographer and dancer, Moon had always been interested in movement, seeking to feel the planet’s vibrations in real time. 

Credit: Tynesight Photographic Services

Credit: Tynesight Photographic Services

Identifying as a Cyborg, Moon is the co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation and the Transpecies Society. Moon used her time on stage to encourage us to think about the way our bodies can evolve and the possibility of designing new senses for ourselves, creating our new reality, transforming ourselves and using technology to better understand the world we live in.

 Watch Moon’s TEDxMünchen talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU6UPUlbmLw

 Next up was Dr Mostafa Nabawy, Microsystems Research Team Leader at The University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, who introduced us to Kim, the jumping spider. He and his team trained Kim to jump on demand, in doing so capturing the different techniques deployed by the spider, with the resulting data opening-up a wide range of applications for micro robots. Using the micro robots to hunt pests as an alternative to harmful pesticides was just one example of the ways this amazing new technology will one day help to make the world a better place.

You can read the full paper, published in the Nature Scientific Reports Journal, here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-25227-9

 Third up was Ged King, found on Twitter at @skullfades - Ged’s talk roused a range of emotions as he talked us through his early life and career in the British Army and the incredible work he has done - and continues to do - with the foundation he created to end homelessness in Manchester, Skullfades Foundation. After setting up a successful barber shop in Sale, Ged described how, instead of feeling proud and fulfilled, he was in crisis. He eventually took himself out into nature and set up camp in the Lake District. While there, he decided to embark on his mission to help end homelessness in Manchester. Beginning with the offer of what Ged says is never just a haircut, he and his team have provided the homeless with food, clothing, advice and support, his Foundation using their knowledge and resources to help people get to a better place. Ged described how a simple haircut allows people to remember who they are; who they were before it all went wrong. He reminded us that we all have a responsibility to lift others up and urged us all to think about how we can use our skills to help make a difference, the audience responding with a standing ovation.

Find out more about the Skullfades Foundation: http://www.skullfades.co.uk/skullfades-foundation.html

With a difficult act to follow, David Nihill (@FunnyBizzSF) was next on stage, delivering a hilarious talk about his journey in overcoming a “crippling” fear of public speaking that had seen him branded “Shakin’ Stevens’. Following the injury of a good friend - someone who loved to hike being told he would never walk again - David decided to run a comedy night for charity, an evening he would host. Looking at his friend in a wheelchair, confronting such monumental challenges, his own fear of public speaking seemed nonsensical. It was time to get over it, but who could he ask for advice? He decided on stand-up comedians -  people who honed their craft in the most difficult, uncomfortable environment. The comedy show is now a regular event, raising $45,000 to date. David finished his talk by reminding us that, while we may not be able to overcome a fear entirely, with help we can handle it better - and on public speaking specifically: “Tell yourself you’re excited no matter how many people are looking at you.”

Find out more about David’s work and his book, Do you talk funny? http://davidnihill.com

Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland) concluded the first session of the conference with an entertaining, eye-opening talk in which he explained the principle of “wrongitude” - to make sense of the world, we resort to models of the world, which replace subjective opinions with objective information. He urged us to find what the model is wrong about and do it differently, find out what the algorithms are urging us to do and do the opposite.

His book Alchemy, The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense is to be published in May 2019. 

Chris Bailey (@chris_bailey) opened the second session with a subject that most of the audience will be able to identify with. Chris had come to the realisation that his days were structured by a series of screens - after waking and consulting his phone, various devices then distracted and prevented him from getting jobs done throughout the day. Knowing that his phone was his biggest problem, Chris limited his use of the device to 30 minutes a day. After one week (the time it takes for the brain to adjust to a new, lower level of stimulation) his attention span grew, he had more ideas and he had more plans and thoughts about the future. 

It was a realisation that led him on a long journey of what it takes to focus. Chris explained that our brains are over-stimulated and we crave distraction, our brains rewarding us for seeking out and finding said distraction. We must let our minds wander - Chris started knitting as a way to do this, capturing his ideas as they come to him. An anti-hustler he urged us to reject the pressure to do more, reminding us that we’re doing enough; we need more space. He finished by saying, “The state of our attention is what determines the state of our lives.”  

Check out Chris’ book, Hyperfocus, How to Work Less to Achieve Morehttps://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Hyperfocus-by-Chris-Bailey-author/9781509866113

Appropriately following Chris’ talk was Katherine Ormerod (@Katherine_orm), social media influencer and author of Why Social Media is Ruining your Life - Katherine talked us through her early career in fashion and the moment of realision on a trip to Mexico, with a group of girlfriends that she needed to talk about the other side of her life; the life less glamorous, with everyday challenges.

Founding Work Work Work Katherine explained it felt so good to be honest and open about real-life issues she was struggling with, including debt and a divorce. Katherine delivered a powerful talk on the dangers of social media, saying that if we continue to use social media the way we have been, we will “seriously jeopardise our health and happiness.” Instead we must “understand the difference between the lived life and the online life”. She finished what was a powerful, timely talk by saying “Don’t let these 1% images affect the way you feel about the life you’re living beyond the squares and screens.”

Katherine’s book, Why Social media is Ruining Your Life is available now: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Why-Social-Media-Is-Ruining-Your-Life-by-Katherine-Ormerod-author/9781788400626

The next talk was equally timely, delivered by Food Science Evangelist, Anthony Warner, better known as The Angry Chef (@One_Angry_Chef). A biochemist turned chef, Anthony spoke about the importance of understanding food science and nutrition - but not in the way we expected. Anthony outlined his belief that we must look at the real cause of nutritional issues - poverty and inequality. He finished with his ‘golden rule’ - don’t be poor; it’s inequality, not carbohydrates, that we need to address.

Check out Anthony’s book, The Truth about Fat: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Truth-About-Fat-by-Anthony-Warner-author/9781786075130

Fourth to take the stage in the second session was Jon Carmichael (@PhotographerJon), a hugely engaging speaker who took us on a fantastic journey into his world of Astronomy Photography.

Based in New York, he shot to fame in 2017 when he captured an amazing photo of a total solar eclipse from a plane at 39,000 ft. Launched by Twitter, it was live-streamed by every Twitter office in the world. An eye-opening talk, Jon explained his own struggles with clinical depression and his belief that his images move people because they’re desperate to feel connection. With light pollution and electricity, we can’t see the skies anymore - we’ve lost our natural sense of curiosity.  An amazing talk, the entire room was captivated by the power of his images. 

Learn more about Jon and his work at https://joncarmichael.com

Andrew Szydko, a performance chemist, rounded off an incredible second session with a chemistry lesson - with fire, ice, explosions, balloons it was anything but dull! An internationally acclaimed chemistry teacher with a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from UCL, his book ‘Water Which Does Not Wet Hands’ was published in 1994.  He finished his talk with a huge explosion and a yell of “Chemistry for all!”

Credit: Tynesight Photographic Services

Credit: Tynesight Photographic Services

Returning after the coffee break, Alex Partridge kicked off the third and final session of the day, talking us through his journey in setting up UNILAD, the corporate tryst that saw him locked out of his own company and the fight against alcoholism that almost killed him on the road to the High Court trial that saw him vindicated.  He again reminded us of the insidiousness of social media, with none of his trials and tribulations documented on social platforms, saying “Please take it all with a pinch of salt - only your nearest and dearest are given a back-stage pass into your lives.” 

He finished by saying, “social media is like the moon - it looks bright, but you can only see one side of it.”

Next we welcomed Dr Sarah Carlick (@SarahCarlick), who spoke passionately about the failure of the children’s services to protect and safeguard young people. She is leading a fantastic project to revolutionise the way in which children can use technology to keep themselves safe, called the Children’s Safeguarding Digital Cooperative Design Centre - the world’s first. 

Third under the spotlight was the magnificent Emer Maguire (@EmerMOfficial), who delivered a hilarious talk, promising to make science sexy. An award-winning science communicator, BBC radio presenter and singer-songwriter, Emer sang several songs including ‘Beaver Love Song”, “A scientifically accurate love song” and “#Instabae” - it’s safe to say the audience was both thoroughly entertained and educated on the science of love. I’ll remember to wear red more often!

Check out the BBC’s ‘Science & Stuff with Emer Maguire’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096j4l7

Last-but-not-least was Game of Thrones star, Maisie Williams (@Maisie_Williams). The Iron Throne wasn’t the topic of conversation this time, instead Maisie talked us through her early life, her determination to pursue a career in dancing and her foray into acting. It was a journey that wasn’t easy given her background, without wealth and privilege. To help combat inequality in the arts, she co-founded Daisie, a social network for artists. Telling us that “the key is in collaborating”, she said “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and with Daisie we hope to give that back to the creator.” 

Credit: Tynesight Photographic Services

Credit: Tynesight Photographic Services

Maisie ended an utterly brilliant, inspiring day with an appropriate thought to sum it all up: “Refuse to hold yourself back, and dare to dream big.”

Find out more about Daisie: https://www.daisie.com

Emma McCallum