Virtual events have their perks but nothing compares to the real thing. Over the last two years of the pandemic, the act of coming together to listen, make connections, enjoy live entertainment and get inspired has been sorely missed. But it is returning.
TED talks have become famous for their online audiences but, says Sam Orams, who organises London’s TEDxSoho, it’s the in-person event where the magic happens. And on Monday May 30, TEDxSoho returns. Speakers and performers at the forefront of making changes within their communities will take to the stage at the Cambridge Theatre in central London to share their ideas and tips on how people can do the same.
The Future Generations team at the Big Issue has the same goal. We cover how we can act today for a better tomorrow, ranging topics from well-being, the environment, diversity, economic inequality, future of work, the arts, and more.
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We sat down with Sam to find out more about Ted’s return and the impressive line-up which features actor and philanthropist Michael Sheen, singer and songwriter Tom Odell and Bafta Breakthrough Brit and BIFA nominee Ray Panthaki among the line up.
The Big Issue: What is the goal for this event?
Sam Orams: The title for this year’s event is ‘This Is Not a Rehearsal’. Things got real with Covid. Suddenly, people had a lot of time to think and reflect. So we wanted to create an event for people who had decided to take action.
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Some of our speakers are active and changing their industries from within, whereas others take a slightly softer approach. They’re mentoring, changing and helping one person at a time. But what unites them is their fantastic ideas and passion. So the goal is for the audience to feel rejuvenated, inspired and refreshed after listening to the talks.
You talk about overcoming setbacks to bring about change. So how do these groups of speakers do that?
Professor Katy Shaw grew up in Newcastle in some challenging times. At a very young age, she realised that if she was to change and fix her hometown, she had to leave to come back again. So a real heroine’s journey.
Dr Camilla Pang is an autism advocate and computational biologist researching proteins at the top of her field. She’s changing the world by helping people with autism understand themselves and those in their life to understand their situation better. It’s amazing that she decided not just to fix herself but to share her learnings.
Michael Sheen, there’s a man who has the world at his feet, but he’s decided to dedicate part of his life to helping others succeed as he did. He is helping young children in disadvantaged or disconnected places get involved with the arts and have the chances he had. So, he’s working to level the playing field. He is essentially asking himself not what else he could take but what can he give back?
Lukasz Konieczka, the Mosaic LGBTQ+ Young Person’s Trust director. He was a social worker and 16 years ago the funding dried up. He tried but couldn’t find anywhere to send the youth he was working with. So instead, he set up his own and is mentoring and helping young people from the LGBTQ+ community to lead happier lives.
The list goes on. Every one of the speakers faced a challenge and saw something that needed fixing. However, they didn’t ask for someone else to fix it. They took the initiative.
Do you have a particular favourite speaker?
I’m excited, honoured, and proud to have all of them on the stage. But, of course, we’re excited to have some of the more prominent names for this year.
We’ve attracted Tom Odell, who will be playing some live music for us. Ray Panthaki has such energy and passion for everything he does and exuded that every time I’ve talked to him. Michael Sheen unfortunately can’t be at the actual event because some exciting events are happening in his life right now, but he kindly agreed to do a video TED Talk exclusive to TEDxSoho.
So they’re the big names everyone has heard. But the great thing about TEDx is when people step on that red dot, every one of them shines and becomes a star. Not a star in the superficial sense. But a real proper star, someone who’s doing great things to bring change.
Can you tell us how you go about searching for these great speakers who are coming up with new ideas for a new world?
Well, it cuts both ways. Many people contact me on my LinkedIn through the website as they are desperate to have a platform to share their ideas. Sometimes people recommend others they know would be great. Sometimes we pick up the phone and say, “Hey, this is Sam from Ted X. Would you like to do a TED talk?” And 99 times out of 100, everyone’s delighted that you’ve called them. Finding the speakers and putting the narrative together is the most rewarding part of organising the event.
We’re just coming out of a pandemic where we couldn’t go to an event like this. Can you tell us about the importance of everyone coming together in one room?
All this working from home stuff is excellent in terms of work-life balance. But I think we’ve all learned the value of being with people and sharing experiences after lockdown. Experiences are heightened when you share them collectively with others. The greatest example is the game of football. Compare watching the game on the TV versus being in a stadium with 70,000 people cheering together. Events like this are essential, especially hearing inspiring talks. Of course you can sit and watch a TED talk anywhere with your phone. Still, nothing beats being there.
As a team, we’re reporting on how people can make a better tomorrow by acting today. After getting this event together, do you have any advice for our readers on how they can do that?
A few years ago, when I was working on a piece of a film, I worked with a chap called Andy Torbet, a man who has spent his life flying out of aeroplanes, digging caves, rock climbing, deep-sea diving, you name it. At the end of these interviews, he said one thing: “Life is not going to come and find you sitting on a sofa. You need to get up, get out there, and throw yourself into it.” So my advice to anyone who wants to change things, make things better, or maybe want to organise their own TEDx event: You won’t be able to achieve this by sitting in the cafe, chatting about it with your friends; you need to get up, take risks and put yourself out there. This is what every one of these speakers on this stage has done.
How did you get involved with TEDx?
I started working on TEDxBrighton when the team was small. Together, we grew TEDxBrighton into a huge sell-out event. I talked to one of the TED organisers about the possibility of getting the licence to run TEDxSoho because Soho is one of the world’s famously creative areas, so it’s a brand in itself. TEDx is also a global brand that people recognise, and I thought it would be a great idea if we could put those two things together and create an event that celebrates all the things that Soho has become famous for over the years.
TEDxSoho – This is not a rehearsal takes place on Monday May 30th from 10am to 5pm at the Cambridge Theatre in Earlham Street, London. Buy tickets here.
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