Tedx Salford has been a pretty interesting day.
There are not many backstages where you can spend an hour talking about the origin of the universe and the big bang and how itâs been worked out to the last trillionth of a second and how there may be multiple universes and that the end of time is the sudden evaporation of everything into an eternal glowing white light with the worldâs leading researcher on the topic. Then a minute later you are chatting about grappling and wrestling moves and hardcore training with the âworldâs most dangerous manâ â leading US wrestling superstar Ken Shamrock or about what it feels like to win an Olympic gold medal in canoeing with someone who has done just that.
But then this is not most backstages- this is TEDx.
Iâve been asked to speak at TED X in Salford- talking punk rock, hooligan, shotgun blues about the death of modern culture for 18 minutes along with a wildly diverse array of speakers. There are 1600 people in the audience in a tightly packed auditorium that goes up in three steep tiers to the roof. Itâs a spectacular space and itâs sheer size makes this the biggest TEDx conference in Europe.
Iâm speaking alongside a fantastically varied line up of speakers from Salil Shetty the secretary general of Amnesty international, Ken Shamrock the wrestling superstar and self styles, âthe Worlds Most Dangerous Manâ, Joe Incandela, the team leader of the Higgs Boson Experiment at CERN, Sir Ian Wilnut- leading cloning pioneer, Ray Hammond- Europeâs most experienced futurist, Jim Al-Khalili the TV scientist and leading physicist and Akala the rapper and poet, Etienne Stott- British gold Olympic gold medal winner, Julie Meyer entrepreneur, Debra Searle -TV adventurer, Geoff Burch alternative Business Guru, Paul Zenon the UKâs leading trickster and Felicity Goodey, former BBC journalist.
Itâs a solid gold line up and with the speakers from all kinds of different fields and disciplines giving 18-minute inspirational talks covering a wide range of topics from science to contemporary culture itâs impossible to get bored.
The 18 minute talk formulae works perfectly, with each expert in their field given the tight time frame to talk about anything that is close to their heart or what they are involved in. It can be about the origin of the universe or the history of hip hop culture, it can be about human rights or how to empower people. It could then be about future studies or how to screw up airport security or how to win a gold medal. Each talk is inspirational and also thought provoking- each one an 18 minute brain sprint that makes you feel totally alive with their ludicrous micro brilliance.
TED, itself, started in 1984 in the USA with the idea that the speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Rodney Mullen, Bill Gates, educator Salman Khan, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners. TED’s current curator is the British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson.
TED grant special licenses to anyone who wants to present their own version of the concept which then goes under the name of TEDx.
The Salford TEDx is now the biggest one outside the main TED conference and today there are 1600 people crammed into the impressive three-tier auditorium at Salford Lowry centre.
Itâs an impressive event pulled off by two former Salford University students Mishal Saheed and Uzair Butt with a team of smart and sassy volunteers. Within one year they have gone from ambitious startup to the leading lights and have attracted an impressive and highly varied array of speakers to the event.
There are far too many highlights in the Salford event to run through them all but Paul Zeon was hilarious as he detailed how to wind up airport security with a series of pranks and Akalaâs history of defiance and poetry that eventually created the bedrock for hip hop culture was powerful and moving. Joe Incandelaâs latest bulletin from the frontline of the science of the big bang and the beginning of time was mind blowing and Ken Shamrock and Etienne Stott both showed the better side of sport, with Ken detailing his initiative to help kids from disadvantaged homes and Etieene detailing the heartbreak and the slog and the almost Zen like determination of a gold medal winner with the humour and lack of bullshit that has made the UK Olympic champions so popular this year- maybe the pair of them should be giving talks to the sulking cry babies of the premiership.
There were inspiring talks about empowerment and the future and someone playing a homemade percussion instrument that looked like a wok and sounded like the hypnotic drone from the end of time- maybe the sound of the end of the universe- I will have to check back to Joe with that oneâ¦
I got to do my talk about punk rock culture and our own spirit of defiance. it was an amazing space to do a talk. The top rows of the venue were really up there in the gods with tiny pinprick faces appearing out of the gloom in the far distance like dying stars in the last days of the universe.
The running gag all day had been the letter ârâ in the stage prop that read âTED x Salfordâ.
Ironically, in an event where the nature of gravity had featured in so many of the talks, the letter r in âSalfordâ kept falling over. I picked it up and waved it at the audience telling them it was âr for rock n rollâ which I had come to reclaim and was surprised that it was actually made out of polystyrene and fell apart in may hands.
A wanton act of hooliganism that was my own small version of the sudden evaporation of everything at the end of time, it was hastily repaired later with a piece of sellotape, unlike the universe itself.
TEDx Salford was a bug success. An ambitious project that was pulled off by an enthusiastic and very capable young team. After the event I was struck by how diverse the audience was and had a great conversation with some Chinese students and many other people from all over the world underlining the vast appeal of such a concept.
An even the letter ârâ was finally standing straight- if a little battered and taped togetherâ¦