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Talkers and Listeners

I'm off to TED Global 2011 in Edinburgh next week. Can't wait. If you've never watched any TED presentations, click on www.ted.com. Become an addict like me. Amazing people telling amazing and thought provoking stories - each lasting no more than about 20 minutes. 50 of them for 5 days.

One of the things Tedsters (that's what delegates are called... tacky?) have to do before arriving is to create the wording for their badges. All the usual stuff: Name, Job Title, Employer, Location, Picture etc, but also a section that starts "Talk to me about"... and then you have to list three things (with limited character length) that you want people to talk to you about. You are advised to be serious, amusing and controversial (or something like that). Pause for thought. There are 1,000 of the world's smartest thinkers at TED. How do I make sure I won't look stupid. But wait. I also want to look smart. But not so smart that I'll look stupid or at least hopelessly self-centred and perhaps even patronising. It's not easy being contrite and yet impressive.

But then the real anguish sets in. There are going to be two types of people at TED. Possibly stereotyped by the men on one hand and the women (who aren't trying to be men) on the other. In other words, those who list three things they hope people will ask them to talk about, and those who list things they want others to find interesting to speak to them about. Those who want to speak to impress (testosterone?), and those who want to listen to impress (oestrogen?). But then again, I suppose it all depends on who gets the first question in. If I've got Rugby listed as one of my topics (actually I do... and I'll probably be the only one who's listed that), and someone I meet has got Childbirth as one of theirs, the trick will be to say first 'so tell me about childbirth', before they can say 'England don't stand a chance in NZ this year'. But if I'd put Childbirth on mine, then although I know virtually nothing about it (except it hurts) our conversation won't be very long if it starts by the other person seeking to find out why it's on my badge. "I was hoping you'd expand my knowledge about it". This only works if the other person happens to be an expert in what's on my badge - and I suppose that's what this is about. Advertising to others what I want them to start talking to me about instead of assuming I know anything about it myself. Why would I want to speak about something I know - possibly as a world expert in it? What is the benefit to me other than to prove to another person how expert I am? Shallow, or what?

Naturally I only thought about this after I had already given my 3 subjects to be printed on my badge, and as expected I fulfilled the typical male stereotype of wanting to impress by listing the things I knew I could talk about. But actually, considering I'm going to a conference where about 50 people have been lined up to present stuff I don't know already, wouldn't it have been smarter to put headings on my badge that would genuinely add to my sum total knowledge rather than enable others to let me add to theirs - if they give a damn. Will all the men especially be wandering around hoping to find listeners instead of talkers? Will the sort of people who go to TED all want to talk first?

So I've made the typical and fundamental mistake of looking at my badge from my perspective, and not from the reader's. And I'm meant to be good at marketing.

Well at least it gives me a chance to break the ice by apologising for 'badge arrogance'. Maybe I should bring a label to cover my subjects with the words "Not me, you". Or would that be too ingratiating. Perhaps everyone wants to meet interesting people and its all about forcing the conversation around to the other person's badge topics. "Enough about me...". Oh the agony of it all.

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