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NegaTED - the Antidote to TED Conferences

I've just returned from TEDGlobal 2012 in Edinburgh. I'm addicted. It was my third TED experience including a brilliant TEDx at the London Houses of Parliament I attended the previous week. TEDx is a sort of mini-TED organised by enthusiasts, but with fewer Americans. So at the end of 5 days full-on brain porn (I sat through around 100 presentations or acts of varying degrees of wow), there I was, balancing precariously on a beanbag while trying to keep equally precariously balanced 'healthy' food on my fork, when my similarly struggling neighbour from Sydney (younger but no less inept) introduced herself - as you always do at TEDs, in talks, bars, on escalators, even in toilets (yes, really). We sized each other up reasonably quickly - again, as you do - to discover that she too was a Grombler (although self-evidently not a Grumpy Old Man - but you get what I mean). It was her first TED and she asked me if people were always so effusive about everything that happened on stage. A sort of enthusasteria. But before I tell you how we conceived an idea where the gromblers fight back, I need to explain TED a little better.

TED was originally a conference in Monterey, California (now Long Beach and Edinburgh). It's a series of talks or acts - each no longer than around 15-20 minutes broadly about some aspect of Technology, Entertainment, or Design and, these days, anything else. TED presenters stand on the shoulders of giants. Al Gore, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Gordon Brown, David Cameron.... and Ruby Wax (bizarrely she's a neuroscientist and a depressive) have all given TED talks, along with around 1,000 others. Every talk is available on the brilliant TED website. Utterly addictive. So TED was originally designed for Americans - whose national characteristics (with apologies) are brash, always right, usually loud (what's with that whooping?), regard humiliation as a virtue (they dance in restaurants for god's sake), and as a nation are rarely slow to 'kick ass', but oddly, very oddly, are excessively polite... "excuse me" (unless a New York cab driver or when ordering food - they never say 'please'... "Give me a steak, make it rare"). So bless them indeed for their enthusiasm, their passion, their money and their convictions which led to the conception of TED. But it took an Englishman, Chris Anderson, to convert a West Coast cult conference into a global publishing phenomenon. A platform for ideas worth sharing as they say.

So here we all were, 900 of us from 72 different nations, assembled in Scotland - the land of booze, bagpipes and buildings designed to match the depressing climate - to experience what whooping Americans have been enjoying for years:- presentations from people whose primary ambition is to achieve a standing ovation after their 17 minutes of fame. TEDsters (as we are rather cringeingly known) always politely applaud, but you've only scored if the audience stands. No standing = Back to the day job and relative obscurity. Standing TEDsters = Prepare for fame and a deluge of Twitter followers. Whooping, standing TEDsters = TV show, High office, Nobel Prize etc. The stakes are high.

So to prepare for their defining 17 minutes, TED Talkers will prepare by watching countless ovation-resulting talks to discover the secrets of TED success. I can now reveal for all future TED Talkers, these are the ideal components for a standing whooping ovation:

  • Dead, dying, handicapped or incarcerated relatives, ideally children. Please don't arrange if not already available. Fame's good, but not that good.
  • Better still, have had your own life threatened or compromised (combine the two and you've really scored).
  • Subtle humour. No laughs = Drooping eyelids. But not too much unless you're meant to be funny. Tricky balance between clown and bore. The more intellectual the joke, the more TEDsters will be desperate to get it. Best to get only half the audience laughing thereby making the other half feel the need to applaud to compensate for their stupidity.
  • Major obstacles overcome, ideally life-threatening, involving oppressive regimes if possible.
  • Help the poor, the sick, the misunderstood, the bewildered etc. Basically anyone previously unrepresented.
  • Spectacular graphs. Doesn't matter what they show, just make them peak somewhere.
  • Bring an object that does something unexpected. Flying's good.
  • Don't follow a standing ovation (unfortunately there's little you can do to predict or prevent this - except perhaps get your preceding speaker heavily drunk the night before and maybe exposed on YouTube as a sexual deviant or nazi).
  • Wear ridiculous clothing. Suits mean you're trying to look important. Fat people do well. Facial hair (men only) also shows you care more about what you do than what you look like.
  • Balls. The biggest ovation this year was for a German politician who stammered. Can't remember what he said, just how he said it.
  • Humble, nervous or very young. The more famous you are, the steeper the hill you have to climb. TEDsters love underdogs.
  • Unfortunately there's no getting away from this, you have to be interesting, but not necessarily positive... which leads me to the point of this blog

Back to my new chum from Sydney and her mutter about how excessively positive the conference seemed to be. It's in Edinburgh for heaven's sake, where they're more depressed than Ruby. So we decided that what was needed was a movement to re-balance that American love of mutually whooping positivity. Basically a decent dose of grombling was needed. The antidote to TED was born:


The rules of NEGATED are:
  • Only talks that offer gloom and despondency are allowed. For example:
The Demise of Guys

  • The objective is not to achieve an ovation at the end of your talk (partners, parents etc excepted), but to have thoroughly depressed everyone. You weren't invited to speak because you know how to save the planet, but to help us see the problems.
  • Whooping; whistling (please! It hurts ears and draws attention to you, not the person you're embarrassing); getting up and dancing (it's a theatre!!) etc are all banned. Americans will be offered 'calm down' classes. By the way, I'm going to blog my theory about why Americans exhibit no fear of embarrassing themselves in due course.
  • Every year the TED Prize awards up to $1m to sponsor programmes that share ideas. The NEGATED Prize is where money goes the other way. In order to get your 'good works or idea' onto the TED stage, you have to bid for it.
  • NEGATED Fellows are not young worthies who do odd, inspiring and adventurous things in the world's hidden corners (my favourite this year was a bearded Afghan who was filmed in Kabul pretending to be a policeman at a road block, apologising for the delay and offering money in compensation - brilliantly funny. The looks on the faces of cab drivers and the like were priceless. Hope he survives). No. NEGATED Fellows are over 50, over weight, financially comfortable, live in London, New York or Slough, have no perceptible artistic talent, and spend their lives in blissful obscurity. Think accountants. Greatest thrill comes from birdying a hole for the first time that they've played for twenty years.
  • NEGATED conference food is fattening, intoxicating, easy to eat without a fork, but doesn't brew gaseous explosions like the worthy organic rabbit food beloved by Californian delegates.
  • If you're young, thin, 'cup half full', highly qualified, musically talented, published, honoured, or elected NEGATED's not for you.
  • TED's expensive. NEGATED's even more expensive in order to pay for the many more random people who are given complementary tickets by TED - just to annoy the delegates who paid.
  • You get your money back if it doesn't rain the whole week. Safe bet for June in Edinburgh (or Wimbledon).
  • TED goodie bags are famous for a) being great bags, and b) containing stuff you didn't know exists. The NEGATED goodie bag is supplied by Tescos, so it breaks instantly (non-recylably). Its contains guides to towns you're not in, accessories for phones or tablets you don't have, clothing that you shouldn't be seen in, and, most importantly, stuff you can't get in your already over-packed suitcase.

NEGATEDsters glare at whoopers. You have been warned.

...and there's a postscript from my NegaTED chum in Aus:


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