Impact and Why TEDx

Author: Shivam Shah
TEDxUCincinnati | Co-founder & Advisor TEDxLSE 


With over 19,000 events (on all seven continents!), there is at least one TEDx event happening every day somewhere on the planet (see figure 1). TEDx events are independently organized. This means that community members come together to curate events for their own communities. Encapsulated within this concept lies inherent power. An independent, individual event curated by communities for communities is novel because they can leverage interesting components specific to a community. Moreover, these events come together to create the global TEDx community, taking the psychological concept of ‘gestalt’ to a new level.

Figure 1. Source: www.ted.com

One particular type of TEDx event is the University TEDx. From TEDxUTM in Malaysia to TEDxUBCO in Canada, TEDxCESUPA in Brazil to TEDxMGIMO in Russia there are University events all over the globe. University events empower students to organize conferences around a theme of their choosing. In addition, students engage in financial management, ideation searches, speaker curation, stage design, audience management, and encounter a plethora of unique challenges. The students gain these new skill sets and also have the task of creating a culture of TEDx on their campus. With teaching outside of the classroom, these events engage the mechanical engineering student with a discussion on the fluidity of space in city planning, the violinist with the advancements in astrophysics, the international relations student with a human account of emotional well-being research, the list is endless.

As interesting as these topics may be, it can prove difficult to properly engage with students across a campus of 1,000 students or 120,000 students, and each campus brings its own challenges. Having flexibility and guidance in creating these programs from TED is a fundamental strength in conquering this issue. Coupled with assistance from TED, the events enhance students’ minds about what it takes to put on such an event.

The archetypal experience from curating a university TEDx is one of magnanimous shift in perspective to understanding the necessity for the flow of ideas to communities. So whether you are familiar with TED or unfamiliar, I believe it is vital to become involved in a TEDx near you (or start one). It is an experience unlike any other in which you form a global community unlike any other, and find ideas that shape your community and ultimately, the world.

Why you should avoid avoiding Trump

Author: Salvador Pitta Gouveia


Godwin’s law (1990) states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches”. Twenty-seven years later, this ‘law’ seems to be more accurate than ever! Indeed, comparisons to one of the worst villains of history are quite common, whichever the means of communication we use.

But this would not be a 2017 article if it did not mention Donald Trump, and here is the link between the Orange man and Godwin’s law: probably no one has served more as a confirmation of the ‘law’ than Donald Trump, and we should not be happy about that. ‘Alas! The author is defending Donald Trump!’, I hear you cry.

Worry not! I could not be more against having a man whose wisdom and soundness resemble those of an ape as President of the United States, and it is precisely for that reason that I shiver whenever I come across the frequent comparisons made between Trump and the most horrible man that has existed. This is part of a wider problem which seems to be affecting public discussion in the West. The fact is that almost all of us have come across at least one comparison between Trump and Hitler. My purpose here is to try to convince the reader that this is not a good sign.

Yes, even though Trump says he’s “the least racist guy on the planet”, it’s quite evident that he is not. Far from it! What’s more, he makes fun of disabled people; he lies all the time; he says the press is the enemy of the American people; he has no idea of what he is doing, neither does his team; not to talk about the disgraceful manner in which The Donald treats women, which we have learned about from his own words.

Nevertheless, the guy hasn’t committed a genocide (nor does he plan to commit one, as far as I am aware). There are many, many other traits present in Hitler which I could have mentioned that are not present in Donald Trump, but this is precisely my point: the fact that Trump (or any other living person in the world) has not gassed six million people to death is enough to prove that the comparison between Donald Trump (or any other person of our time) and Hitler is intellectually flawed, if not dishonest. This is what can also be referred to as a Godwin’s law corollary, which put formally, could be something like “In a discussion, whoever makes comparisons to Hitler automatically loses the argument.” A similar idea can be found in what the political philosopher Leo Strauss called the reductio ad hitlerum fallacy. Someone commits the fallacy ad hitlerum when he/she tries to defeat someone’s argument by comparing and associating it with Adolf Hitler’s own views or acts.

I am afraid that we see too many instances of this fallacy, and this tells us a lot about the state of our current public discussion. Have we got bored of fighting people with ideas, rather than sound bites and weird hyperbolic comparisons? Have we given up on persuasion? Are we too sure of our own ideas that we feel it is not worth debating them? Should we not prove others wrong with strong arguments rather than weak analogies?

This year’s TEDxLSE theme is ‘On the Brink’, a spot on description of the world of our time. Trump’s election has contributed very significantly (perhaps decisively) to the accuracy of our theme as a descriptive element of the world we live in. With his election, among many other things, a whole new conception of debate and discussion in the public sphere (which has been developing for a few years) seems to be establishing itself as the new normal. It is an ever more fragmented way of presenting different arguments and ideas. The times when people with different opinions directly debated with each other and confronted their opinions with their opponent’s are increasingly becoming memories of an irrecoverable past… Some call it polarisation.

Personally, I think this is something different. As an apologist for adversarial politics, I am not necessarily opposed to a somewhat polarised state of affairs, as long as people are willing to debate each other, because it is usually from the confrontation of ideas that we get closer to the truth, as John Stuart Mill has so compellingly argued. But currently, I do not think that polarisation is the right description of what is happening. It’s more than that: there is an isolation of ideas, of perspectives of the world, and every day there is less and less room for discussion – which brings me back to the first paragraph.

I would like to be able to say that this ‘argumentative isolationism’ is all Trump’s and his gang’s fault. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can say that. Sure, he plays the major role in this new way of avoiding discussion: by, for instance, refusing to answer questions, shouting “fake news” almost every day, and (if you can still remember), performing terribly in the debates with Hilary Clinton, because he just wouldn’t properly and directly debate her ideas or let his own ideas be honestly discussed. But, whenever someone compares him to Hitler, they are giving in to his own way of approaching serious debate (which is avoiding it).

Ad hitlerum fallacies’ main purpose is exactly to end discussion, to silence one’s opponent by comparing him/her to Hitler. Those who want to fight Trump’s views shouldn’t do it by giving his supporters the best present they could get – an opportunity to avoid discussing the real issues of today. The strategy should be exactly the opposite: take Trump’s views in the most serious way you can, let those who stand for Trump speak their minds, and fight them with arguments – which still is, and will always be, the best way to defeat your opponents – and you will rejoice in watching their house of cards collapse! No ad hitlerum needed.


Note – for practical purposes, I assume the reader is not exactly satisfied with Trump’s election… This may be prejudicial of me, but why read TEDx articles if you can spend a nice evening surfing on the wonders of Breitbart?…

Molly Farrow and Yusuf Oum Tayara

Molly Farrow and Yusuf Oum Tayara. Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method Undergraduate.

Speakeasy. Say hello to LSESU’s brand new free speech society. Despite only existing for a few weeks, they have attracted a significant amount of support and criticism. In this video, Molly and Yusuf highlight their reasons for membership, the need for the society’s existence and their hopes for its future.

Developing TEDxLSE with Virtuozo

By Alex Hum

There is a learning curve to hosting a TEDx event, particularly as a university student-run organization that is overflowing with excitement, passion, sometimes to the point of having too many cooks. It’s not always clear what TED expects when they ask you to emulate their style and follow their rules. There are a lot of things to consider when managing the team, choosing speakers, structuring talks, and marketing the event that always seem to fall into grey area.

Enter Michael Weitz, with his experienced confidence, welcoming attitude, and casual charm.

Michael is one of the co-founders of Virtuozo, a training and consulting firm that specializes in honing communication skills and leadership, with extended specialty experience in training TED speakers for TED Global.

I’ve been watching TED videos for long enough that I don’t remember when I started and I had watched a few university conferences in the past. But now having been part of the organizing team at TEDx for two years in a row (one year as a co-president) I can say with reasonable confidence that the “seat-of-your-pants” feeling appears to be consistent every time you host a conference in spite of how many videos you’ve watched on YouTube. Experience helps, but unless you’ve been doing it every year for a long while most organizers still won’t have enough experience to ensure that they will get everything right.

Michael conducted a 2-hour webinar with my team and our student speakers and provided sagely advice that would be difficult to replicate in any other form. It was a rare opportunity and when I first contacted Michael I was not even sure if I would get a response because I assumed that Virtuozo would be too busy for my small group. I was surprised to see that Michael had personally responded quickly, and was enthusiastic and flexible in finding a way to work together with TEDxLSE. It was immediately clear that Michael loves to help and that he loves his work.

Initially our group, young and unsure as it was, didn’t know what questions to ask or what threads to pull at. But Michael created a comfortable, open environment and encouraged people to participate more. We quickly found our stride and bombarded Michael with a huge range of topics, from TED concepts and visions to presentation techniques to operational conference logistics. Michael had seen it all and handled all of our concerns in order professionally and thoroughly.

With my team, he proposed original ideas about how to keep the conference theme running through the course of the whole day, provided examples of what he had seen succeed and fail in the past to learn from, and how to work with speakers to cultivate a meaningful relationship in preparation of the big day.

With the student speakers, he went over the foundations of a TED talk in a way that the many listicles on the internet aren’t able to communicate. His personal touch is what made the session excellent; demonstrating soft concepts with concrete examples is not a foreign idea to anyone but Michael does so to perfection because he makes sure to connect with everyone he is speaking to. Whenever something didn’t make sense, he already had a video clip or an image prepared to illustrate the point, anticipating most questions. Any others that came up he dealt with personally to make sure his message is heard – that is clarity that a Google search cannot give you.

Michael also had practical tips and tricks for the speakers to help them stay engaged on stage, even things as specific as how to use breathing and when to drink water. Michael had a fresh, original perspective on connecting with the audience and being an impactful speaker. His knowledge so effortlessly reached for aspects of the conference that had never even crossed our minds. He offered to keep in touch so that we can continue to develop the relationship between TEDxLSE and Virtuozo. There is especially high turnover in the organizing committee in universities, meaning that it can be difficult for the years of experience to build up because every team starts with only what the previous year left them. Hopefully this is no longer since we’ve worked with Michael and will continue to as a valuable resource. There is much that Virtuozo can offer every year to accelerate the team’s maturity.

There were many technical aspects covered and many questions asked, but what was universal was that confidence that Michael instilled in the team and the student speakers. The organizing team felt united and the student speakers were inspired after talking to Michael excited to regroup to implement things that we picked up. After working with Virtuozo we are in a much better position to plan and create, the cooks are calmer, and though planning is hectic, we’re better prepared.

Participant testimonials:

“Michael tapped his experience with TED to give the curatorial team several ideas of which we never would have thought of: everything from how to work with speakers to how to make the audience feel a part of the event. As a member of TEDxLSE’s planning committee, I would highly recommend Michael and his team, even if you are an experienced TED organizer!”

– Organizer

“The webinar provided many innovative ideas to improve our event, and he gave us specific guidelines which makes organizing the conference much easier.”

–       Organizer

“As per the webinar, I thought it was very useful, especially Michael’s specific recommendations on how to perform on stage. Seek eye contact, don’t wander around too much, don’t worry if you are nervous because that shows you’re looking forward to give the best you have… it is these tips that a speaker cares about and needs to know.”

–       Student Speaker

Review of TEDxShujaiya screening (in partnership with LSESU Palestine Society), 21/01/2016

By Hanif Osman

On Thursday 21st January TEDxLSE and LSESU Palestine Society came together to watch TEDxShujaiya – the first TEDx conference to take place in the Gaza Strip, showcasing some of the amazing individuality, talent and innovation coming out of Gaza, despite the ongoing siege.

Notwithstanding a significant technical difficulty, involving both TEDxLSE and Palestine Society committee members (as well as an audio and video technician) attempting to get the sound to play out of the room’s speakers, the screening started at approximately 6.40pm thanks to the expert work of Palestine Society’s Vice President (and, as it turns out, chief technician), Dina Safarini. The evening, owing to the eye-opening capability of the TEDxShujaiya talks to inspire and amaze, as well as to the effectiveness of the Arabic to English translations, was a resounding success.

All of TEDxShujaiya’s talks are interesting and moving for their own reasons, but a few in particular from the evening stood out as being particularly compelling and for these I will briefly outline their core messages and ideas and explain why they are so worthy of watching.

Probably the most powerful and widely appreciated talk of the night was by Ahmed Alfaleet, entitled ‘Crack to the moon’. It describes the life of a barely 20-year old man sentenced to life in an Israeli prison. During his 20-year imprisonment, particular experiences such as being able to see the moon, interacting with birds, and an empty can lying around in his cell, he tells us, shaped his entire outlook on life; propositions that may, at first glance, appear bizarre and even absurd. Yet those very same anecdotes, truly did shape his whole frame of mind. That empty can, we learn, enabled him to master Hebrew in a matter of weeks. The bird turned out to give him the hope and strength to carry on. At its core, the talk emphasises the importance of ‘realizing the value of everything in our lives and enjoying it’: one must always smile and be thankful for what he/she has, and try to avoid giving in to despair.

Another particularly striking talk was Ghada Shoman’s ‘The big picture’, which stressed the frequently made but often disregarded point that we should not judge people based upon unimportant aspects such as a person’s looks, haircut, religion or nationality; we should instead seek to understand ‘the big(ger) picture’. This fact is illustrated by the speaker’s personal experience of being judged – a photograph of Ghada and her brother in wrecked Gaza was misconstrued and labelled as ‘The two lovers flirting in the midst of the ruins’. Shoman, a pharmacy student at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, ends her talk with a delicate and emotive song, containing the powerful lines ‘The sky belongs to both you and I/The space as well…These belong to all people/To the weak, the sad and the poor/Who sleep hungry’ and ‘Tomorrow your planes will be worth nothing compared to the wings of a butterfly’. An article on Ghada and her brother’s musical endeavours is available at http://wearenotnumbers.org/home/Story/46.

The second video screened on the evening also deserves a significant mention – it was a talk by Hashem Ghazel named ‘Let the fingers do the talk’. Hashem is deaf and, despite the prejudice and disadvantages he has faced, is highly successful in all areas of his life. Known as the ‘Godfather of the deaf’ in the Gaza Strip due to his role in Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children as well as his extensive travelling to represent the deaf people of the Gaza Strip, Ghazel truly is an inspiration. He raises the issue at the end of the severe difficulty he has in being able to continue to carry out his work outside of Gaza – representing the deaf of Gaza internationally – because of the continued Israeli-imposed siege.

Mazen Elsayed, in ‘Chessing your value’, clarifies the importance of individuals estimating themselves accurately. Elsayed uses the board game of chess to demonstrate his point that whilst being realistic is undoubtedly key, we often forget that everything has a value, which, if utilized correctly, can have maximal impact.  Mazen’s talk was in English and can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q1ghfarR1Q.

Another talk shown was that of Al Jazeera correspondent Tamer Almisshal’s ‘Undefined nationality’, in which he discusses whether journalists need to have a nationality in order to practice and succeed in their career and achieve their goals. The Gaza Strip is home to approximately 1,221,000 UNWRA-registered (stateless) refugees (entitled, under UN Resolution 194, to the ‘right of return’ to the lands in Palestine they were expelled from in 1948), constituting 67% of the total population of Gaza. Almisshal’s talk, therefore, on Gazan identity and nationality, addresses issues of fundamental importance to Gaza and for this reason alone is worthy of watching.

Finally, and noted by a few people as their personal favourite of the six talks shown on the evening, was Refaat Alareer’s talk entitled ‘Stories make us’. Alareer’s major concern is that older people’s stories of the past – mainly recorded orally – are dying out because modern technology means that we have stopped caring. “I am the man I am because of the stories told to me by my mother and grandmother,” he tells the audience. As Palestinians under occupation, storytelling transcends the didactic value to serve the urgent purpose of enabling them to own their own narrative, and, by consequence, their future. Indeed, Alareer establishes that stories people can tell about a land are proofs of their right to that land, demonstrated by his recollection of a story about a native Canadian elder who demanded of a coloniser ‘If this is your land, tell me your stories’, to which there was only silence. Towards the end of his talk, Alareer quotes Chinua Achebe’s remark that ‘’Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’’, aptly adding on, in reference to the ‘hunter’, ‘the occupier, the colonizer’. He uses the international success of the recent ‘Gaza Writes Back’, a book of 23 stories by 15 young Palestinians aged 17-25 (13 of whom are female) that was translated into 6 languages, as evidence of a global desire to hear Palestinians’ stories.  Alareer delivered his talk in English and it can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsbEjldJjOw.

The videos were expertly translated by several members of the LSESU Palestine Society – Maya, Lana, Ameer and Dina – and their accuracy and effectiveness in conveying the precise meanings was widely praised; so much so that the translations were requested and have been sent to the TEDxShujaiya team, for their intended eventual transfer onto the master-videos. A big ‘thank you’, therefore, has to go out to the translators. And, of course, the biggest thanks of all must go to the organisers and speakers of TEDxShujaiya who, as well as giving us permission to add subtitles to the videos and screen them, were responsible for hosting a truly remarkable first Gazan TED conference that we are sure will continue to inform and inspire people across the world for years to come.