It was highly anticipated – there had been talk about it for quite some time – and with the TEDx Viewing Parties as a great starting point, finally it was there on 14 June in the Latvian National Opera: TEDxRiga. With all the creativity and energy going on in Latvia, an event like this is a good way to present that to the world. Especially in a country that has been hit so hard by the crisis, it is great to see a selection of initiatives, projects, research that are going on. To me it is a sign of change, a sign of recovery. And the format of a TEDx event is a great way to show the world that Latvia is full of that energy and creativity.
The theme chosen by the organisers was also very fitting: The art of doing. Sometimes you need to stop talking about things, and simply start doing them. And many of the talks showed that it can be very rewarding to simply do something: using crochet to make hyperbolic planes understandable (Daina Taimina), let birds tweet (Voldemars Dudums), failing (Viesturs Sosars), writing music (Goran Gora), changing education (Zane Olina) or starting the Riga marathon (Aigards Nord).
The talks that stood out
There were three talks that really stood out for me. In the first session it was Daina Taimina who showed how she used the art crochet to make hyperbolic planes understandable, and also taught us why that is important. Going against many things people told her (‘you cannot combine crochet with serious science’ or ‘you have no feeling for art’), she proved them all wrong. A great example of how the art of doing can yield great results.
In the third session, there was Latvian songwriter Goran Gora, who shared the story of his life and his passion for music. Despite not being trained in music-writing, he has accepted many challenges in his life, and showed us that it resulted in great music. Beautiful performances, and a superbly constructed story. Be sure to watch the video of this talk once it comes available in about 3 weeks. (Follow TEDxRiga on Twitter to know when that happens).
And then there was Zane Olina, who shared the story of Mission Possible in the final session of the event. Improving education is important, and enabling teachers to do so is highly valuable work. This is exactly what Mission Possible is about. Great to learn about this initiative.
So, was it all amazing and great yesterday in the New Hall of the Latvian National Opera? Well, of course. But that doesn’t mean there are some points that could be improved next time. Following the conversation about TEDxRiga on Twitter I noticed two points of criticism. The first was about the Latvian English, that was off-putting for some of those watching the live stream. Sure, the English used by most of the speakers might not have been perfect Oxford English, but I think that does not matter. I think the majority of the people who speak English around the world, speak it as a second language. And second languages are never as good as your native language. That doesn’t matter. It was all perfectly understandable, and in all honesty: when you do a TEDx talk your audience is wider than the people in the room. Your audience is global, and on a global scale there are just very few people who speak Latvian. Presenting your talk in English makes it viewable for people outside the Latvian language. That is important, because with your TEDx talk, you’re also promoting Latvia as a place where great things happen. The more people who can watch that, the better it is. Especially the first talk, with the very interesting topic of stem cell treatment, and sharing experience about that, could have been a hit in the global TED community, had it been presented in English. I think now there will be very few people who will watch it. A missed opportunity for showing off cutting edge science and medicine. Really, some of the talks we saw yesterday have the potential of becoming big hits, and with that promote Latvia in the world, but not if they’re Latvian spoken.
Then there was the second criticism: presentation skills. And that’s a good point. I think presentation skills revolve around three elements: a well constructed story, a message and addressing the audience with a bit of flair. To be honest, the majority of the presentations yesterday did not have all three elements. Especially the flair in presenting seems to be lacking from the Latvian education system. Too often people are speaking monotonous, without passion and sometimes even refuse to look at the audience. Come on! You have amazing stories to share. Be proud of it!
Thank you organisers!
All said, and the morning after, I’m still very excited to have been there, in the audience of the first TEDxRiga. And I hope it is the start of a new tradition. Events like this are great for the country, for building confidence, for showing off the great things that happen here. For having a positive wind blow through Latvia. Thank you to the organisers.
For those interested, I’m sharing some of the photos I took yesterday over on Pinterest.