The Our Changing World TEDx event at Leeds Beckett University gave academics the opportunity to share their research and passions. It gave members of the public, students and other academics food for thought.
I have watched many TED talks online, but this was the first time I had attended a live event. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis, under a free license from TED. Over 3,000 events are held every year in 170 countries.
Our Changing World featured four academics who each presented a sixteen-minute talk on a contemporary topic. The event featured Professor David Glew, Director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI), Dr Emily Zobel Marshall, Reader in Postcolonial Literature at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Louisa Ells, co-director at the Obesity Institute, and Lauren Senior, who is currently studying a PhD in Nutrition at Leeds Beckett University.
Speakers discussed how their research both makes an impact and has been impacted by the way the world is changing. The presentations avoided jargon and points were made clearly. They were supported by research and references but delivered in a way that made them readily accessible.
Having watched videos of TED and TEDx talks, I have marvelled at the presentation skills of speakers selected for these events. Having attended TEDx, I now understand that the smooth delivery is a result of hard work and planning. Lauren Senior explained to me that they had spent a whole day training and rehearsing with an actor. The speakers memorised their speeches but if they fluffed a line, they went back and repeated. Editing would then make it flawless on the final video.
Lauren’s presentation focussed on the need for nutritional advice to recognise the importance of traditional diets amongst immigrants. Black African and Black Caribbean populations in the UK are prone to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke at higher levels than in the communities they migrated from. As the diets of ethnic communities have become increasingly westernised, then health has suffered. This situation she suggested has been compounded by nutritional advice and charts that never include foods such as yam, ackee or plantain.
Dr Emily Zobel Marshall also looked to Africa and the Caribbean, finding inspiration in the Anansi character. She explained how the man/spider trickster delivered different messages according to the society where the retelling happened. Whilst in Africa, the character might be an expression of testing the boundaries of traditional society, but during slavery, she suggests the character became a symbol of psychological resistance. She told me she has begun writing her own Anansi stories for children, perhaps becoming part of this constant but changing literary tradition.
Obesity, and our perceptions of this chronic medical condition, were the focus of Professor Louisa Ellis’s presentation. Whilst many chronic medical conditions can benefit from lifestyle changes – asthma, diabetes, hypertension – only obesity seems to engender a blame culture in relation to those diagnosed. She explained that the reasons for obesity are complex and made an impassioned plea for stigma around obesity to be ended. She makes a strong case for compassionate, person-centred, lifetime care for those experiencing obesity.
The final speaker was Professor David Glew, who tackled the important question of how we should power and heat our homes. This is an area of developing research. Although he could not provide all the answers concerning climate change and energy requirements, he did give us a lot to think about.
The concept of ‘peak heat’ encouraged us all to think about when energy is used and how we might develop ‘energy literacy.’
An interval was held after the first two speakers. The audience appreciated the chance to take a comfort break without disturbing the filming, but it was also a chance to share and discuss ideas. Unlike other lecture series, there is no space in a TED talk for questions. It is important, therefore, that the audience has the space to discuss what they have heard if events are to meet the TED aims of ‘spreading ideas that spark imagination, embrace possibility and catalyze impact.’
The event was well organised and made good use of the theatre space in the new School of Art building.
All TEDx talks are available to view on YouTube.
Main image: Professor David Glew.