by Greg Volz
A woman standing on the stage in a stylised 1950s bathing suit and cap told the audience about the joys of water ballet. A radio announcer and self-confessed maths geek tried to convince the crowd that prime numbers are sexy. The creator of a garage sale trail in Bondi talked about how the idea has exploded across Australia.
These were just some of the contestants in TED talent search, held recently in Sydney.
“Rumour has it that ideas know no boundaries,” Chris Anderson told the audience. Mr Anderson is the world-wide curator of TED, a global series of speaking conferences.
TED, which stands for Technology, Education and Design, began life as a one-off conference in Silicon Valley in 1984. The recent Sydney event was one of many now held annually to foster ‘ideas worth spreading”, as Mr Anderson described it.
TED became famous with the development of TED Talks. These were speeches from the conferences that began appearing on-line in 2006. They quickly went viral and by 2011 had been viewed over 500 million times.
The global talent quest was the latest innovation.
“There will be something like 2000 TED events held in the world this year,” Mr Anderson said. “So why not open up the search for amazing speakers as well.”
The contest ran for three hours, with 20 contestants given six minutes each to present. All talks were filmed and will be posted on line at the end of June.
The Australian event licensee was Remo Guiffre, retail entrenpreneur.
He said the talent search aimed “to source and seek out the fresh and relatively undiscovered talent from all over the globe, presenting them with the opportunity to take the main stage at TED in Long Beach (USA) in 2013”.
A vocal audience of around 300 got into the spirit of things, cheering their favourites with a number of standing ovations. Many were familiar with TED talks.
“I just stumbled on them. They were on the wife’s iPod years and years ago,” said audience member Jeff Gilbert, the owner of an agricultural science magazine. “There’s a soil scientist here today. But I’m interested in all of them.”
Well known contestants included ABC radio announcer Adam Spencer, who entertained the crowd as he described his love of maths and, in particular, prime numbers.
The bathing suit and cap belonged to screenwriter Pip Hall. She told the story of the creation of the Wet Hot Beauties, a water ballet company that grew out of a simple idea to bring joy to people.
Music conductor Michael Gill received a standing ovation after leading the audience in a sing-along to demonstrate the power of music.
While some contestants were approached by the organisers to appear, others won a place through a series of preliminary events.
“I applied on line,” said Rebekah Campbell, a successful music band manager turned technology entrepreneur. “I made my little one minute video and then had an email about three weeks ago, saying I’d got in.”
As Remo Giuffre said, “They only really knew they were speaking 10 days ago.”
Rebekah’s talk described taking her recipe for making hit songs and applying it to technology start-up companies.
For Daryl Nichols, founder of Bondi’s garage sale trail, participating in the talent quest was an opportunity to share ideas on a global scale.
“It’s really about trying to make positive pressure for environmental change,” he said. “We’re really excited to be working to bring the program to some overseas places.”
Daryl’s talk described how the garage sale trail began as an idea to get old junk off the streets. He said it had grown from a one day affair in Bondi with 126 garage sales, to an Australia wide event involving 150,000 people.
For some audience members, it was simply the power of the story that created the lasting impression. Jeff Gilbert was impressed by Chantelle Baxter who told how she founded non-profit organisation One Girl, helping local women distribute sanitary pads in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
“Mate, that was so impressive,” Jeff said. “It’s just one of those things that was a ‘win win’ story.”
Chris Anderson said he was “tickled pink” with the event. “It’s kind of amazing to travel the world to see presentations of this quality in Sydney,” he said.
Sydney was one of 14 global cities hosting a talent contest. The public can vote for the top 50 talks when they are posted on line at TED.com, at the end of June.