8 min read

TEDx Vancouver Review

Chan Centre TEDx Vancouver 2011
Where the magic happens…

To the camera man operating the camera boom arm at the event, I have one question for you:

What were you thinking blocking the video presentations for nearly half the audience? They are already on film…

Odd camera operating aside, let me start off by saying that I love attending speaking conferences but am terrible at meeting new people at them, something I need to work on. I still go because I always walk away with a few ideas and it often gives me a lot of fresh insight for writing. It’s a way to crash course your brain, think critically about some ideas out there, and I encourage everyone to get out to a TEDx event near them in the near future.

This is the second year in a row I’ve attended TEDx Vancouver, now in it’s third year. This was by far the largest event they’ve had at the Chan Centre out at the University of British Columbia. If you’ve never been to the Chan Centre it’s a beautiful venue, particularly for jazz and classical music, as the acoustics are near perfect, no matter where you sit. It was a day of wonderful presentations, but I won’t discuss the videos played (a stipulation of hosting a TEDx event) at length because you can click on the links and judge for yourself.

Before I get into the meat of it though, I do want to say this as hopefully constructive criticism. In a day when you are going to watch almost thirty different presentations, I want speakers to consider the following.

If your topic is truly inspirational I want to walk away feeling inspired, not darkly emotional or sad. How you deliver your message is just as important as the message itself.

Without naming names and embarrassing anyone, too often a few speakers twisted what were really great, feel good stories, into a dark and somewhat depressing feeling. I could only come to the conclusion that the delivery of that story, merely through things like tone, pace or inflection of voice, body language on stage and the mood of the audience, not the story itself was the reason behind this gut feeling I had most of the day.

I wanted to hear much more about the positive emotions you experienced after an accomplishment than the negative emotions you felt prior to the accomplishment, while many brought a tear or two to my eye, it was not the happy kind of tear I was looking for. The notable exception being Christopher Gaze, who made me laugh so hard, I cried. He really picked me up out of the funk I was experiencing as my emotions got the better of me and was a much needed break in the day.

I realize of course that not everyone is a professional public speaker, in fact having done some myself, public speaking is really hard, especially to an audience of 900, so this won’t be a critique of public speaking ability. Rather, this is a quick rundown of the speakers, and the few most important take-home messages I got from their presentation, particularly italicized.


Reid Gower

  • Reid is known for having created the Sagan Series, and his first video was a great way to start off the theme of this particular TEDx event, “The Frontier.”
  • Carl Sagan makes is incredibly obvious that human potential in near limitless and as we evolve, we develop more of our strengths and eliminate more of our weaknesses.
  • Human beings are incredibly adaptable.
  • There is no way we can survive by merely living up to the status quo, change is a necessity.
  • Today’s youth (especially through technology) need to form good opinions, and make stands on issues important to them.

Nolan Watson

  • “Compassion Kills” – because it motivates us to treat the symptoms of problems, not the true cause of things like poverty or famine or war conflicts.
  • I have for many years (particularly in the fitness and health care industry I work in) believed in the essence of this talk, we simply cannot continue catching fish for others, we must start teaching them to fish for themselves if we are to bring about real, lasting change.
  • I feel like this talk in particular was a great example of a Universal Truth I wrote about last week.

Seth Cooper

  • Games get a bad rap, but Seth has proved that games, and more notably, “gamers,” can help scientists solve very complex problems like protein folding.
  • Hundreds, maybe thousands of gamers came together to play a game that dealt with a problem that scientists have been working on for years, creating in essence the power of a hive mind, that no computer algorithms or processes could possibly solve (most likely due to a lack of creativity, present in the gamers) on their own.
  • Games aside, the take-home message I got from this talk was that we as human beings work better in cooperation, not necessarily competition, when we come together to do incredible things we make some serious progress.
  • The second take home message for me, supported a project I am working on right now, the fact that no matter how many calculations the worlds supercomputers can do, they must still rely on human intellect to a certain degree, so while I watch everyone in technology rush to figure out an algorithm solution to X problem, why aren’t we rushing to find ways to utilize human intellect in combination with computer processing power?

Jose Figueroa

  • There are some weird clauses and laws out there (even in a pretty developed country like Canada) that make very little to no sense

Shahrzad Rafati

  • The message behind her talk: Watch more good or meaningful TV/Video
  • First and foremost, Shahrzad is in the video business, so it makes sense for her to advocate this, but unfortunately I do not agree that we should be encouraging people to watch more TV, when some adults spend more than the equivalent of an entire working week, watching TV in some stats. At the same time I do not feel that video or TV is the enemy the that media labels it either. A little bit of quality TV, and educational video can go a long way to contributing valuable things to our every day lives and need not be eliminated entirely, but we shouldn’t advocate watching more either. What we should do is advocate a higher quality of video watching to people who are already watching vast amounts of TV.

As an additional side note on this topic, the amount of TV watching in North America has been linked to the obesity epidemic and when she put some stats up on the screen I was surprised to see it even higher than last I checked the stats. I was equally surprised then that she could get on stage to advocate that we spend even more time doing it, that just seemed like a strange thing to advocate to me. I think she was really trying to get at watching more quality TV, which I agree with. However I would say that we should focus our attention on getting people to read more, engage with others in social environments more, move more, cook more, work on meaningful projects more, and a slew of other things, well before we ever worry about telling them to watch more TV.

Kara Pecknold

  • “Ideas Worth Spreading,” is the tagline of TED, Kara advocated that ideas are a start, but they’re not enough, we need to take action on them (I agree)
  • She spoke about design mostly, and design as a process (For her it’s the 4’D’s; Discover -> Define -> Develop -> Deliver)
  • I think everything is a process, and the moment you skip steps (like in weight-loss or fitness), that’s when failures happen

Dr. Kate Moran

  • The ocean has been connected to the internet! 
  • Kate Moran is associated with the Neptune Project, and they are making some astounding discoveries about the ocean (which covers most of the earth and apparently is still about 97% undiscovered)

Christopher Gaze

  • Shakespeare is Everywhere! (See some of the many phrases we use today that are Shakespearean-isms)
  • I realize that Christopher is an actor and a performer, but I just had to say that he had a singular message that he stuck with in his delivery and this was the most enjoyable talk of the day for me. He took us on a roller-coaster ride of emotion from crowd involvement early on, to two Sonnets (by Shakespeare obviously…) and even found a way to tie The Beatles (Hard Day’s Night) into the end of one of them, leaving the audience in stitches. Well-Done!
  • I want to take some acting lessons with this man, so if you know him, or he happens to read this and is game in teaching, send me an email (darren@fitterhappierproductive.com)

Jer Thorp

  • The presentation of data (how you present…) can often be just as important as the data itself 
  • Jer uses graphs in design in very unique and interesting ways, and although he was all over the place through his work, the above message is what I took home. It was fascinating to see how many different visuals he had created using the same data and how different it felt based on presentation

Aaron Coret and Stephen Slen

  • Life throws you lemons, make lemonade
  • This is an inspirational story of a snowboarder who was paralyzed, but managed to find a way to stay in the world on snowboarding long after his injury and make a profound mark on the sport in an entirely different way. They built the landing pad, a piece of safety equipment that lets snowboarders try out plenty of high risk tricks without a high risk of injury. Great story, seriously.

Sean Aiken

  • Find your passion (which honestly, to me is really vague, and this presentation was a little vague too…)
  • Interesting story, the 1 week job challenge, so I wish he told more stories about his experiences out there working fifty-two different jobs in one year
  • Although he didn’t really touch on this directly, it was the first thing that popped into my head during his presentation. This is a quote that a client told me years ago that has stuck with me ever since, “it doesn’t matter what you choose to do in life, choose to be the best at it.”

Jai’ Aquarian & Erin Marci

  • It’s hard to build a ten-story structure out of wood, on an acre of land, in the middle of the desert, in terrible weather conditions, and then burn it to the ground
  • These two people were involved in building the temple for last year’s Burning Man Festival, which is an interesting feat, but I must say that I wish there was a really obvious idea here, not just a good story.

Victor Lucas

  • Don’t Be a Dick
  • Don’t Dick Around
  • Don’t hang out with Dicks
  • This was essentially a letter to his unborn child (whom he found out after writing this, will be a girl, which is kinda funny), and I think it was my second favourite physical talk of the day.
  • It’s pretty good advice I would say, and a good way to finish the day with something a little more light-hearted and sentimental.


Marcin Jakubowski – Open Source Blueprints for Civilization

Charlie Todd – Causing a Scene with Improv Everywhere (Hilarious…)

David Gallo – Underwater Astonishments

Mark Bezos – A Life Lesson From a Firefighter

Matt Cutts – Try Something New for 30 Days