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Religious Freedom Today
Religious Freedom Today


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How to give a TED like Talk
Author: Giovanna Abbiati

Presentation for the X Professional Seminar of Communication Faculty of Church Communication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

I will talk about TED and the TED talks and their meaning in today's world.

Let me first underscore that I am not a TED speaker, and that I don't work for TED. However, I know the organization well, and some of its leaders, because I have organized and curated the only TED-related event that has ever taken place at a Vatican’s theatre, TEDxViaDellaConciliazione in 2013. TEDx events are a sort of franchise of TED, and I organized the event independently from the TED team. Still, it gave me a lot of insight into what this global phenomenon is, how it works, and why it represents a useful way to think about storytelling and impact in a modern, networked world, including from the perspective of the Church.

So, first, what is TED?
TED is a nonprofit organization based in New York, but active globally, that has given itself the mission to spread great ideas.

Yes, ideas. Intended as knowledge, information, experience, insights, wisdom.

Most people know TED through its popular TEDTalks, which are videos distributed online, through many websites and apps, to audiences of millions.
These videos typically feature someone talking about subjects such as technology, science, global affairs, climate, poverty, activism, economy, culture, design, art, and, yes, also moral issues. They are very recognizable because the talks are well-prepared, and the production values are high -- and there is a big TED logo on the background and a red carpet under the speakers' feet.

These talks are given at one of the many conferences that TED organizes throughout the year. The main annual event takes place every Spring in Vancouver, Canada, over a full week. It is attended by about 1700 people, a very high-level audience, which pays a lot of money to attend. Over the course of the week, about 100 people talk, and their talks are filmed, and then disseminated for free, often with subtitles in dozens of languages, for everyone to enjoy.

Yes, there is something interesting in the fact that the ideas shared from the stage of a very exclusive and expensive conference are then disseminated for free for anyone to watch and use. That's the hybrid model that TED has found to finance its activity: the people attending the Vancouver conference, and those attending several other events that TED organizes every year, know that their money is also subsidizing the dissemination of those ideas to the world.

Since it started releasing its talk online, TED has become the world's largest platform for discovering ideas and knowledge in a high-quality, accessible format.

Wired magazine calls it "a global movement flooding the globe with big ideas". The Economist calls it "the great global ideas machine".
I like to call this global phenomenon, the new VIDEOPEDIA online for culture and ideas, an Academy of free knowledge, whose mission is to make those ideas accessible to the largest number of people.
And the numbers are there: over two million people a day watch a TEDTalk. Two billion in one year.
Talks such as this one, about the Sistine Chapel from Elizabeth Lev ,one of the Vatican art historian, ( a speaker at TEDxViadellaConciliazione).

TED is a constellation of other events such as TEDGlobal, TEDYouth, TEDWomen. And it has a series of initiatives: a Fellowship, to bring young promising people into their community; a TEDBook series, to extend in print the ideas of the speakers; a TED Education program, to create videos for teaching, and to introduce kids to the art of public speaking; and many more.

The largest of these initiatives is the one of which I've been part: TEDx. Let me spend a few sentences on this, because it is truly a remarkable phenomenon. TEDx was started in 2009 because, after discovering TEDTalks online, many people started asking the organizers whether they would consider organizing a TED event in their city or country. For a moment, the TED team answered "no", but, as one of their directors told me, "no is never a good answer to someone animated by interest for learning about ideas". So they developed a different approach: they would allow any individual or groups of individuals, on a volunteer basis, to organize local events under the name TEDx plus the location -- therefore TEDxViaDellaConciliazione. In Rome there are a few more, such as TEDxRoma and TEDxTrastevere, for instance.

The events must be modeled of course on the TED approach and format: short talks, well-prepared, focused on ideas -- not on, say, promoting a commercial product. Filmed and then made accessible to anyone, for free, on the Internet.

In order to organize a TEDx events, organizers such as myself need to obtain a formal license, which is free and allows them to use the brand and the format, but of course comes with guidelines and rules to be respected. I'm told that about 60% of the requests for licenses are turned down. Still, the TEDx phenomenon has grown very fast, and there are currently about 3000 TEDx events per year in over 170 countries. This means 3000 communities of people gathering to listen to experts in many fields share their knowledge, freely and openly. This happens in a theatre in Via della Conciliazione as well as at the Sidney Opera House, in beautiful theatres in Amsterdam and Madrid, as well as in huts in the African slum of Kibera, in a stadium in Buenos Aires with 10'000 people, in prisons, in schools and universities, on a mountain peak in Trentino as well as down in a mine several hundred meters underground in Kiruna, Sweden. The TEDx phenomenon is an amazing community of people committed to thinking of the future of the world and sharing knowledge and ideas about it.
It is worth mentioning that all this was created by the TED team in just 10 years.

So, that is TED, or at least part of it, because I could keep going and talk about the TED Institute, the TED Ideas magazine, TEDStories, or many other initiatives that are also part of the constellation of TED.

But what I really want to say at this point is that TED tells us a lot about gaining in today's attention competition. It has found a very effective way to attract the attention of viewers without resorting to cat videos on youtube, but actually sharing the knowledge of some of the most relevant thinkers and doers in today's world.

Just to give you a sense of these TEDx events, this is the video that is shown at the beginning of each of them. It's less than two minutes long, so let me show it in full:


Now, if you allow me, I would like to add some thoughts about TED from the perspective of the Catholic Church.

TED and Catholic Church have a lot in common. They are welcoming, cherful, friendly and universal. They transmit knowledge and education, distilling difficult concepts in accessible formulas and firmly believing in the positive force and dignity of every human being giving a strong sense of identity and community.

So why TED and the Catholic Church teaching together?

TED telles us a lot about the lost and ancient art of sotytelling. Old and wise men sitting around the fire and passing on the young generation knowledges and experience, giving them education and memory. The old not speaking from the pulpit but together in a context of a relationship.
Above all with No distinction between culture that is passed on in higher forms and culture that is transmitted in popular forms -

I firmly think that the Church should re-appropriate what naturally belongs to her. Return and sit again around the fire, be back in the community and tell its message in simple form, above all share the immense cultural heritage of the Catholic Church in all form of communications and of art today available.
Above all with no distinction between the product of a “secular culture " with the product of a Christian culture. It is knowledge for human advantage and it is worth spreading.

At this point I would like to present the 10 Commandements for a TED like talk. There is not a perfect formula. Talks are all different but they have one key common ingredient: you are going to give your audience a gift…an idea, a message, something that will help you to understand the world, to inspire your action.The responsability is big.

1. Dream big. Tell something the audience will remember forever. We have catholic heros that are worth knowing. Their ideas have changed the world! Many of them are living today.

2. Make the complex simple. Start from a good script bearing in mind that an oral presentation is different from a written presentation. Limit your talk on a major idea. Audience need unity to understand. Explain! Give examples. Be specific. Don’t speak in abstractions. Tell stories instead.

3. Connect with people’s emotions. Be dramatic, be authentic. If you have an emotion make the emotion visible through movements, expressions, pauses and tones. An actor told me: don’t be flat like a carpet, change tone according to the importance of your message.

4. Don’t read your talk and possibly don’t talk from the pulpit. Memorize. Read your talk over and over untill it becomes yours second nature.

5. Use hyperbole and metaphor . These are the most extrordinary expression technics. Use familiar concepts: use the language the audience understand not your language.We have the greatest exemple: the Bible. The Bible is written in narrative form, not in an intellectual style. The secret is bringing images. We have great, symbols, figures, and parables.

6. Give the people a reason to care. If you want to build something in the mind of a person, you need the permission to welcome you in. The main tool to achieve that is: Curiosity. Stir the audience with intriguing questions, reveal, shift the paragdim.

7. End your talk on time. It is respectful for the audience and for the speakers that will follow.

8. Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted audience … We CAN mesure impact. Let’s think of homelies on sundays mass by the tens of thousands of priests in the world. What is the real impact of the homilies? Are impact of homelies ever been measured? If we can measure it , we can improve it . Even Pope Francis in the Evangelium Gaudium invites us to do so .

9. Avoid too many quotes . It is like to give the final solution. You have to activate the process of learning, give the audience the 2+2 not the 4.

10. Avoid clichés (share a childhood story, reveal a personal experience, inspiring call of action…those devices appear emotionally manipulative). Don’t preach. Preaching is not about morality…but it is about the attitude of I have you don’t have, I know you don’t know. We walk together.

To conclude I will leave you with one question and one idea… that, may be, is worth spreading.

Wouldn’t it be great to have the voice of the Pope and one of the issues dear to his heart , the church of the poor, the emergency of the excluded, climate change etc…to have a global reach also trough the TED platform and community?
The idea:
There are 2 billions school age individuals living in the world today. This is the largest number in history. That’s billions of courious souls! They will be on the Internet or in mobile phones more and more and this is not going to change.…so I have a dream. One big gathering, one catholic online Platform, à la TED, a platform of free thinking and exchanges, to give voice of all the life and the initiatives of the Church, to share the cultural heritage of Christianity, to spread the ideas of the catholic social teaching…a catholic VIDEOpedia with talks given in a high quality, accessible format for everyone to use and share.

I think it could be a cultural shock in today’s world.

I tried to do so in 2013 with TEDxViadellaConciliazione.
May be it is worth continuing.

Elizabeth Lev, “The unheard story of the Sistine Chapel”,

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#PapaFrancesco parla al #TED2017 di Vancouver: il futuro è soltanto insieme (il video è da guardare tutto).

Per noi che abbiamo organizzato #TEDxViaDellaConciliazione #TEDxVDC una grande soddifazione e gioia!

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It's available the video of Alicia Vacas on TEDx Talks!

Alicia Vacas is a Comboniani missionary nurse and Sister. She now lives and works in Bethany (Jerusalem Est) in front of the Israeli separation wall. Her time is divided between assisting communities on the periphery of Jordan and Jerusalem, who are rejected by both Palestinians and Israelis, and the Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights. She fights against human trafficking, which occurs in the Sinai Peninsula. She was one of the few allowed to collect data following the January-February 2009 Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. She was part of a team that presented the resulting report to the United Nations and the European Parliament.

Crusader of Peace: Alicia Vacas at TEDxViadellaConciliazione

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Domani L'Auditorium di Via della Conciliazione ospiterà l'evento #TEDxVDC. Si tratterà il fondamentale tema della libertà religiosa, attraverso speech, ma anche rappresentazioni musicali e artistiche. Siete tutti invitati!

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un estratto della conferenza stampa del #TEDxVDC  

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