Meet the TEDxFrome dream team! Dawn Denton who holds the licence for TEDxFrome is 49 and originally from South Africa. She is a trained teacher and also a European tour guide. Since Covid, Dawn has been supporting small business owners online with their social media content creation as well as setting up TEDxFrome.
Nicola Tanner is 54 and is Dawn’s righthand TEDx woman. She has lived in Japan and the AUE and was in Singapore for 13 years before returning to the UK and settling in Frome. She is a career change coach and author and coaches and supports TEDxFrome applicants. Dawn and Nicola met around two years ago at a Frome community meeting.
If you would like to apply for a TEDx Talk Frome, please email: TEDxFrome@mail.com
Sue: It seems to me that TEDx talks fit beautifully into what it means to be living consciously for a better world. Dawn, what inspired you to set up TEDxFrome?
Dawn: For me, every single person on this planet has a story. But people are very quick to judge before they know who a person is, what they’re about, where they come from and how they live in the world. Even politicians, for example, are someone’s father and someone’s child but we seem to forget this! It really upsets me that we don’t know the full picture of who people really are. I believe every one of us has something incredibly valuable to share with the world. The problem is that we don’t believe it. We’re all guilty of that. So setting up TEDxFrome was an opportunity for me to help people raise their confidence, and also to recognise that what’s going on in their lives is important too; they have all this knowledge, experience and ideas, which are incredibly special and valuable.
Sue: Nicola, what gave you such enthusiasm to come on board with Dawn?
Nicola: I’ve been a TED fan for a number of years and I’m really passionate about young people finding their path in life. I found TED Talks to be a great vehicle because most of them really inspire me, and I saw how they inspired other people as well. Becoming involved with TEDxFrome sparked off a lot of ideas in my head. As Dawn says, Frome is a small town, but there’s a lot of really interesting people living here. People step up and take action on things. There are quite a few young people willing to challenge the status quo too. The attitude is, ‘Okay, this is a problem. Let’s find a solution to it.’ I’m very solution focused in my work, so I found the whole TEDx thing really exciting and I want to enable people to tell their stories.
Sue: But this isn’t just about the local community. I understand that TEDx talks are open to anyone?
Dawn: Yes, TED events have speakers from around the world, irrespective of where they are from. The same is for any TEDx Talks. Anybody can apply from anywhere. The actual name of the place is whether a particular TEDx event is based and where the event will happen. So, it’s doesn’t actually focus on the local community as such. I really like that because you don’t want the same people who are always out there doing stuff. It’s good to inspire people from a little bit further afield to come and share their idea with us, because we can perhaps take on those ideas and make them a reality.
Sue: Can you explain the difference between a TED Talk and a TEDx Talk?
Nicola: TEDx Talks are independent events organised by local people, not by the main TED Talk organisation.
Sue: I also understand that TEDx licences have to tie into an over-arching criterion, for instance, the annual TEDWomen event. So, some TEDx Talks are organised specifically around this.
Dawn: Yes, there is a criterion to follow for the licence. For example, some TEDx licences focus on Women or Education or there’s one for Business. So, you have slightly different regulations to keep within their branding. For TEDxFrome, we have a general licence, which means we can independently organise a TEDx event, but within TED guidelines.
Sue: How are you managing the social distancing issue? I guess you can’t put on an actual event where people speak to an audience.
Dawn: No, we can’t at the moment. TED Talks are always up to eighteen minutes in length in front of a live audience. We have the licence until 2nd April 2021, so we will be putting on a live event, Covid permitting and fingers crossed, during March next year. In the meantime, because so many people felt they wanted to remain engaged, we are offering Food for Thought weekly events live online to build our TEDx community. We have shortened the content to around eight minutes per event and are putting on a mixture of talks, interviews and panel discussions, which are all about spreading good ideas. We believe these shorter online events are just as impactful as a normal length TEDx talk.
Sue: Are other TEDx organisers doing a similar thing?
Dawn: Some are, but some are choosing not to do anything because they prefer to wait for their live event to take place. But I do know that many TEDx organisers around the world are trying to keep people engaged and motivated.
Sue: It’s such a simple yet brilliant idea to provide a space for people who are really fired up to do a TEDx Talk. But, as I know myself, it’s scary even to apply!
Nicola: Our job is about helping people to believe in themselves and to build their confidence. It may be as simple as helping them to change their view from ‘I can’t do it,’ to ‘Okay, I can do this.’ But that’s what we are here for.
Sue: I understand you need to set a theme for TEDxFrome. What have you chosen?
Nicola: We haven’t chosen a theme yet, because we’re still finalising the details for our live event. Dawn and I have really enjoyed the fact that we’ve been open to pretty much anything initially. Both of us have been so inspired by the people who have come forward. It’s really exciting and heart-warming to see them blossoming.
We didn’t have to do the on-line programme. But it’s been great to be able to give people opportunities who would not necessarily have had the confidence straightaway to give a talk. We are really passionate about helping people develop their ideas and we both believe that everyone has a story to tell and we’re really excited about helping to bring those stories to life through these shorter online events.
Sue: How do you help people to develop their stories?
Dawn: The first step is inviting people who express an interest in the shortened online speaker session, where we give them guidelines. This often helps them flip their idea into whether they want to present a talk, take part in an interview or join a panel discussion. For us, it’s about an idea that really inspires us. And, Nicola provides the feedback.
Nicola: I am a coach by profession. So, I use my coaching skills. But I think it really depends on each individual. A lot of people do have a lot of ideas. It’s about reassuring them and encouraging them to pick one of those ideas and to focus in on that. This doesn’t mean they couldn’t do another TEDx Talk in future. But they do need to pick one idea at a time! Mostly, I just tweak things or make suggestions to simplify their message.
I’ve got a couple of meetings coming up with some people who are still unsure of their topic. So those are going to be a bit more challenging. But in the main, most people need the reassurance that their idea is worth spreading. For me, it’s about bringing something of themselves into it that’s really important. Yes, TEDx Talks are about an idea worth spreading, but they are also about that personal experience which makes the talk come alive.
Sue: So, it’s really about supporting people to become the best self they can possibly be.
Dawn: Yes, that’s right. When you think about the population of the planet, there’s a very small percentage of people who naturally say, ‘I’ll stand up on stage and talk!’ Public speaking is a problem for a lot of people. But the idea behind TED is that you have an idea that needs to get out there. The world needs to know what you’re thinking about. You may not have the confidence yet, but we help and support you to gain that confidence.
Originally, TED was a very elitist experience. Only wealthy people could go to the TED conferences. When Chris Anderson took over, he said, ‘No, this needs to be available for everyone free online.’ ‘Why would you make it free?’ he was asked by many people because it was viewed as a very poor business decision. But look how it’s grown into such a successful global organisation!
Sue: Is this a commercial enterprise for you?
Dawn: No. As a licence holder, I’m not allowed to do a TEDx Talk because it’s not about me. It’s about the licence and about the ideas. The only financial situation will be when we look for sponsorship. We need sponsors to be able to pay for things like the theatre and a videographer. But, if we’re not going to be able to put on a live event, where we can also sell tickets, we still need sponsorship for an online event because apart from our time, we have a lot of marketing and zoom expenses. So, it’s something that we need to look at. But we may decide we’re happy to just keep it really simple and not go down the sponsorship route. It just depends on how the idea evolves.
Sue: It sounds as if this is all about heart and a passionate belief that TEDxFrome is really right for the world.
Dawn: Yes, ideas can transform the world.
Nicola: I find the whole thing very exciting. We got invited onto a zoom call the other day with other TEDx organisers around the UK because TED Countdown is coming [This is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis]. We’re involved with this as well. I felt as if I am part of something that’s really important – and it’s global. No-ones making money from this. We’re doing it because we’re passionate about bringing ideas out.
Sue: Yes, I think we all need to have a sense of belonging at the moment. We’re living through such weird times. And certainly, I think that’s what TED does, doesn’t it? It gives you a feeling of connection and community – that you’re doing something to make this world a better place.
Dawn: Absolutely. I think if we all did a little thing, even just sharing our idea – and because it’s not a rant, it’s not a negative thing – if we could do that, and give people the platform to do it, then I think the world will be a very different place.
Sue: What happens during your weekly events. Where do they take place?
Dawn: They are live streamed on Facebook and then we put them on You Tube as a TEDx short form digital programme talks. When we run our live event with an audience, we can’t live stream the talks because we have to get special permission or that. So, we will record them on zoom, and then send them to TED. They then choose who to put on their website.
If you think about it, there’s now over 3000 TED Talks online, many of them are TEDx Talks, which aren’t big events with people like Barrack Obama. These are local events for just normal, everyday people who have an idea to share and they are getting millions of hits on the TED website. So, if you want your idea to have some legs, it’s the perfect place for it! Even though this is not a promotional thing – because it’s not – it does raise your profile. If your idea is amazing, people will take notice.
Sue: Yes, A good idea does catch fire and I guess it can change people’s lives.
Nicola: Hopefully, yes.
Sue: Do you want to continue to hold the TEDxFrome licence for years to come?
Dawn: I would love to. I would absolutely love to, because I think it’s something that will grow, and it’s become part of my life now. Actually, being without it would be like living without a limb and I am happy to continue with it for as long as everybody else wants to be a part of it. I want to grow a team.
It would be lovely to have an in-person event in the next licence. If lockdown lifts by next spring, we can have it early in the licence and then continue with our other shorter events if we want to. But all of this is evolving. I know TEDx London has 250 people on their team, because it’s such a big event. But as a licence holder, we can only have 100 people in the room. To have a bigger TEDx event, the licence holder has to attend a big TED conference to see how it work. Then you can invite more people into the room. So that would be my next goal.
Sue: What’s your vision around TEDxFrome, Nicola?
Nicola: I’m just really enjoying it. I can’t imagine my life without it either. It’s just been such a fantastic experience. It’s not a way to make money, but it’s definitely a way to learn to be inspired. And to give back to the community as well. We’re both getting so much out of it.
Dawn: For me personally, it’s about the skills I am able to expand on and it’s about leadership. Sometimes is about taking on a leadership role whether it’s obvious or it’s just in the community. It’s about helping people grow.
Sue: It feels like a new form of leadership, where the leadership is from the front and well as from behind. As a coach, how do you see it Nicola?
Nicola: It’s definitely not leadership in the sense of, ‘This is the way to go.’ It’s more about enrolling people into an idea and listening to them and involving them in that process. It’s more of a collaboration. That’s the only style of leadership I’m interested in. I’m not a sergeant major type of leader.
Dawn: For me, the definition of leadership is not the tradition. Leadership is the person who takes action and becoming the go-to person for something. I often get, ‘I am so glad you did this. I have often thought about doing it but didn’t.’ So, it’s now about, ‘Well, I’ve done it, so here we go!’ We’ll give you the push so you can shine. But someone has to do it in the first place and take the leadership role to give people this push.
Sue: There doesn’t seem to be much cohesion in our communities. There’s lots of things happening but they tend to be separate things. These TEDx Talks bring people together because everyone can be involved on some level in spreading an idea. I believe that raises consciousness.
Dawn: There’s a saying in Africa called Ubuntu. It means ‘I am because we are.’ I love that because this is what TEDx Talks is all about.
Nicola: I trained for many years as a solution focused coach, and for me this is more than just a skills-set because it’s more a perspective on the world. The one thing I find really difficult at the moment is the news. So I avoid it most of the time and I subscribe to a magazine called Positive News. So for me it’s about looking at the seeds for solutions. That’s why I believe TEDx is a vehicle which really supports this.
Sue: It feels to me that TEDx Talks can make people’s dreams come true. So many of our ideas go down the plug hole, but TEDx picks it up and says, ‘Look this is an opportunity to come forward with this.’ It’s incredibly inspiring for people to know they have somewhere to go with their idea.
Nicola: Yes, we need to hear those ideas. The whole world needs ideas because from those ideas will come change and growth. Without them, we are missing so much.
Sue: The issue for me was I always thought TEDx Talks were beyond me. They were unreachable and intimidating. I had no idea how to go about applying for a TEDx talk anyway. So, what’s your message to everyone out there?
Nicola: Yes, it’s scary, but it’s worth it! If you’re not ready to give a talk but up for being interviewed about your idea, that’s the first stepping-stone. That’s what we’ve been so excited about – offering a pathway. You don’t need to be ready to do the whole thing yet, but you can try out your ideas.
Dawn: This is why I want more people to apply for TEDx licenses. Imagine if we had 500 in Somerset! It would give the opportunity for 500 platforms for 500 different ideas. Multiply that by 52 weeks over the year, as we are doing, and that’s incredible opportunities.
I also wanted it because it’s not TEDx London, Sydney or Vienna. It’s Frome! Its where normal people live, and normal people can contribute and share. And it’s about having the confidence that your idea is worth spreading. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s an amazing idea that you know the world needs. Then it’s not out of reach because we’ve got it in Frome and we also make it available online – and every single person who is applying now with get the opportunity to speak in these shorter events and we will help them with that. So, if we think you would be better with an interview to get you to the next step, we will suggest this. But also, we have a TEDx speaker who has given a talk on stage in Vienna, who wanted to be interviewed. So, what you need and where you are and what your idea is, here’s a platform. That’s what it’s about.
Sue: How do you choose who is going to be a speaker at your main event?
Dawn: There’s an application process and the content will be curated according to our theme. I don’t want to be involved in the application process so I would like to get someone in from outside to go through the auditions and make the selections for us. That way we are separate from it and then we will coach those people who are chosen. For example, Emma Stroud who is a speaking coach had to be coached herself on how to deliver her talk in a TED style. Her hilarious talk is, ‘Be More Banana!’
Sue: Is there any else either of you would like to add about how TEDx is helping to make this a better world?
Nicola: I remember in school thinking what I needed to do was to work hard, get good exam results and that was the secret to a successful life. I was really disappointed when it didn’t work out like that. What I wish had been emphasised in school was to develop that skill of being able to share your ideas because it’s so powerful in life. You can go through your whole life without developing that skill – but it’s never too late to start.
Dawn: I’m always surprise when people say they have never heard of TED Talks. It’s amazing when something is in your world and you can’t understand why people don’t know about it. For people who don’t know what it is, EXPLORE!
I watch a TED Talk every day while I am cooking. They are also available on podcasts now, which are slightly different from the TED Talks. But for me it about confidence – whether that’s public speaking or being interviewed – it’s the confidence about what you can give the world. When I was teaching, I made my students take their assessments with public speaking, which killed them! But it gave them an opportunity – one day their boss will get them to stand up in a meeting. And it’s about feedback, and panic and sweaty palms. So, it’s the skill of being able to share what you have. And, you don’t have to be the greatest speaker in the world. You can just be an ordinary person with an amazing idea and the world needs to know it.