There is no doubt that TED Talks are a modern phenomenon. What began in 1984 as a single conference showcasing Technology, Education, and Design is now a global franchise that embraces a variety of topics. The accessibility and popularity of TED has been attributed partly to TED.com, launched in 2006. Anyone with an Internet connection could access certain TEDTalks for free through the website, and later, through YouTube, Apple TV, and Netflix. TED Talks have become a part of modern popular culture.
The approach of the presentations has been analyzed in terms of their artful public speaking techniques but this fails to answer why they are so popular across diverse cultures and countries. Of course, TEDTalks by celebrities are a big draw because people want to hear what these famous personalities have to say and establish a connection with them. While celebrities may use TED to capitalize on their star power, often the most surprising and engaging talks are by those who aren’t famous but are willing to share their expertise, passion, and wisdom. What becomes evident is that they are not simply university-style lectures; they serve as personal manifestos for the speakers. A pattern that runs through the presentations is that they set out what the speaker has learned, their goals and ideals, and how they want to make the world better.
Based on the TED model, I believe that everyone can?and should?create their personal manifesto. The point of doing this is not for public performance and accolades, and of course not everyone has the inclination to record themselves either on video or by public speaking, but putting thoughts into words is a powerful tool to set goals and for setting intention in how to live a fuller life. After all, everyone has gained wisdom they’ve learned in the course of their life, regardless of the level of their formal education. The magic of TEDTalks does not need to remain only the domain of celebrities.
The first ingredient, then, of a personal manifesto is to brainstorm what you want to tell the world. A personal manifesto does not have to focus on one particular aspect; it can include several sections. A good beginning is to have a strong opening statement. But the “ingredients” of a personal manifesto can include answers to questions such as: What are your beliefs? What do you feel strongly about? What life lessons do you want to pass on? What is something intensely meaningful for you? What do you know for sure? What have you learned through the hard knocks of life? Other ideas for content might be: dealing with disappointment and failures, the kinds of risks are you willing to take, the causes would you like to champion, how you would like to treat your health?just to name a few. Remember, there is no singular and correct way to write a manifesto. It is a very personal, unique document that should reflect exactly who you are but it should be about the whole picture of you and not simply about your career, which is unlike the subjects of many TEDTalks. don’t allow yourself feel inferior because you don’t consider yourself to be an expert on anything. You are the expert of your own life.
The final section could incorporate practical ways about how you intend to put what you wrote into practice and the ideal picture of the way you want your life to look, both now and in the future. After all, a manifesto is ultimately a declaration, a code of conduct, and a call to action.
In terms of the actual writing style, initially it is important to simply put pen to paper, or just to start to type, without initial editing. But allowing some time to mull over what you’ve written and then edit, tweak, and change it is crucial to the process. Your subconscious might lead you to more items to include or aspects to change. While TED speakers are master storytellers, most people feel they are unable to compete on that level. What is important is to write with your own words and vocabulary without feeling that it must be embellished and polished into some literary masterpiece. What matters is that you have the confidence in your own wisdom and your own voice. Sometimes, the simplest words are the most powerful. You could perhaps use a quotation by others or phrase you’ve come across that is meaningful to you, but it is important to make your words the focus. There is no prescribed length, but it should not be pages of rambling explanation. The language should be bold, positive, and written mostly in the present tense with some future tense. Use lots of vibrant action words.
The best part of writing this document is that you do not have to let anyone else see it if you don’t want to. You can let it remain hidden in a private drawer or folded in your journal. You can say it out loud to yourself or with your pet cat as your audience. However, if you are artistic, you can make it beautiful by writing it out in calligraphy, illuminating it with drawings, or printing it out as a poster. Or, you can take a small section of your words and create a computer graphic from it similar to the way Internet memes are created and frame it on your wall to remind you of the entire document. Whatever form this takes, it is important to refer to it periodically. Consider it as a reflection of you as a work in progress. Just as reading a book or essay over the years might make you realize that your reaction is different from before, reading your manifesto in light of time passing and experiences lived might make you see that you are changing and evolving.
If you do want to use your manifesto in the spirit of TED, you could invite others to write their manifestos and read them out to each other in a safe setting. This is an intimate thing to do, but it might lead you to emotional connections and new perspectives in the same way that the best TEDTalks do.
The ultimate appeal of writing your manifesto, however, is not to highlight the eloquence or pedigree of us as a speaker or writer. It is the opportunity for us to get beyond our comfort zone and to go deep within ourselves to re-think our view of the sphere of influence in which we live, which might even inspire us in new ways to make a difference in the world. This is why TED does not just belong to those who are highly educated or have a pedigree in leadership. Everyone has the ability to harness the power of our stories. And that is definitely an idea worth spreading.
Carla watches TEDTalks while doing the ironing (her least-favourite chore). She would love to see TEDxAthabasca, where students, faculty and supporters of AU can present their ideas and learn from each other.