Started as a four-day conference in California nearly 30 years ago, TED has evolved into one of the world’s most renowned events, dedicated to supporting “ideas worth spreading”. The world’s leading thinkers are each given 18 minutes to talk about a diverse set of topics, and the conference boasts a star lineup of past speakers, including Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Isabel Allende, Philippe Starck, and Bill Clinton.
TED first reached Greece in 2009, and quickly took the audience by storm. After numerous conferences, the Greek audience will be introduced to a new TED event; TEDxKids@Ilissos, the first TEDx event in Greece dedicated entirely to children. Maria Angelopoulou, the organizer and curator of the conference, discusses the idea behind its creation and what the audience can expect on December 12th.
Q. The Greek public has embraced TED conferences in the past, but this is the first time we see such an event for kids. What is the purpose of TEDxKids@Ilissos and what was it that motivated you to create it?
Fresh ideas, people conversing and getting to know each other
A. The story of TEDxKids@Ilissos started about a year ago. I worked as an elementary school teacher, but I had decided to follow a different career path. At that time, I was pursuing a Masters degree in Human Resources Management at the Athens University of Economy and Business, where I worked as a volunteer for the TEDx event of the university and got to see first-hand how much of a life changing experience it can be. Fresh ideas, people conversing and getting to know each other… It is against this backdrop that the idea for a TEDxKids event bringing together all those who share a true interest in children was conceived. We aspire to become the “little brother” of the Greek TEDx community, and to bring together parents, children, educators, schools, NGOs, scientists, artists and businesses making products for children. All these groups have much more in common than one could imagine.
Q. Where did the theme for this year’s event, “Once upon a time”, originate?
A. Our goal was to make the first TEDxKids in Greece seem magical. The «Once Upon a Time» theme makes our mind wander to fairy tales that come true. Adults tend to believe that fairy tales are addressed exclusively to children. They forget that stories are immensely powerful, and have the ability to make our minds wander to distant places, to inspire, to take the everyday stress away, to teach or to motivate. We will delve into such magical stories, and learn how we can make our life look like a dreamy fairy tale.
Q. What happens during this daylong conference, and how would you describe the audience experience to someone who has never been to a TEDx event before?
Learn how we can make our life look like a dreamy fairy tale
A. TEDxKids@Ilissos will have the pleasure to welcome 100 spectators, and take them on a trip to the magical world of fairy tales. Both children and adults take up the role of speakers, with a common focus on the exchange of ideas worth spreading for kids. People with a background in areas such as technology, enterntainment, education, entrepreneurship and art will share their own inspirational stories and experiences. In parallel with those talks, throughout the entire event, there will be amazing workshops for children from 6 to 12 years old. TEDx events look nothing like typical conferences, since they are full of innovation, inspiration and smiles. The uniqueness in TEDx lies in the fact that the talks are brief, dynamic and filled with humor. The conference lasts all day, and the breaks are long so that attendees have a chance to discuss with each other and rest. Upon departure from the event, everyone will have listened to inspiring stories, met new people, exchanged opinions and joined a global community.
Q. The TEDx speakers have very different backgrounds. How do you find them, and what kind of traits are you looking for in a speaker?
A. Inspired talks lie at the core/are the heart of each and every TEDx event. TEDxKids@Ilissos will feature both adult and child speakers, who will open up about their personal stories and the ideas that changed their life. Our speakers were selected through a creative brainstorming session of the orginizational team; Each one of us came up with some ideas about topics we wanted to discuss at the event. After voting on the topics that interested us the most, we embarked on a process of researching suitable speakers. The basis of our research was identifying people who had something truly new to bring to the table, people who can surprise you with the work they do and their passion, people who can inspire you. They are not necessarily the most well-known in their respective fields. They are people who love children and win you over with their smile. The selection process for child speakers was even more difficult. Children rarely attempt to be on the spotlight, so we had to use our personal networks. We spoke with friends, colleagues, people who work with children. We did a lot of research to find children who would share their stories with our audience, and we are proud to have made it after all. Admittedly, the speaker selection process was the most challenging part! As soon as you start looking, you realize there are a lot of people out there doing great work. Unfortunately, though, you can’t squeeze everything into one event. We have saved a lot of great ideas for next year!
Q. TEDxKids aims to illustrate that the voices of youth are as influential and wise as those of adults. Can you share with us one of your favorite youth speaker talks from previous TEDx events that you find particularly inspiring?
Inspired talks are the heart of each and every TEDx event
A. Adults tend to often underestimate children. If we allowed them some space to express themselves, we would be left speechless by the clarity of their thought, their honesty and the way they can come up with simple solutions to complex issues. One of the talks that I adore is the one by Jacob Barnett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uq-FOOQ1TpE. Autism, special needs, disabilities and learning difficulties at large, remain taboo topics for the Greek society. Jacob is a unique child, a mathematical genius. However, any child can overcome what others see as a “problem” and discover his or her own strengths. Quite often, these are children with special skills, who need support in order to let their personality shine and reach their full potential. Children who, if provided with proper guidance, can surprise us with all that they can accomplish. At TEDxKids@Ilissos, we are very much aware of all this. We have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that the space is accessible to people with mobility disabilities. Moreover, all talks will be translated in real-time in the Greek sign language, the admission price will be lower for people with special needs, and there will be a special workshop aiming to familiarize children with disabilities and what they mean.
Q. TEDxKids@Ilissos has been in the works for a while now. What were the main challenges you had to overcome to make it happen?
A. TEDxKids@Ilissos has been in the works for several months. It is commonly known that this is a voluntary, not for profit effort; As a result, we work on the conference in our spare time, at night, at weekends, during our holiday breaks. Our initial goal was to schedule the event in the fall. However, the political and financial developments that took place over the summer put the event on hold. Referendums, capital controls, talks about Europe and a possible Grexit forced us to postpone the conference. A lot of our supporters cancelled our collaboration, while talks with others simply froze. Despite the difficult situation the country is in, we decided we had to persist. In times of hardship, we need to remain active, engaged, dynamic and optimistic. Especially when it comes to planning an event for children, it is impossible to not be optimistic! The situation had stabilized by fall, and that is when we found collaborators who shared our positive outlook and managed to continue our preparations for the conference.
Q. TEDx talks are sometimes described as an intellectual adrenaline rush. What do you think is so incredibly appealing about them, and what outcomes do you hope for in Greece?
A. The greatest strength of TEDx talks lies in their brevity. Every speaker is up for 18-20 minutes, and aims to share an innovative idea. The speeches employ simple, every day language, humor, and the element of surprise. People from various scentific fields co-exist in a single event, sharing their ideas with the goal to inspire the audience.
In times of hardship, we need to remain active, engaged, dynamic and optimistic
The Greek audience has turned out to be particularly active, and has embraced the TEDx initiative. The last few years, a lot of TEDx events have taken place throughout the country and Greeks have become active members of a global community. So, this is the time for the next step; listening to interesting speeches and clapping at the end is no longer enough. We need to move on to the next stage, and see how each we can make use of everything we hear in our daily lives, collaborate with people we have met and follow the example set by some TEDx speakers. Ideas can change the world, as long as each one of us makes an effort and starts from changing his own environment. My hope is that TEDx events trigger a wave of change in Greek society.
Q. What are you most looking forward to from this year’s event?
A. As the first TEDxKids in Greece, we hope we will be a starting point for more collaborations and sygergies between all those who are involved in child-related work. A lot of wonderful things happen in Greece by people who genuinely love children; educators support unique initiatives, parents continuously strive to learn more, schools open up to society, technological start-ups create useful educational tools, NGOs run fascinating programs and companies have come a long way in terms of corporate responsibility focused on benefiting children. We thought TEDxKids@Ilissos could function as the triggering event that brings these groups together, in the same space, where they would get to know each other, exchange views and listen to what the children themselves have to say.
Q. What do you hope those who attend this year’s TEDxKids@Ilissos will take away from the conference?
A. The TEDxKids@Ilissos conference will make us contemplate on important issues, motivate us, make us feel moved. My greatest wish is for people to leave the event with a huge smile on their faces. The goal of the organizational team is to create a magical event, enjoyed by the audience, the children, the speakers, the volunteers and our collaborators. Our success will be measured by the smiles of people on their way out of the conference hall.