Wakehurst Head of Landscape and Horticulture Ed Ikin reflects on his TEDx experience where he talked about how botanic gardens can win hearts and minds...
'Would you like to do a TED talk?' A loaded question I was posed last August. Yes, of course I’d like to make a topic I love into an 'idea worth sharing': relentless rehearsals? sleepless nights? Being taken to the outer limits of patience, energy and sanity? It would be worth it, surely?
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design – the movement started in 1984 to capture the brightest thinking in these fields and quickly diversified to encompass topics as diverse as procrastination and heart surgery.
Talks are presented live to an audience but filmed for online distribution, an important factor as what you’ll say can be viewed for eternity…My gig wasn’t a 'true' TED talk, but a TEDx: an independent offshoot that still adheres to strict TED criteria. Whilst quite not as a stellar as TED, the line in my first information pack 'This will be the best talk you've ever given' emphasised the challenge ahead.
The theme of my TEDx event was 'Perspective' and I decided to use the opportunity to answer questions swirling around my head about Wakehurst: 'what does it mean to be a botanic garden'? 'Should botanic gardens be beautiful, or didactic?' 'How do we ensure new designs we create are credible, but still get new visitors through the door?'. I wanted to explore the balance between science and beauty in botanic gardens and make the case that they need not be mutually exclusive; I also had an ulterior motive, new design concepts for Wakehurst that I could inspire people with on a bigger stage. I was assigned a 'speaker curator' (Jonathan), to act as coach, mentor and drill sergeant and we got to work.
For 3 months, we worked in a cycle of me presenting, him critiquing, me refining, him challenging until the final talk emerged. I was required to deliver a pitch perfect run-through weeks beforehand for final tweaks and I fought myself not to get wound up by this relentless, and, at times, repressive regime. 'Why can’t they just trust me?' I kept asking myself: I’d worked the village-hall-with-a-slide-projector circuit for years. It's only when the day finally comes that you're thankful for the oratorical boot camp you've been subjected to. You walk onto stage without notes, stand on a big red dot, squint into the lights and cameras and…you're ready: the words, the rhythms, the purpose are all there, deeply ingrained in your brain's muscle memory, you barely remember the 12 minutes you speak, but you know it's worked, it feels right.
Would I recommend it? It takes your skills as a public speaker to another level, allows you to think deeply about a topic you love and gives you a digital 'commodity' you can share and market afterwards, so yes, I would – just don't expect it to be easy…
- Ed -