allowing for length, sentence structure, and complexity

I’ve spent a lot of time this year going to conferences and a lot of time this year organising and thinking about organising conferences.  I think the phrase I’ve heard more than any other is “TED-style.”

It’s become a shorthand for presentations and talks that are short (10-20minutes), punchy, visually engaging – and as much about the projection of the speaker as a personality as they are about the ideas.  It’s been making me think, of late, and worry about the fact that this style of speaking privileges a particular kind of speaker – and audience, and creates a particular kind of content which contains nuggets: bitesize, tweetable bits, images, snapshots.

Now, I’m not against any of those things – I like them a whole lot, and I especially like going away and playing with them, thinking with them, hopefully building with them.  But I worry that on their own, and as the dominant force in ideas-sharing right now, this style of presentation doesn’t encourage reflection on or critique of the content.  When something comes in a bitesize chunk, it feels complete in and of itself – either you take it all or you take none of it – and it doesn’t need anything to be connected to anything else. It doesn’t easily encourage you to see the world as the deep, complicated, interrelated place that it is, and to join the dots between the thing you’re listening to now and the thing you might have heard yesterday or hear tomorrow.

Which means that I’ve been delighted that in the last week I’ve got to listen to two longer presentations that go completely against the grain of the TED style, and which are the richest, most reflective things I think I’ve heard all year. You have to sit and listen to every word as the speakers read their lectures – which are beautifully composed and beautifully orated, but which demand that you follow the sentences and hear the punctuation in the pauses for breath, and ignore the sight of the speaker standing there – and remember the beginnings and the middle as you get to the end.  And while there are moments and nuggets and things you want to note down and take away, the impact is more in the cumulative effect of the whole piece.  They make me hope that more conferences will be bold enough include this kind of presentation, confident in the abilities of these who produce them.

So here you go, put some time aside, and listen to these:

(1) Marilynne Robinson’s Theos Annual Lecture on faith and politics in America.

(2) Jurgen Moltmann at BMS Catalyst Live, talking about God’s hope.

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