Last Friday I attended my 5th TedxBrighton, I think I’ve only missed one since it started.  This kind of annual commitment is unusual for me, and it’s even more unusual that for the last 2 years I’ve roped my wife, Emma, into joining me.

TedxBrighton is a one day event where speakers give 20 minute presentations about a subject related to the day’s theme. This year, that theme was timely: “Society’s Search for Utopia”.

In this article I’ll attempt to surface what’s so special about TedxBrighton, and how I think its key principles can be harnessed.

Let me start with an admission. I think every year there’s been at least one point throughout the day where I’ve cried, sometimes through joy and sometimes by connecting deeply with a speaker’s emotion.

This year was no exception. In fact it happened a few times.  

One of the day’s speakers was Jake Tyler, he’s 31 and lives with depression. At a particularly low point last year he phoned his Mum, “to hear her voice one last time, and give her the chance to have one last conversation with her Son”, before he intended to commit suicide (cue my welling up of tears).  

His Mum was able to recognise somewhere in his voice or intonation that Jake wasn’t in a good place, and she convinced him to meet her and simply go for a walk outside together. In those moments something clicked for Jake and he realised that the simple act of ‘moving’ (Jake refers to the process of walking as ‘moving’ as he explains that there are deeper positive connotations with the act of progression and growth) has the positive side effect of stemming this depressive mental state.

It’s for that reason that Jake has now walked over 2,000 miles around the UK to help inspire others living with depression to adopt this simple practice. He was understandably proud of the following picture showing him with his ‘friend’ Prince Harry, who has become an ambassador and supporter of his efforts.  

Here’s a second vulnerable admission from me…my favourite film is Forrest Gump, and I recognise now that Jake is like a modern day Forrest Gump whose ‘movement’ around the perimeter of the UK is consistent with Forrest’s quote “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I WAS RUNNING’ (what a great film)!       

TedxJake Tyler with his mate Prince Harry

So, yeah, I cried and as you’ll appreciate from this article, I’ve worked out over the years that sometimes the best way to deal with an uncontrollable emotional outburst like this is to simply embrace it and acknowledge it. So I turned to Emma and gently whispered ‘he’s made me cry’, she responded with ‘me too’.  

And that wasn’t the end of it this year. Mr Gee is a modern day poet who uses his poetry to engage hard to reach communities including the elderly, young people and prisoners.

Many years ago, he was asked to run a workshop for kids in an East London school, and over a series of weeks and months he was moved by a little boy who had a unique spark of flair and energy about him. This little boy asked intelligent and provocative questions about why Mr Gee doesn’t use the same power-play aggression in his spoken word that so closely resembles what you’d typically find in rap or hip-hop.  

These kinds of interactions are what allow Mr Gee to truly engage and challenge some of the deeply rooted negativity and violence that can be easily indoctrinated when weaved into the narratives of modern music. Through this interaction Mr Gee was able to offer a different viewpoint into this impressionable little boy about the same ‘gangsters’ that he held in high regard.  

For Mr Gee and his extra decades of wisdom, people using drugs, knifes and guns end up in and out of prison over the course of decades, followed by them finding God later in life, which presented a much more honest and much less glamorous interpretation for this young man to consider.  

Many years later Mr Gee was asked to run a similar workshop in a prison, and there at the back of the room was that same little boy, now a young man. Hardened by his environment, with eyes that were grey and lost. Mr Gee couldn’t believe it, so approached him and in his interaction could still see a glimmer of that same lost little boy albeit with the ‘flair and energy’ subdued.  He’d killed two people and was now serving his time for murder.  

Mr Gee went on to explain how that experience has helped him understand the impact that his efforts can have. Could he have worked that bit harder to prevent this little boy from going on that journey in his life? He felt like he should have been able to, and now this story drives him harder to try.

Again, cue tears.  

TedxMr Gee

So why do I go year after year? What’s so special that I cry multiple times in a day, and I come back and write this article? It’s simple, there’s an incredibly robust formula right at the heart of TedxBrighton, in-fact it’s so inherent it runs true across all of the TED properties and all the way back to the parent annual TED event. That formula I believe is this:

Authenticity + Compelling Stories = Attention + Emotion

I think there’s something incredibly important for everyone to take from this formula. Whether you look at this through the lens of a single individual and how you communicate to others around you, or through the lens of a globally recognised brand.

Authenticity: What’s being said is being said from the heart. There’s vulnerability, honesty and a message that’s designed to help.  

Compelling Stories: Every story is a story that’s interesting, told from the point of view of passing on knowledge and insight rather than inflating an ego. The production value is just right; often one person, unscripted, with single images projected to help frame key aspects.

Attention: Emma and I sat there all day with very little lapse in concentration, as did the other 1,500+ people attending. That’s really unusual in todays connected, notification heavy and distracted population.

Emotion: I don’t cry that often, honestly. Maybe once or twice a year. So this experience was genuinely pretty rare for me from an emotional point of view. The thing about emotion is that it tends to be one of the biggest drivers of action. It’s probably what’s driven me to write this article, and share these thoughts.

So, here’s a few thoughts that I’ll leave you with that I hope helps you:

  • Go to your local Tedx event, and if you can’t then immerse yourself in (Sunday mornings in bed works really well)
  • If you can, go to TedxBrighton. I think there’s something really special about Brighton that adds another dimension to the tone and content of this Tedx event.  If you can’t get along, then just make sure you visit Brighton, in fact, just move here. It’s the best place in the world
  • If you’re looking to truly connect with anyone, whether on a one to one basis, or if you happen to be part of a brand, wondering how these thoughts apply. Think about the formula: Authenticity + Compelling Stories = Attention + Emotion. Make sure you consider every part of it, that’s what’s going to lead to true engagement
  • Watch Forrest Gump