It’s a tricky question to answer. Google’s headline definition is “The feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.” We were privy to multiple interpretations of this at the recent confidence-focused TEDx London conference at Sadler’s Wells theatre, where talks ranged from questioning one’s belief in the future of the human race to the importance of body language in influencing others.
For those unfamiliar with TED, the format usually involves a series of short talks, occasionally interspersed with musical performances based around a central theme under the banner ‘Ideas worth sharing.’ Hosted by television journalist Rick Edwards, speakers recounted stories of overcoming personal setbacks, deep introspection on the meaning of confidence and methods of drawing confidence out of others.
Particularly striking were the setbacks faced by Emma Lawton, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 29, and Jack Martindale, who nearly died in his early twenties as the result of a horrific car accident and subsequently endured nine months of neurological rehabilitation. Both speakers chose to draw inspiration from the situations they faced – the former using her diagnosis as a springboard for taking on challenges she never would have had the confidence to do previously, and the latter to find inspiration in the very fact he survived, providing the most memorable soundbite of the day: “Things could always be better, but they could be worse.”
Less personal but no less profound was Hugh Montgomery’s overview of the rapidly evolving nature of climate change; Vanessa Van Edwards’ exploration of the importance of body language and tone of voice in eliciting positive reactions in others; and Matthew Shribman’s quick-fire scientific talk – given from a bath.
The day’s youngest speaker was Emily Milan Rea, an American teenager who, at the age of 13, began research into the disease Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). A very rare disease affecting the skin, one Mother’s blog on the suffering endured by her child from EB inspired Emily to both raise awareness of the disease and begin research into better treatments.
With various musical performances – an acapella choir, Bengali folk music, a string quartet and a teenage rock duo – and quality world street food provided by Kerb, the conference evolved from more than just a series of talks into a showcase for global culture.
The day took on particular poignancy coming swiftly after the dreadful attack at London Bridge and Borough Market the preceding evening. Whilst attendees experienced the whole spectrum of emotions throughout the day, ultimately the conference demonstrated the resilience, intelligence and collaborative spirit London prides itself on; perhaps this is the true definition of confidence.