Preaching to the converted – Liberty Vittert on her journey from TEDx virgin to TEDx speaker

As we dial up for our 2018 event, we’ve been catching up with some of our 2017 speakers, to hear a bit more about their experience of speaking at TEDxGlasgow and what they’ve been up to since. In today’s blog, we hear from Dr Liberty Vittert, who’s 2017 talk inspired us to reconsider how we view numbers and not follow ‘facts’ blindly.

Dr Liberty Vittert at TEDxGlasgow 2017

I have a confession to make… I had never listened to a TEDx talk before I applied to be a speaker last year. To further compound this I had no idea what I was submitting an application for – it just sounded fun, I had an idea, so I thought why not, worth a punt. I was a mixture of a bit arrogant, a lot dumb, and a whole lot of uneducated.

TEDx has been one of the best experiences I have ever been a part of. Ever. I am the converted. The speakers, the event, the lead-up, the aftermath, the entire package was just absolutely spectacular. But let me back up a bit.

I’d been doing a lot of research into how we, as a general public, don’t really understand numbers and are therefore afraid of them. This simple fact allows companies, media, government, and even scientists to manipulate us with them – we all get numbers thrown at us every day that we don’t really understand. I saw an advertisement for TEDxGlasgow and thought, hey, this could be a way to see if people are interested in this research! Can’t imagine I’ll get it, but why not apply, so I did. I had a lovely Skype with Iain from the team, where I kept him for way too long chatting, although he was far too polite to say so, and figured at the end of the call, well, I tried my best.

I had, at this point, done my own research on TEDxGlasgow, learned how incredible it is, and assumed, I would have no chance of being chosen as a speaker. But somehow, I slipped through the cracks, and a few weeks later Iain emailed me to say I was up for a talk (I was walking in the park at the time and screeched so loud that my dog Henry bolted and I was then screeching through Kelvingrove Park chasing him – apologies to anyone in the vicinity).

The speaker training began, and I started to get a real feel for what kind of incredible experience this was going to be (that also amounted to a triple sailor’s knot in my belly twisting my insides into a nerve-ridden jungle).

I must have given that talk to my living room wall 150 times. I’m not exaggerating. But after this, I was ready to give it to my biggest critic, and also my greatest audience, my father.

He thinks science is dumb, university is a waste of time, the news is (almost) all fake, and that climate change is most definitely not real (ever heard of the Ice Age?). If I could help him understand why statistics and data science is important and engage him with what data can tell us about public opinion, government policies, global business, and really, the future of our world, then I thought I could engage anybody.

I give him all of my speeches, word for word, and every time there are mountains of interruptions, pauses, confusions and questions, to sort out until it’s perfect. We spent about 5 hours on the phone talking about my TEDx talk. My career highlight will be when he says “Liberty, I have nothing to add” (but I’m not holding my breath).

After about 20 more practice runs to my living room wall (it really needs painting) I was ready(ish) and headed to the Armadillo the morning of TEDxGlasgow 2017 for the “Lead or Follow” event. I tottered onto the stage (heels are never a good idea) and began. The first 20 seconds my hands were shaking so badly I thought I might topple over, but then I looked at the audience. The engagement, the interest, the encouragement – what an incredible crowd and I thought, well, the worst that happens is that I fall/forget my words and move back to the United States in embarrassment (I wasn’t joking). But that thought and the faces of that fabulous audience got me going and before I knew it, my time was up.

Dr Liberty Vittert at TEDxGlasgow 2017 Lead or Follow

But now is when the real experience began. I hadn’t really given much thought to the other speakers, I was so wrapped up in my own world that I didn’t focus on who else was going to be there that day.

I lucked out. I was right at the beginning and so after I got to sit and enjoy the show, and boy, what a show it was. I was simply blown away. The speakers were incredible, I have never spent a more valuable day learning things than at TEDx. I was exposed to whole new worlds and whole new ways of thinking.

But one surprising aspect that I think it is easy to forget, and that I had never even thought of before, is not just the speakers I met, but the incredible audience I met. I have never been surrounded by a more engaged, knowledgeable and interesting audience. I met person after person who I could see myself working with for years to come.

That leads to what happened after the TEDx talk for me as a speaker. Being exposed to so many incredible audience members gave me an entirely new platform to speak on. I have been lucky enough to speak to multiple different companies and organizations since and it all started with this one TEDx talk.

I can’t wait to go back this year as an audience member. I can’t wait to listen to the speakers, but what I’m really most excited about, is meeting the rest of the attendees – I don’t know a time in Scotland where a more interesting group of people all come together in one place!

So to all of those who, like me, don’t really know what TEDx is and aren’t sure what they are getting into, you will be converted. I promise! See you on June 1st.

I would also like to say that none of this would be remotely possible without the incredible dedication and hard work of all those involved in TEDx and especially to Pauline, thank you so much for all of your time, patience, and brilliance! I will forever hold the experience dear in my heart.

Take a look at Liberty’s talk “How to win the lottery and get away with murder” here:

  • Written by Cat Leaver
  • Posted on March, 1 2018

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