I’ve deliberately waited a while to write this one. Going to a TEDx Canberra event can be a bit overwhelming on the day. A jam-packed day of intellectual and social stimulation. So many messages to digest with ideas worth spreading. So it had me wondering what out of the day would stick and why? What are the lessons change communicators can take from this?

There were three that stood out for me from the day. They weren’t necessarily my favourites. I’m not sure I ended up with a favourite actually!

The first was Shane Horsburgh’s talk on Redefining Masculinity. Shane shared his thoughts on the freedom afforded when men can move away from the rigid views of power and macho.

What made it effective change communication? This was a really engaging speech. Shane delivered it with equal parts vulnerability, humour, and structured narrative. There were multiple reference points for the audience – sport, theatre, domestic violence, mental health, military – there was something for everyone really. You could see people nodding all across the audience at various points. He used contrast to make his point – images of himself in squad gear juxtaposed against the image of on a choir trip in Europe.

Lesson 1: Bring your whole self to your change communication – let your audience see you in all your facets. It creates multiple points of reference and all people can identify with you.

The second two that I will share are not happy presentations. They contain themes that are really distressing. Watch the videos if you want but be warned. But it’s how they deal with two distressing themes that tells an interesting story I think.

The first is Bede Carmody’s talk on identity and the establishment of a poultry refuge. One of the main themes is cruelty to poultry by the chicken/duck/ geese industry. This creates such a state of cognitive dissonance for me (eg knowing that it must be true but not able to believe it is true) that just over a month later, while I remember it, I don’t believe. Nor do I feel any inclination to stop eating poultry.. On emotional level I reject outright some of the things he said could be true. It’s just too awful to consider.

I was reminded in seeking to create change though our communication we need to be mindful of not creating such a strong rejection of our message because of the emotions it stirs. Sometimes we have to tone it down to keep people listening to the persuasive appeal. The alternative is [hands over ears, not listening, not listening, la la la!]

Lesson 2: Make sure that your argument does not create too strong an emotional response. It will overwhelm the ability to hear the logic and information.

Contrast this to Khadija Gbla’s presentation on Female Genital Mutiliation (FGM) in Australia. This was a really clever presentation for three reasons. First she opened the presentation giving the audience to react in way they felt appropriate (eg wincing, walking out, laughing or crying). Two, she used humour throughout to contrast the truly sad and distressing narrative of her personal experience. And three, she abstracted the issue to one of violence against children. This was really important in combatting the arguments as to why “it’s not our problem”. Let me explain – a lot of the arguments I have heard against FGM is based on cultural hegemony. “Your culture is barbaric, you should stop doing this practice – my culture is superior”. Ethically, I’m a relativist. And believe passionately in respect for the other. So while as a feminist, I shudder at the practice, I don’t feel comfortable telling others what they must do and how they must change their practices. But I also identify as a humanist. What Khadija did so well, is abstract the issue above culture and race and ethics, and made her argument based on human rights and violence against children. When pitched in this way, I have a more compelling call to action. I can’t turn a blind eye to the practice and can intervene where possible.


Lesson: Is there a higher order principle that you can abstract your persuasive and change communication messaging to so it is irrefutable.

So they were the three that stuck. I urge you to spend some time on Youtube and watch all of the presentations, as I said, I didn’t really have a favourite, there were lessons in all of them and certainly many ideas worth spreading. Conversations of Change is a proud sponsor of TEDxCanberra. For more on the organisation head to the Facebook page!



Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.

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