Skip to content

Precisely the 'worst' speakers made TEDX Amsterdam a party

The Speech Doctor reviews: The 3 Anti-Speakers of TEDX Amsterdam 2014: Duncan Stutterheim, Ton van Oostwaard and Henk Schiffmacher.

What is TEdx Amsterdam?

Friday 27 November 2014 saw the Netherlands' most famous TEDx, TEDx Amsterdam will again take place at the City Theatre. TED is a global organisation where people of name and fame (or before name and fame) show up to preach their 'ideas worth spreading'. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and the theme of this TEDx edition was 'Somewhere in Time'. The speeches are consistently called 'talks'. Holding a 'Tedtalk' might just become a euphemism for speechifying. Just as 'just googling' often means 'looking something up'.

The rehabilitation of ' the speech'

Personally, I love the success of TED, after all, a movement that, like Obama, has put the power and inspiring effect of the spoken word back on the map. Especially in the Netherlands, where we seemed to have lost all interest in rhetoric since the introduction of the 'kringgesprek' in primary school, a lot has changed since TED. Everyone knows a few talks. The art of public speaking is back in the spotlight and, thanks to media like Facebook, we can bombard each other with great talks.

 Who was the best?

As an enthusiast/connoisseur/follower (take your pick), I was asked the inevitable question: Who was the best speaker? Who gave the best talk? The answer is unfortunately nuanced. Whereas from previous editions there were great speakers and speeches to choose from, such as Frans Timmermans' memorable speech in 2009 or Peter van Uhm's in 2011, in 2014 there was not a speech that stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Of course, there were very nice talks. I was deeply touched by the life story of Michaela DePrince who rose from starving orphan in Sierra Leone to Prima Ballerina with the National Ballet and made it very clear to us that that was by no means a fairy tale.

And if I had to choose with a gun to my head, the speech of Kumi Naidoo, human rights activist and Greenpeace boss definitely the talk where the combination of feeling, commitment, content and form inspired the most.

Of the three candidates for the TEDX award #ideasworthdoing, it was Peter Smith who got a room full of creative and entrepreneurial notables moving nicely theatrically with his talk 'Plastic Madonna'.

Speaking of theatre, this year arts and culture were beautifully woven through the programme rather than being assigned the role of stopgap or entr'acte. For instance, Toneelgroep Amsterdam tells Coryfee Chris Nietvelt who holds the record for 'dying in front of an audience' about playing death scenes, and in passing gives us another wonderful definition of the arts. "Art is not an ornament but a lens at reality."

 On the beauty of the Anti-Speakers

If TEDx Amsterdam demonstrated one thing this year, it was that there is no such thing as 'the bad speaker', as long as you speak from the bottom of your heart. In fact, the least eloquent and slick speakers made the most impression. Because of their story, their sincerity and personality.

Tattoo boss Henk Schiffmacher (the organisers unfortunately cut the first seconds of the performance where Henk comes up, sits down and immediately shouts how nervous he is) talks in almost unintelligible English about his research into the history of tattooing. That it had a function to identify drowned sailors, for example. Another nice anecdote is that where Henk used to be refused entry to a museum archive, now the doors immediately swing open for him because he has a mountain of letters of recommendation. Indirectly, this also deals with prejudice against people with visible tattoos. Suddenly time runs out while he is sitting comfortably in his talking chair. But a deal is a deal so Mr Schiffmacher says soberly. "I have six more seconds. I guess that's it."

Multimillionaire Duncan Stutterheim presents himself as an ordinary Purmerend boy with no fuss and does so so convincingly that we get an insight into the key to his success. This is how he introduces himself:  "My name is Duncan Stutterheim I am 43, I am a married man and I have 3 beautiful daughters. I just live here 200 metres away so this is a homegame for me and I never imaged to standing here in the theatre. "

Finally, Ton van Oosterwaard, civil servant at Amstelveen municipality and man with a mission. By placing huge amounts of a plant around Amsterdam's old defence line, he wants to do away with air pollution in the city. An inspiring idea that comes across clearly despite his stage fright. Ton looks as if he has been pushed onto the stage and keeps his gaze firmly fixed on his brought plant. No doubt a speech coach has told him that you should let your hands move freely at waist level. What follows is an unintentional slapstick act. The hands go into the pockets, oh no that is not allowed. The arms are folded over each other, oh no that's not allowed. Within 20 seconds, he then decides to keep his hands firmly on his back for God's sake, where they are not otherwise in the way.

Among some of the more slick professional speakers, these three 'Anti-Speakers' were a breath of fresh air. It was precisely their sincerity, discomfort with the medium of 'speech' and passion for their subject matter that made their stories feel urgent and stuck with me the most from this TEDx Amsterdam 2014 day.

Hannah Roelofs

Dramaturg, speech coach and student English teacher.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)