TEDxPickeringStreet: Did 'THRIVE' Live Up To Expectations?


By Carolyn Oei, 13 August 2018

Cover photo: Carolyn Oei

My Secondary Three form teacher once said to the class, “Expect the worst, but hope for the best.” I think we were anxious about final examination results. I’m a naturally “half empty” person, so this adage wasn’t difficult to relate to. Anything that is seemingly efficient, delicious or comforting is a bonus and keeps me hopeful.

In a rare moment of excessive hopefulness, I actually didn’t expect the worst of TEDxPickeringStreet. With its ‘Thrive’ theme, the programme ticked the right boxes for me. Conversation, collaboration, conservation. Perfect! 

From the get-go, as soon as I’d purchased my regular-priced ticket for the 4 August 2018 event, the email came rushing in. The welcome letter, the periodic updates on what to expect at the event, the final reminder that the event was merely a day away!

In addition to being a half-empty personality, I’m a stickler for punctuality. It’s respect, I believe; respect for whoever it is I’m meeting and respect for myself to ensure that I utilise my time as efficiently as possible. I’m a lecturer at an arts school; being late for class just isn’t acceptable.

You can imagine my joy when I read this in the pre-event correspondence:

“Meanwhile, the conference is ticketed and begins at 9AMRegistration is from 8:15AM and doors close at 8:50AM; so be early!” (Emphasis not mine)

I was ecstatic and slightly stressed out at the same time. 8.15am is early for a Saturday morning, but it’s nothing a good sleep the night before can’t solve.

I was one of perhaps 20 people who actually turned up early as warned and were registered by 8.30am. I think we might even have arrived earlier than some of the organising team.

Proceedings eventually got started at approximately 9.50am.

To be fair, this says more about the attendees and their complete disregard for time and other people than it does about the organisers. Perhaps organisers generally should bravely start their events at the stated time, even if only out of respect for those who bother to show up punctually. 

Hopelessness Level: 5 (0 being ideal and 10 being, well, even Saint Jude wouldn’t be of any assistance).


I’ve also cultivated the habit of having my lunch box, spork, spare shopping bag and water bottle with me whenever I’m out of the house. That’s me doing my bit for the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle campaign. National Environment Agency, are you reading this?! Again, my heart skipped a beat when I read in the pre-event correspondence:


We are aiming to make this the greenest TEDx event yet! We ask that you bring your own water bottle, cutlery and shopping bag. And also to remember to separate your trash at the event. If you’re at a loss, we have volunteers ready to help you at our sustainability corners.”

Could this be? Was I dreaming?

Yes, I was.

I don’t recall seeing anyone else with a lunch box and cutlery. There were a few water bottles about and some people used the cups that came in the goody bag – goody bag, for heaven’s sake!

Again, it’s a reflection more of the attendees than the organisers, although I’d challenge organisers to not have any disposable cutlery available or to have sets only for sale. “We told you to bring your own!” Surely we must be able to stand by our electronic direct mailers?

And this from a demographic profile of people who are supposedly interested in sustainability and the like. I imagine they read the pre-event material? There were man-buns, three-quarter-sleeve arm tattoos, jogging shorts, tote bags and even Birkenstocks on display. But no BYO lunch boxes or cutlery.

Forgot? Rushing out of the house? Didn’t make it to Daiso in time?

Let’s not go there.

Hopelessness Level: 7

A nice spread, to be fair, albeit in disposable tableware. Photo: Carolyn Oei

The intention was evident. Photo: Carolyn Oei


I’d hazard a guess that people sign up for TEDx conferences to be inspired by amazing presenters, to be engaged in break-out session discussions, to be entertained by the supporting activities.

As a result of the 45-minute delay to the morning’s activities, I was looking at a half-empty situation. By 10.30am, everything to me sucked. The inept stage management, the bland presentations, the less-than-stringent crowd control – I don’t recall having my pass checked once – the garbage bins slowly piling up with disposable tableware.

So, I left the conference and took a huffy walk around the festival.

And then I found Smol Talk. For a good thirty minutes after, I was happily engaged in conversation with strangers who were sat around a table with a deck of Smol Talk cards arranged on it. Read more about them on their website.

With renewed hopefulness, I returned to the conference and was felt nicely encouraged by Sankar Ananthanarayanan, a university student and co-founder of the Herpetological Society of Singapore. He was engaging, humorous and also very clever. Google his video.

Hopelessness Level: 5 (yay!)


Lunch was a continuation of conversation for me. Small mercies, indeed! There were two key rules to Tribeless Lunchtime Circle: No discussion of age or occupation. These are good rules and immediately side-step bias and judgment. But these are good rules only if facilitators can hold on to the reins firmly enough. My group was introduced not only to what the facilitator herself did for a living, but also to the age and occupation of one of our members. He even handed out his business cards.

Hopelessness Level: 8 (that didn’t last long, did it?)


The pre-event correspondence read:

“Here are (sic) some important information to get you ready for the event:

What to bring

  • Yourself

  • An open-mind (sic)

  • Water bottle (there'll be water-coolers at the event)

  • Cash (for the marketplace) 

  • Earphones (for the interpretation app)

  • Powerbank"

    The event description on the ticketing site read:

“An event where YOU are the protagonist (emphasis not mine)
At TEDxPickeringStreet, you aren’t just the audience. You are the catalyst.
The speakers are just inspirations. We invite you to join the conversation about how we can thrive, individually and collectively.”

I left the conference immediately after the Tribeless activity and missed the second half of presentations, but I accept the organisers’ invitation to “join the conversation”.

I’m keeping my half-empty, lunchbox-toting person open to the possibility that people actually learn a thing or two from conferences they attend or talks that they listen to. To the possibility that people will eventually truly understand what “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” actually mean. To the possibility that being punctual for an event, appointment or meeting is actually the way to be. To the possibility that we can evolve into an understanding, educated and responsible species.

Perhaps then, we’ll begin to thrive.

Smol Talk. Photo: Carolyn Oei