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Talk of the Town: people are flocking to hear debates with top speakers

1st March 2010

Throughout London, talks and lectures are becoming the new gigs. People are flocking to debates organised by the Louise T Blouin Foundation, Intelligence Squared, the Royal Geographical Society, the Tate and the ICA to hear inspiring, moving, practical and fun presentations from interesting people.

Forget dusty lecturers coughing through three-hour papers. Things have moved on. Many of today's presentations have the wit and energy of stand-up comedy. Production values couldn't be higher.

In July the coolest conference on the academic circuit will once again hit Oxford. Last year, the invitation only, TED Global conference, saw 50 speakers each take an 18 minute slot over 4 days. TED was set up in the States as a not-for-profit venture to get wealthy power brokers thinking about projects that can improve the world.

In the States, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bono, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, filmmaker James Cameron and Jamie Oliver have all given presentations, alongside violinists, political prisoners, novelists and brain scientists. Bands including They Might Be Giants and jazz pianist Elew have also performed at the conference. At TED 2010 in February, James Cameron, Sheryl Crow, Bill Gates and Sarah Silverman all spoke.

The speakers at TED Global in Oxford in 2009 included comedian Rory Bremner, actor and author Stephen Fry, philosopher Alain de Botton, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and astrophysicist Garik Israelian. The line for 2010 will be announced in the months leading up to the conference in July and promises to be just as high profile.

Intelligence Squared organizes witty, provocative and exciting debates on the crucial issues for today. Upcoming events include Chief Economist at the World Bank until January 2000, Joseph Stiglitz in conversation with Evan Davis, former Economics Editor for the BBC. Joseph will be discussing his new book "FREEFALL: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy", and outlining his remedies for the future, and in May, Simon Schama will be speaking against the motion Obama’s foreign policy is a gift to his enemies. Ian Goldin, Ann Widdecombe and Stephen Fry have all spoken at Intelligence Squared debates in the past.

Quarterly magazine Contagious hosts events on new media and advertising. And at the School of Life, you can enjoy secular sermons, pilgrimages, talks and courses on love, work and family. Ruby Wax, Charlie Leadbeater, Robert Winston and Luke Johnson have all given ‘sermons’ at the venue on Marchmont Street.

The organisers of these events are hoping that ideas streaming - meaning sharing your deepest thoughts with like-minded people becomes the new way to network. Not only do you get to meet intellectual titans and cross-pollinate ideas, it's also a clever way of checking out a new dating partner - without any of the embarrassment!

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