The theme of the 2013 edition of TEDxVaugirardRoad in Paris was “Les mots pour le dire,” or in English, “The words to say it.” “‘The words to say it’ is a pretty common phrase in French,” said organizer Stéphane Roger. “When you want to say something and you can’t, you say ‘I don’t have the words to say it.’”
The phrase might seem like an odd theme for an event centered around talks, but what inspired Roger to choose “Les mots pour le dire” was its power to express the complexity of language and its relationship with all that it represents. What strikes him about TED Talks, he told TEDx, is the way that speakers can use regular language to express complicated things that surprise, provoke, and shatter previously-held conceptions.
“Moreover, as I regularly switch between French and English,” he said, “I’m always confronted to the fact that some words exist in one language and not another. French has no simple way to say ‘empowerment,’ but it exists. So how can we think and live something if we don’t have a word for it?”
This idea was taken even further through the event’s design and activities. “The speakers say words,” Roger said, “but what words would the public use? We then needed a place where the audience could talk, could use their words to say it.” Before the break, the team asked attendees, “What words inspire you? What words do you use to express yourself?” They provided pre-printed cards with various words, and blank cards to fill in with a word of one’s own choosing.
Where to put the word cards was the most difficult question to answer for Roger and his team, he said. “The question was: How can we arrange the venue so that the public can at the same time be surrounded by words, see already some words written to not feel any pressure of a blank space [and] offer them the ability to be creative while not being obliged to invent something?” he said. “All this [while] complying with the security rules of the venue.”
In the end, clothesline-like strings were hung up all around the venue, and during the break attendees were invited to attach words to the lines with clothespins to form sentences, remix other compositions, or have their word stand alone. “And [it] was fantastic!” Roger said.
What were the most-used words? Love. Say. Words. Better. Share. Joy.
More photos of the activity can be seen below: