Ideas Public Speaking TED&TEDx

The goldmine of “the time before things start”.

Richard Lucas – July 2020


This blog post ends with the transcript of the talk I gave for TEDxShenkarCollege, Israel in May 2020. It provides information about the idea of pre-events, events before events. and putting “the time before things start” to better use. As a result of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic events are subject to a series of questions. Do they still make sense? Are they “worth it”? Are they still feasible? If the raison d’être of events themselves is being questioned, it has an impact on the logic of pre-events. The best way to read this article and blog post is “as if” events are still happening, and they still make sense. Maybe it will make more sense in 2030 than 2022 or 2025.

I created a Linkedin Group and Facebook Page to support pre-events. If you want to do a pre-event, or are just interested, join them. The presentation from a pre event I did in South Africa in 2018 is here. The best way to find out about pre-events is to watch the TEDx talk – I’ll share a link as soon as it is approved by TED, read the transcript or just get in touch with me.

My TEDxShenkarCollege talk transcript

“Imagine that time is being wasted, every day all of the world and there’s a simple way to put it not just to good use, but to great use?

Imagine further that it is your time is being wasted, and that you could do something about it?

The time before things start is being routinely wasted every day all over the world. 

There are simple and powerful ways to put this wasted time to high impact use

by showing up early and knowing what to do.  

Knowing how to turn waste into something of value at zero cost can benefit everyone listening today and many others.  

So how did I become aware of this waste and find a solution.

Let me take you back to Krakow, Poland in 2005 –  I was about to give a guest workshop on entrepreneurship to an MBA class.  I was early (to find the room, check the projector, sound and internet, make sure everything worked.

I hate being late, and in order not to be late I had to be early.

Everything was working, and I was ready, 8 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time.

Some class participants were early and were also waiting. The organiser whispered to me – “we will start a few minutes late, not everyone will be on time”.

I felt a flash of  *anger*  Why? 

I was angry because meetings should never start late.

I was angry with her casual assumption that starting late was “OK”, 

I was angry with the idea that my timekeeping standards were going to be tainted with her lack of professionalism.

And I was angry with the people who were going to be late.

But I thought to myself, “she and the late comers are not to know that I regard lateness as a cardinal sin”. 

so I said in a way that was meant to sound firm but perhaps came across as as passive aggressive, or maybe just aggressive  

“ but that not fair

Its not fair to make the people who are on time wait for the sloppy late-comers.

It’s not fair to me. I’m on time

It’s not right if these MBA students if get the impression that it is OK to be unprofessional.

She took offence, bristled at the implied insults and whispered back

“That’s as maybe, they are not used to it, you can’t do that ”
Now you don’t know me  – I’m an entrepreneur, three time CEO, with perhaps an exaggerated sense of my own self worth.   

I do *not* like being told what I can and can’t do,


we were in front of a class with people watching curiously as the tension between me and the organiser  was visible. Perhaps “Ego” was at stake.  It wasn’t the time for words,  it was the time for action.

I whispered “ you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to start early”.. And before she could react I slowly turned away from her, towards the class, and said.

“While we are waiting for the others let’s get started.  I’m going to ask you to stand up, introduce yourselves, tell us in one minute who you are, what you do, why you are here, and what you want to learn from an entrepreneur like me. Everyone else, pay attention. I may ask you to  assess someone else’s introduction.”

I then pointed at someone  and said “you go first”. She rose somewhat hesitantly to her feet…and started to speak. 

And thus started my journey of getting things going early, before they begin  

A journey that has changed my life and can change yours. 

Because what happened in that MBA class  was a revelation.

The atmosphere changed in seconds. People woke up.  They realised I might pick on them next.  They started paying attention. Some  started thinking about what they would say, others were listening to their classmates, others were worrying how they looked. even checking their hair.

They turned from being passive attendees into active participants, no longer spectators watching a match, but players on the pitch. 

As more students arrived they walked into a class where people were paying attention, alert, where something was going on. 

Also I got a better sense of my audience and their expectations, and the class got to know more about each other.

My host – who had wanted me to start late, realised she had lost, and stalked out the room, offended and angry (I’m not sure she was angry, but I hope so). I had not just started on time, I had discovered something new. I and more importantly the class had won. 

This experience stuck in my mind. Maybe I could start other events early? So a few weeks later,  I was on a panel of business people in front of a larger audience and I did something similar. 5 minutes before the start, everyone was sitting quietly, waiting, and nothing was going on. There were too many people to do introductions one by one so I took a microphone, and said. 

“Please stand up ( I waited til they had stood up) and in the next two minutes,  introduce yourself to someone you don’t know, and explain to each other what you are expecting to get out of this event. “

Now, when 300 people stand up and start talking, it makes a lot of noise. The panel woke up.  The audience had to wake up, Even people who “don’t like icebreakers” didn’t have an option. The impact was similar to back in Krakow. The room sprang to life –  energy, activation and participation erupted,  replacing passivity.  disengagement and boredom.

What did I learn and what can you learn ?

There is always time “before things start”. It’s valuable, and usually wasted.  And putting it to the right use can be as easy and low cost as in these two examples. 

But there is a similar and bigger problem  – with a higher payback if you can solve it.

Imagine you are travelling to an event or conference where you expect and want to meet new people with whom you share a common, maybe even a burning interest or passion. Meeting other attendees may be a major reason for going to the event in the first place.  But this event is in a different country or town to the one you live in. To be on time you will need to be early, not just 10 minutes early, but arriving in town the night before.

Instead of the 5 minutes before things start.  we now are looking at the whole evening the day before.

When I went to my first TED event, TED Global in 2011, I knew nobody, and had no means of reaching any other attendees.  I found some TED fans in Edinburgh via Couchsurfing and I met them in a bar. But they were not going to the main TED event. Nice though they were, I would have preferred to have met other TED attendees. 

Once the event started there wasn’t enough time to meet everyone. Even though I am sociable and self-confident,  receptions and parties where there are over a 1000 people in the room and you know nobody are a bit intimidating.

I pondered and thought  

The time before events could be better used too, just like the time before lectures and workshops – Wouldn’t it be great if there was a more peaceful time and space to get together with other participants before events start, If I can do it with Couchsurfers surely it’s possible with other attendees”

I decided that there must be, and it turns out that there is.

Since 2014 I’ve been doing different types of “pre events “- events before events”. I decided that if I was travelling to an event in another country I was going to try to do a pre event.

I’ve organised pre-events all over the world: in Cape Town,  Calgary, Cracow,  Edinburgh, New York,   Rome,  Taipei, and Warsaw and as of yesterday evening I’ve even done a pre-event in the cloud before this TEDx.

I’ve had such positive feedback from the many hundreds of people who have participated. It is not just me who found value in the time before things start. 

If I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t be giving this talk. 

I won’t go into detailed “how to” of doing a successful pre events, but I will share three key learnings:

Getting the culture right, making them welcoming, inclusive and friendly really matters. It’s like hosting a good party.  For example – at our pre event in New York, we made our picnic together. I don’t care how important we are in our normal lives –  at my pre events we are equal – making the sandwiches, doing the washing up, whatever.   

Making sure your pre-event design works for people who are shy or nervous. If it works for the timid, the bold self confident types will do just fine.

Keeping them low cost or preferably free. To get in, our “door policy” is just a positive attitude. We want everyone with the right mindset to be able to come, no matter how little money they have.

So TEDxShenkar College to close, let me remind you of Why I came here to share this idea with you. 

The time before things start is a potential goldmine of opportunity. 

If you are going to an event, consider doing a pre event. If you take the lead, I will support you, if only I can.  

If you are giving classes or workshops – turn  attendees into participants, and reward those who are punctual or  early through activities like those I have described.

There are millions of classes and events  going on in schools, universities and elsewhere all over the world  every day.  So often the time before they start is wasted.  

My here’s my challenge to TEDxShenkarCollege and the online audience 

Are you going to put these ideas into action? 

Are you going to replace detachment, passivity and boredom with engagement, curiosity and stimulation.

You can, and you should, and if you do, you won‘t regret it. And it’s not just to make your life more useful, enjoyable and valuable – it’s a service for other people as well. I believe it’s an idea worth spreading. ”