The Power of Stand-Up Talks: TEDxTartu

Triin Mahlakõiv in action: Putting up TEDxTartu posters.

Triin in action: Putting up TEDxTartu posters. Photo from personal archive.

Triin Mahlakõiv is a fresh graduate of the master’s programme in communication management at the University of Tartu and a co-organiser of the TEDxTartu conference on 10 November 2012.

TEDxTartu isn’t just one day of interesting talks and elevating entertainment – it’s an event devoted to positive change. The contagious TEDxTartu talks invited listeners to step outside the conventional frames.


After a musical prologue by five mad folks from the Kriminaalne Elevant band, Peeter Mõtsküla, a parachute instructor, shared his experiences of parachuting and explained how the mind tends to work during the jump.

He declared boldly,”I do this because it’s beautiful – breathtakingly beautiful.” But beauty is not the only argument or explanation for parachuting. According to Mõtsküla, at first there must be curiosity, a stepping out of one’s own shadow, then the desire to take one step further and then another.

The main idea behind parachuting is that learning new things in the sky never ends. In the sky everyone makes choices on his or her own, the only help is one’s knowledge, skills and experiences and maybe some luck. The experience of parachuting introduces the main sentiments of life – beauty, fright, death, freedom, responsibility – all in just a few minutes of floating in the sky.

During the coffee break, some guests were sipping their second morning coffee while others were already planning their first parachute jump.

The band "Kriminaalne Elevant" on TEDxTartu stage

The band “Kriminaalne Elevant” kicking off the TEDxTartu day.

Freedom and politics

The second session was devoted to freedom. The first ‘freedom fighter’, Eva Piirimäe, better known as a historian, got on stage to depict a citizen’s emotions in a democratic country.  She raised questions that many Estonians today are struggling to answer: What is the motivation of a citizen to participate in politics? Is it a sense of duty? Is it concern?

In her opinion, emotions and abilities are the warranties of democratic culture. Democratic politics without citizens’ values and emotions (such as belonging, a sense of honour, and empathy) are unthinkable.

Translator and admired poet Jaan Kaplinski took the stage to discuss Estonia’s relations with Russia. In his opinion, Estonia should redefine its attitude towards Russia. Estonian identity is too often, consciously or unconsciously, set against the Russian one. Estonians often don’t see it, but there are many things that actually connect the two neighbours.

Kaplinski advised locals to discount contradictions, as a reserved stance towards Russia hinders nationwide communication. Stable relations with Russia (as well as Russian-speaking people living in Estonia) are very important to Estonia’s future. He found that integration would go much more smoothly if Estonians would acknowledge or try to understand Pushkin, Bunin, Zoshchenko.

Meelis Niinepuu at TEDxTartu stage

Meelis Niinepuu: President Lennart Meri was the best salesman for Estonia.

The prize for the most artistic speech would certainly go to (social) entrepreneur Meelis Niinepuu. This man worries about the way Estonian history and historical stories are spread in the world, and how many young students today cannot explain communism and its outcomes. In his opinion, Estonia spends enormous amounts of money on defence and arms, while nothing is left for the ‘soft’ defence such as education and information on communism. According to Niinepuu, Eastern Europe has failed in explaining its history.

Thus, he took action and registered the CommunistCrimes portal to explain communism to foreigners. Niinepuu argues that a sense of Estonia’s Soviet history could succeed through personal storytelling. He encouraged every Estonian to take family history to the world, to be the ambassador of your Estonian families!


Andres Juur explained why Estonia needs science and why it is a key factor for prosperity. According to the young scientist, mass production can never elevate local economy as much as obstinacy and smartness – characteristics that could be factors in Estonia’s success. This is why Andres Juur (and people like him) are dealing with scientific communication. Some of the most famous projects that Andres has dealt with include Teadusbuss, Rakett69 and LEGO robotics.

The next talk by Bruno Mölder, entitled “Should philosophy be experimental?”, was particularly interesting. In philosophy circles people have been talking about the need for a revolution in philosophy. The revolution could be brought about by experimental philosophy, an emerging field of philosophical inquiry that makes use of empirical data, as opposed to a methodology that relies mainly on a priori justification, sometimes also called ‘armchair philosophy’ by experimental philosophers.

The engineer Rainer Küngas discussed how ceramics is an influential material shaping our future lives.  He didn’t mean pots or ceramic vases, but streamlined cars and cities full of skyscrapers, smartphones, touchpads, and faster processors. Energetics is one area where Estonia could take the use of ceramics and show that our success in IT is not accidental. Devices made from ceramic material can produce twice as much fuel as the regular method.

TEDxTartu notebooks

The power of details: TEDxTartu notebooks are inspirational, too.

Stand-up culture

The last session was devoted to entertainment and culture. Jaak Prints, an acclaimed actor and television personality, spoke about the importance of not knowing: a state of being unaware, or unconscious in one’s situational surroundings and the use of language on and off-stage. He drew on his theatrical experience while presenting a series of compelling examples to support his argument: We all benefit from not knowing, because it allows for staying fresh, coming across unprecedented adaptations, reaching new settings, and discovering something new about ourselves.

Louis Zezeran, an Australian-born stand-up comedian, explained what he meant by the power of comedy. Louis believes that stand-up comedy has the ability to make people think and even change society. Comedy gives you a way to attract lots of people to hear your point of view.

Louis feels that Estonia needs Estonians doing stand-up in Estonian as there is a lot of healing to be done in this country. There is something to this way of gathering in small bars and cafes and talking about things, laughing, sharing a moment, and that is the stuff that helps. That is the stuff which lets it out, which allows taboos to be spoken of and no longer remain taboo.

Madli Uutmaa thanks TEDxTartu team

Madli Uutmaa, one of the organisers, saying thank you to the TEDxTartu team in front of the audience.

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One Response to The Power of Stand-Up Talks: TEDxTartu

  1. Mielikki Blue-Cloak says:

    Great endeavour and great article, thank you! I’ve been very excited about TEDxTartu for a while, but was too insecure in my Estonian to actually attend, so having this short summary is great. I hope that this initiative will continue! 

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