My Top TOA Talks

I had the privilege of attending TOA Berlin for the second year in a row and my first piece of praise must go to the team behind the event. Last year there were complaints about over-crowding, huge queues to get into talks and stages running really behind schedule. From what I remember beer was free, as was Redbull and Redbull cocktails, but you had to pay for coffee, water and food. I say from what I can remember because having lost interest in queuing to get into talks and queuing for hours for food, the free beer and hanging out with awesome people became the most accessible activity. Hurty heads!

This year however many things had changed. The festival was bigger, with more stages, a large exhibition hall and more, well spread out food vans. There was also a cool experiential light installation. Their app was buggy-as-hell but was a relatively useful way of highlighting the talks you wanted to go to, and seeing them in a chronological list. Whilst on the surface the content seemed less arts focused than last year, and very AI heavy, it was possible to get into all the talks and from my experience the majority were of very high quality.

Here is a quick summary of my favourite talks.

From Physics To Fertility: A Curvy Road To Success
Dr. Elina Berglund Scherwitzl, Co-Founder & CTO — Natural Cycles

The topic of contraception has come up a lot recently. Like many women of my demographic, I have been taking a hormone based pill on and off for the best part of a decade. I’m not going to launch a full blow discussion here but in short it sucks that contraception more often than not relies on women taking invasive (pill, IUD, coil etc) precaution and men having very few options other than condoms, should they want to play a more active role.

Dr Elina Berglund brought modesty and kickass-intelligence to the stage when she explained she founded Natural Cycles post discovering the Higgs Boson. I mean what else does a particle physicist who, as part of a team, won a Nobel Prize in her 30’s, do next?

She had just got married and wanted to come off the pill to normalise her body so she and her husband could have children when they were ready. She reacted to the lack of non-chemical options by creating an algorithm and subsequently an app that looks at the daily body temperature of a woman to tell her if they are fertile or not on that day.

Now, this is not new medicine. However coupling the temperature method with technology, gathering data and feedback from thousands of users, and working like a total trouper to get through all the bureaucracy and legislation, Dr Berglund created the world’s first app to be officially approved as an effective contraception. And it’s as effective as the pill! Goodbye hormones. But not only that, women who for religious, cultural, economic or health reasons can’t use the available methods of contraception, now have a way to be in charge of their bodies. Just imagine a world where every pregnancy is wanted. Wow.

Ok I could harp on about this for ages – I’m truly sold and keen to try this for myself – but I’ll wrap up. I love the talk, I thought Elina was humble and amazing, and a fantastic example to young women. I enjoyed the talk sitting next to my partner who is a wonderful man (blush) and so supportive of me coming off hormones; he raves as much about this talk as I do. Nice one TOA.


Microdosing Psychedelics For Leadership Development And Creativity
Paul Austin, Founder — The Third Wave

This will be a much shorter review I promise. It made the list because the concept of taking small doses of psychedelic substances in order to enhance focus and leadership was new and interesting to me. I found this nice article on the topic and there is a whole sub Reddit to explore.

The beginning of Paul’s talk was engaging but by the end he’d lost his flow (ironic as he admitted he had microdoesd that very morning and as such should have been totally focused) and resorted to a rather ranty ending about legalising drugs.

Great topic, good start, weak ending. But still definitely worth a mention and I’d give Paul another chance if I saw him billed for another event.


The Porn Talk
Erika Lust and Pablo Dobner— Erika Lust Films

Yep, sex drugs and now more sex; did I mention I wasn’t hugely interested in the excess of AI talks?

Anyhoo, this was another incredible talk by another incredible woman and her amazing partner. The topic was around the “sad truth of our modern society […] that nowadays children are learning about sex not through school, or their parents, but through pornography.”

The pair highlighted that the content kids as young as five are seeing is “unrealistic at best, and sometimes racist, sexist and homophobic.” I should highlight that this couple make female-view, erotic content for a living so they weren’t trying to say porn is bad. They are parents themselves and encourage others to talk to their kids about porn – not just the birds and the bees – and as part of their not-for-profit, they provide materials for parents of kids of different ages in order to help start those important conversations.

The role play between Erika as “Mum” and Pablo as “Teenage Son” was highly entertaining. The short but poignant rants were powerful and really left me – and hopefully everyone else in the room – with so much to think about.

In this day and age porn is available at the touch of a few buttons and many adults wouldn’t think twice about having a quick look. But that quick look adds to demand and demand influences supply, and that supply is being seen by our very young children and influencing their understanding of what sex is and how they should behave.

A wonderful, passionate, entertaining, thought provoking talk.


Audiences: An Open Relationship
Yoni Bloch, Founder & CEO — Eko

This was one of the last talks we saw before running off to the airport and wow, what a welcome surprise! My partner and I had shown some initial interest in the talk on two-way story telling but as it got closer we weren’t 100% sold on attending. The main reason was we were flagging – tired from two nights on an uncomfortable Airbnb sofa bed, hungry, and starting to think less about the conference and more about our long journey home. However we also needed to charge our phones and there were plugs in the main Studio where the talk was taking place, so we headed on in.

A seemly introverted and extremely geeky looking chap appear on stage before the compare had even finished his introduction. Awkward! He wore a grey hoodie, looked nervously down at the laptop he was tapping away on and started to tell us about his lonely childhood playing with computers and a piano.

Then, out of the blue he showed us some music videos where he played the main character and he casually dropped in that he’s kinda super famous in Israel. But as few of us were likely to be 13 year old Israeli girls, he joked, then we probably weren’t that excited. He proceeded to demo his multi-option videos where the user makes decisions on who’s perspective they see the story from or in which direction the video gaze should go next (maybe he and Erika should collaborate!). He pointed out that his fans would play around with the videos for ages and all the time the catchy song was hooking into their brains. Clever. Users could also buy the song or share their version / experience of the video with friends via social media for free. Viral marketing. But just so much cooler!

In short he was amazing, that real kind of cool and you should have a play with his interactive video here.


Final Thoughts

Having run events and been involved with the events industry for a little while now I know how hard it is to explain exactly what value they offer. I’ll probably write something about that at a later date but I want to leave you with this. Events, conferences, talks, they can broaden your mind. Can you put a financial evaluation on that, no, but a week later I’m still exploring my thoughts on the things I heard, I’m still chatting with the new people I met and I’m buzzing from the interruption to my routine. Events are expensive to run and so they have to be a little bit expensive to attend, but once in a while it’s very good for you to get along to something a bit different – you never know what surprises are there waiting for you.


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My Top TOA Talks

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