London Talks and Lectures
Most of us are familiar with the global phenomenon of TED Talks, and while the format has its detractors the organisation has undoubtedly broadened access to many significant speakers by making its collection of recorded talks freely accessible online. London, as a global city, has traditionally provided live audiences for speakers from all manner of disciplines and fields, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted many such talk-events online as well. However, face-to-face talks offer the advantage of the opportunity to network, and sometimes to interact personally with the speaker. We’ve put together this review of providers who are still presenting at least part of their talks, debates and discussions programmes live and in-person in London.
Intelligence Squared is a forum for debates, talks and discussions in the fields of politics & economics, history & social policy, science & technology, and art & culture. Speakers include well known authors, economists, politicians, and journalists. While many of their events are online only, some also take place in-person at London venues such as Islington’s Union Chapel or Kensington Town Hall. Although subscribers, at £15 a month, get a discount (and access to weekly online events), members of the public can also attend on a pay per event basis.
A similar model is offered by How to Academy, which hosts a line-up of “thinkers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and leaders” and has presented talks in different locations including the Art Workers Guild in Bloomsbury and the Barbican Hall.
Conway Hall Ethical Society (which describes itself as “Creative, Diverse, Historic, Human and Kind”) offers a range of talks on social, political and cultural topics at its Holborn venue, while across the river the Southbank Centre offers a programme of talks and debates featuring “leading thinkers, activists, politicians and cultural observers”. Some of the conversations are led by curators of exhibitions that are opening at the centre, while others are by authors discussing their newly published books.
Holborn’s Gresham College puts on over one hundred live lectures per year which are open to the public and are usually hosted at either the college’s own Holborn site, Barnard’s Inn Hall, or at the Museum of London on London Wall. Subject areas range from science topics such as astronomy, medicine and information technology to history, politics, law and more besides. Some of the 2021/22 programme lecture titles include Apes in Science Fiction, How the Financial System Works, and Averting the Insect Apocalypse. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance and are typically available two months ahead of the lecture date, although you can sometimes turn up and get returns at the door. See gresham.ac.uk.
Museums like the V&A, British and Natural History museums have live talks throughout the year, often linked to current exhibitions, and usually chargeable at around £15 – £20 a head. Free guided tours and talks covering some of the art, or a tour of a part of the gallery are available at both Tate Modern and Tate Britain, while the National Gallery offer a mix of free and chargeable talking events.
UCL Minds, an initiative of University College London, has a small selection of in-person events amongst its more extensive collection of ‘live’ but online lectures. As COVID recedes, the share of face-to-face talks is likely to increase. Some lectures, seminars and other talks are open to the public at the University of London’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) off Russell Square.
The Royal Institution, based in London’s Mayfair and home of the famous televised Christmas Lectures, hosts science-themed talks, tailored to children and teenagers throughout the year. How about “Giant fishing dinosaurs – uncovering the behaviour of Spinosaurus and allies” or “The Ultimate Guide to Time Travel”?
Guildhall Library has an impressive array of morning, afternoon and evening talks on London themes, some in the form of onsite illustrated talks at the library (often free of charge), as well as guided walks around the city’s historic districts. Combined tours and talks also feature in the Bishopsgate Institute’s offering, with various London-themed in-person events on offer. Finally, the various ‘learned societies,’ based at Burlington House on Piccadilly, and the Royal Society at Carlton House Terrace, just off the Mall typically offer programmes of talks open to the public at their respective headquarters. Several are restricting themselves to online-only at present but it’s worth keeping on eye on their websites for updates.