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TEDx Retrospective

Mark Mzyk | March 19, 2010

TEDxTriangleNC was held March 6th.  As mentioned previously, I was one of the organizers.  I want to look back at what worked and what didn’t.

At the event I checked attendees and speakers in.  Due to this I missed most of the first talks, so I can’t speak to how the day kicked off. From what I did see, the talks and performances were high quality.  Some talks held my interest better than others because of the topic, but all of them were engaging.

The talks were scheduled by theme, so each block of talks had similar topics.  This made sense from a presentation standpoint, but in hindsight I’m not sure it was the best layout for the day.  The talks about relationships – generally high energy and high emotion talks – were grouped together.  It was a lot to take in, one right after the other.  These same talks also took place in the morning, giving the morning more energy than the afternoon. If we had spaced these talks out it would have spread the emotional load out over the day and giving the afternoon an energy boost that might have helped propel people through the day.

TED has an image of being sanitary and safe.  I often find it hard to disagree with TED talks I watch, but that maybe due to selection bias – I only watch TED talks I find agreeable.  If TED is to be about spreading ideas, then it can’t just spread ideas that people will agree with: it also has to spread ideas that challenge people.  TEDxTriangeNC did that.  Joel Wiggins talk has received some comment.  Joel’s talk was on missing fathers and how families would benefit from having the father in the home.  Is Joel’s idea platonic?  Yes.  He didn’t include mention of alternate family structures in his talk.  I’ve seen comment that some people disagreed with this.  Good.  We should challenge each other’s ideas; it is how we all grow.

Another talk that challenged was Dr. Mitch Krucoff’s.  He spoke on the power of prayer in healing, using specific examples from India. Are his ideas and examples at odds with a scientific mind?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Even if you don’t agree, it’s good to hear the viewpoint.

David Beaver’s talk as the finale was perfect.  Speaking on space, he pulled everyone out from the close and personal to a broad view highlighting humanity and the earth we inhabit.  It was a great cap on the event that gave perspective to all the other talks.

In between groups of talks – groups that generally ran from an hour to an hour and a half – there were twenty minute conversation breaks.  Twenty minutes felt right.  As the organizers, we debated how long the breaks should be.  At TED, they’re forty-five minutes.  During our initial planning, we had them at ten, but then lengthened them to the final twenty.  Twenty allowed people to go by the restroom if needed and to grab a drink, while also connected with those around them.  Nobody was rushed, but the break didn’t drag out so long that people wondered when the talks would start again.  We got this one right.

We got coffee wrong.  While coffee was available for the start of the day, that was the only time we had coffee provided.  We completely missed that coffee and caffeine would be needed to get people through the midafternoon lull.  The RTP staff bailed us out and brewed some coffee using their break room equipment.  Thanks goes to them for that.

We got the venue right.  The RTP Headquarters is a cool building that worked out really well for the event.  Not so small as to be tight, but not so large that you could get lost in it.  Granted, we didn’t have full capacity, but the venue still worked well.  One lesson learned for next time is overbook by some amount, because people will drop out, especially for a free event.  Some attendees expressed to me that they thought a larger building might be needed in the future, but I’m on the fence about this.  If the event were to grow too large, would we lose the intimate conversations?  The speakers were able to intermingle with the attendees and speak to everyone: if the event is larger, does it just become a line of people waiting to talk to the speakers at breaks, instead of small groups riffing on the ideas presented?

It was awesome that most of the speakers were able to stick around at least part of the day, if not the entire day, to speak to the attendees.  That enables clarifying questions and the challenging of ideas.  To often speakers are treated like idols not to be touched.  The truth is they’re no different from everyone else and they can learn as much from the attendees as the attendees can learn from them.  Thank you to all our speakers: you did an amazing job and sparked amazing conversations and were amazingly accessible.

Every great event, even if it has a script, eventually has a mistake and improvisation is required.  Zach Ward, our MC, reminded us of this and showed how improv skills can save the day.  Zach did a great job stitching the day together and making the transitions flow.  He and his troupe also provided comic relief from the serious talks of the speakers.  Laughter is humanity and thanks Zach for providing it to us.

Thanks also goes out to Sherlock: his improv near the end of the day, in spontaneously standing to thank Zach, was much appreciated and showed everyone what rewards we can reap from reaching out to others.

Thank you to our sponsors for making the day possible, to our speakers for sharing their ideas, and to the attendees for being willing to give it a chance and experience something new.  The day wasn’t perfect, but it went amazingly well.  I hope everyone got as much out of it as I did.

Don’t let the ideas from the day die: continue the conversations and convert the ideas into action. Ideas are no good unless action is taken upon them.