I have been a member of the TEDx community for a few years now. I have attended too many TEDx’s to count, and took part in the preparation of even more.
I attended my first TEDx event a few years ago while TEDxCarthage was at its beginnings.
But first of all what is a TEDx?
I will spare you the detour to Wikipedia; TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design, which is a global set of conferences owned by a private foundation.
TED started as an annual gathering to talk about Silicon Valley, the hometown of innovation.
For the last 30 years, TED events have been held around the world on a regular basis with a very select and prestigious attendance.
But the title is talking about TEDx not TED you may wonder.
Indeed, TED has evolved over the years and introduced TEDx, which is an independent series of events in the same spirit of TED and which can be organized by anyone who obtains a free licence from TED, agreeing to follow certain rules.
So, basically TEDx are smaller, less expensive more local TED events. These events usually don’t ask for admission fees in-order to attract more people.
And in Tunisia, –besides TEDxCarthage– events like this are mostly held by students in universities or high schools.
Getting to the point:
A TEDx is a place where you usually dedicate a Sunday to listen to a series of people going on stage, each to talk about something for a little less than 20 minutes.
Even though you have three breaks, TEDx after another, I began to find this format exhausting and counterproductive. Bombarding the audience with a sales pitch after another is just tiring, and usually by the end of the day, the audience won’t remember much of what has been said.
TED goes by the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading“
Nice in theory, but how many ideas per day exactly? And should these ideas go through some quality check before? Did they get some coaching on how to address a crowd or prepare a presentation?
Most of the time, organisers don’t meet with the speakers until the evening before the event when they get the slides and -in best case scenario- check the quality of the presentation.
Most organisers don’t know exactly what their speaker is pitching until the last minute.
Let me give you a glimpse on how most TEDx events are planned:
- I’m bored let’s make an event..
– Sure, what do you want to do?
- I don’t know, a TEDx maybe? All the schools are having one..
– Ok great, what theme would work best?
- I don’t know, we’ll ask around, see if something comes up!
Most TEDx are held out of boredom or because a competitor school is doing one.
Nothing very inspirational there.
The themes that the presenter will try to sell were probably chosen at random or imposed by the school or investors.
The “renowned” speakers are also usually introduced by sponsors, the rest are basically what you can have available at the lowest cost.
Registration and keeping the visitors fed:
If you have ever attended a TEDx in Tunisia, you probably have gone through the process of booking a ticket via a system such as Eventbrite.
These tickets are there for a few reasons:
First, due to the licence, you have a limited number of attendees (100 usually).
This ensures that everyone will actually have a seat. It also gets the organisers to compete on which event has his tickets sold out faster.
This sounds good on paper, but when you have an audience that has their fair-share of TEDx events, people tend to register but don’t show-up, or show-up late. Leaving the organisers with the hard choice of delaying the opening for an hour or opening with a half-empty room.
Flash news: People like free stuff!
Not a very shocking statement indeed. And they like to collect free stuff even more.
A large portion of TEDx attendees are there out of a habit; they want to collect the free T-shirt and free Sunday lunch. (Which an organizer must provide or-else would be called a cheap noob)
Due to how the TEDx is structured, many attendees will be there only to collect their t-shirt and food, then they’ll leave the event with an-overbooked ticket system and a half-empty afternoon session. Thus, wasting precious funds.
Size matters, so does pleasing the customer
Most TEDx events ignore the 100 people limit and go beyond, risking their licence. This has become a common practice, as different teams are competing on “who has the bigger -event-“.
This usually and systematically impacts the quality of the event.
In this pursuit of numbers and full auditoriums, organizers make attendance free of charge, and even give free swag (t-shirts, mugs, notebooks, pens, wristbands…)
And you shouldn’t forget to add the absurd cost of providing several coffee breaks, and lunch to the entire audience and staff.
In doing so, most attendees think that they are in a “customer-service provider” relationship with the organisers. Forgetting that by doing a free event, (wasting time and money and favors) the team is –almost– doing the attendees a favor.
An attitude adjustment is much needed
Make smaller events, with quality content and good video recording, those who are really interested can always watch you on Youtube.
This brings us to the next point
No debate policy
TEDx events are most of the time held in a sort of an auditorium, where it is designed initially for a stage where the person under the spotlight has the voice, and the public is in the shadow. Attendees usually applaud systematically and don’t get much room to show their opinion or debate what the speaker has just presented. And even if you give them a mic, the room is too big and the numbers are too large to do so in the proper timeframe.
All is forgotten the next day
TED events are usually small elitist events where tickets are either sent to VIPs or sold for around $6 000. (It is up to you to say if that is a good or a bad thing)
It is this elitism that allowed TED to invite renowned speakers at the cutting edge of their domains.
TEDx however, with humble funds, tend to attract lower profiles.
When attending a TEDx, you’ll hear many stories, some are called “success stories” others are labeled “inspirational”. But you probably won’t remember more than a couple of them the next day, and it is very doubtful that they would change your life -as advertised-.
Like always, let’s wrap-up with some general sidenotes:
To answer the question “Should I attend a TEDx ?”
If you can find a clear list of speakers and a theme that you’re interested in, please do. It can be a very enriching experience.
If you’re attending because it’s an event and you just have to, please don’t. You might be taking the seat of someone who is genuinely interested.
We all know that the ticket system has many flaws. So, please don’t overbook tickets for you and your friends who might not show up.
There is a special place in hell for you if you do so.
You may think that you want to hold an event
“Should I really make a TEDx ?”
First of all, you should ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I have an idea I want to spread, or do I just want to make an event?
- Is this idea worth spending 2 to 3 months preparing to make it happen?
- Can I find some good people to discuss points and stories around this idea?
- Can I secure proper funding? (Make estimations as early as possible!!!!)
- Does the event have to be a day long? (Yes, a TEDx can be half a day or even 3 hours)
There are several points that we can discuss in a later publication or in private if you’d like to. Contact me.
I encourage you to organise and attend events. Just make sure that they represent what you want to communicate and don’t use a trademark just because everyone is doing so.
You can have an event and come up with a structure of your own, engage your audience, don’t keep them in dark auditoriums sitting in silence and applauding automatically like machines.
Make your event more interesting, some talks are 18 minutes worthy, others are 5 and some need an hour. It depends on the content.
What do you thinks about TEDx and events like this in general, share with us your experience and thoughts.