Thursday, June 11, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Create a Local TED Event

If you're not familiar with the TED Conference, go immediately to its Web site,, and watch a few videos to get the flavor of it. Of course, I'm risking that you will become hooked and never come back to my blog, but it's a chance I'll have to take.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, although since its founding in 1984, the subject matter has spread well beyond those categories. TED's tag line is "Ideas Worth Spreading" and that pretty much sums up the requirements to be considered as a TED presenter - having an inspired idea and an energetic delivery style. The ideas involved can cover just about anything and probably have in the 25 years since its inception.

The TED Conference takes place once a year over a four-day period in which dozens of thought leaders - some famous, many not - give 18-minute or less presentations on an intriguing idea. Some use technologically-advanced graphics, some basic PowerPoint slides, and some simply stand on stage and talk (or more likely, pace back and forth and talk). When they finish, the next one steps on stage without audience Q&A.

I've never attended a TED Conference but I can imagine that one's brain is both exhilarated and exhausted by the end of a day. If you followed my suggestion in the first paragraph and checked out its Website, you very likely watched a few of the videos while you were there, so you know what I mean.

How does this relate to a HarvilleQuarter? Clearly, we can't all troop off to California for the annual conference, but why not create a local version? I think there's an audience almost anywhere for TED-type presentations and you can probably find a few people who would make outstanding presenters.

I wouldn't suggest trying to set up a four-day conference. But how about series of once-a-week TED evenings for, say, four weeks in a row. Each evening might feature three speakers, and, unlike TED, I would allow for ten minutes of Q&A after each one, so the evening in total would last about an hour and a half, with some refreshments and informal audience member interactions with presenters and each other afterwards.

Where could you find presenters? A local college or university would be a good starting point - it may already have a Speakers Bureau established with a list of faculty members and topics. Organizations that have regular programs, such as Rotary Clubs, could provide names of their best speakers. Not-for-profit organizations and newspaper feature editors and columnists could be another source, as well as music schools or live music venues. And just plain word of mouth.

You're going to want a venue that is the right size, already has or can accommodate decent technology to display presentation materials, is cheap and has sufficient parking. Churches are an option, as well as high school or college auditoriums, senior citizen centers (some retirement communities have small auditoriums), meeting halls, hotel ballrooms, convention centers, or even bars. (I'm intrigued by the thought that a bar could attract an off-night patronage by offering TED speakers.)

I'd find a few friends to help with all the arrangements, including locating and signing up presenters, securing the venue, publicizing the series and creating buzz, rehearsing the speakers, setting up the room and AV equipment, organizing refreshments and performing the myriad other tasks that go into an event like this.

You may be able to find a business to sponsor each evening, allowing for free admittance for audience members. If not, it should be possible to make the cost very nominal. TED does not pay its speakers and you shouldn't either.

Rehearsing speakers will be a key to success. It's important that they understand the time limitation (18 minutes), are well-organized, easily audible (especially if your venue is a senior center) and that the AV works flawlessly. You may or may not feel comfortable giving more substantive feedback during rehearsals, and speakers may or may not be appreciative of constructive criticism. Ideally, you have vetted speakers sufficiently before issuing an invitation to be confident of their audience appeal.

And, if an occasional presenter is less than riveting, the beauty of a TED evening is that the audience is stuck for only 18 minutes at most and can then turn their attention to the next speaker. Who, one hopes, will be both dazzlingly brilliant and falling-down-and-rolling-in-the-aisles hilarious.

Besides the three 18-minutes speakers plus Q&A, I'd consider short entertaining interludes between the speakers - five minutes or so - sort of a palate-cleanser, you might say. A deftly executed Chopin etude or Bach prelude and fugue, an aria, a theatrical monologue, a juggling act - all would be candidates. If there's a music school in your community, a faculty member or advanced student could fill the bill nicely.

That's about as far as I've got in my thinking on a local TED event, but I'm hoping to receive lots of comments and suggestions from all of you. See that "comments" link right under this posting?

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