Guest post: Organizing Your Own TEDx Conference

At Eventbrite, we’re thrilled to support many fantastic TEDx conferences. These self-organized gatherings—an offshoot of the renowned TED series—are about combining innovation with a DIY spirit: two concepts we love around these parts. So we thought we’d have a successful TEDx organizer share his insights and advice. Held at the University of Michigan on April 8th, TEDxUofM 2011: Encouraging Crazy Ideas is expecting nearly 1700 attendees coming to hear an inspiring group of speakers. UofM’s Jeff Ong wrote this guest post for the blog with his tips for TEDx success.

For organizing your very own TEDx conference, I have just two pieces of high-level advice. This is mostly because I believe the idea that your TEDx event will look completely different from the next is what makes TEDx conferences amazing. So take these words with a grain of salt, because you know better than I do what will make TEDx(fill in the blank) a wild success.

1. Create a Clear Vision Statement

In the Ann Arbor and University of Michigan community, it would be a difficult thing to find someone unfamiliar with Zingerman’s Deli. Over the past 25 years, Zingerman’s has grown to become both an integral part of the community and a world-famous deli. Back in October, the TEDxUofM team was fortunate enough to sit down with its co-founder, Paul Saginaw. He shared with us his visioning process, stressing how important carrying a strong vision is to Zingerman’s success to this day.

Creating a clear vision and purpose is an essential step in the success of arguably any organization or event; TEDx conferences are no exception. The visioning process really starts with each person on your team asking questions like, “What do I want this conference look like, feel like, even taste like? Where do I want the minds of the attendees to be during the conference? What emotions do I want each of the attendees to be experiencing as they depart?”

What comes next is a potentially arduous task: hammering out a physical vision document that your entire team can agree upon and believe in. The document should outline exactly and specifically the team’s hopes and dreams for your TEDx conference, everything from its speaker criteria to its design aesthetic. This is not to be confused with logistics and details, but instead a view from 30,000 ft that captures the main themes of your event.

Aside from providing a goal, the vision document unites your team behind something you all believe in. There will certainly be times of doubt, argument, and frustration (unless you have an apathetic or completely like-minded team—a far more alarming problem). When the waters ahead appear rough, you will always have something to strive towards and refer back to that unites and refocuses your team. This entire visioning process works to set up the driving question that the every team must answer: “What will be the lasting impression and impact of TEDx(fill in the blank)?”

2. Make No Assumptions

My second piece of advice is something that should be considered in any sort of grass-roots organization like a TEDx team: do not make any assumptions about your speakers, audience, or stakeholders with regards to their TED knowledge. To give just one example, imagine this: a Nobel Prize winner in Physics gets on your TEDx stage under the instructions, “You have 18 minutes to talk about whatever you would like.” This assumption about a speaker’s knowledge of delivering a TED talk runs the risk of alienating and even boring your audience.

While this might seem like a silly example, the idea still holds weight. Even if your speakers have incredible credentials, each one must be challenged and possibly coached to deliver the talk of their lives in a way that resonates with a global audience. People familiar with TED use words like, ‘revolutionary, ‘innovative’, ‘exciting’, ‘beautiful’, ‘relatable’, and ‘inspiring’ to describe its nature.

Ultimately, this is another reason TED is so beautiful—it makes no assumptions about anyone involved, but seeks to expose knowledge and share ideas with everyone. The same ought to be true of your TEDx conference.