Ideas Worth Spreading: HOWs, WHATs and WHYs of TED events by the eyes of an insider :)

TED is a well-known conference, initially devoted to the topics of Technology, Entertainment and Design. 10 years ago TED launched TEDx project, independent events organized in different cities around the world aimed at sharing ideas worth spreading. This project was so successful that now there are over  3000 events happening yearly. TED talks are gaining hundreds of thousands views on Youtube and standing on a stage on the red dot with the big red TED letters became the dream of many people.

District 108 PRM Valeria spoke with our Program Quality Director Elena Paweta – the official organizer of TEDx events in Poland to learn how she managed to become one and what impact it makes  to her professional career and Toastmasters life.

Q1. Lena, tell us, what or who brought you to TEDx? How come you became a part of the organizing team?

I got into TEDx organisation through Toastmasters actually. In 2015 after one of the meetings of Speakers of Lodz club we were chatting how great it would be to have a TEDx event in Lodz, Poland. I am a person of action, so after the inspiring conversations, I went back home, made a research on how to get the license and applied few days later. Several weeks after I got an answer and.. my application was declined. I did not give up and applied for the second time taking into consideration TEDs feedback. This time – I got the license!

When I got an email from TED that I am the official organizer of the only TEDx event in my city, I panicked – “How am I going to do this? I have no idea how to organize mass events! What have I done?” I made a post on Facebook that I got the license and suddenly – so many people wanted to join my team! Not surprisingly, I got the biggest support from our Toastmasters community, and till now TMs are a big part of all TEDx events I organize.

Q2. Sounds cool! 🙂 Can you name the events you helped organize? What does it take to make TEDx happen?

I have organized 3 editions of TEDxPiotrkowskaStreet in Lodz. After I moved from Lodz to Warsaw I did two things immediately – joined local Toastmasters club (of course :)) and volunteered to support local TEDxWarsaw event. Since then, I have started and organized 2 editions of TEDxWarsawWomen, the conference which became really famous in Poland, and was even covered by Forbes magazine.

In order to organize a TEDx event you need to take care of 4 main areas: 1. speakers, 2. marketing, 3. event experience and 4. partners. It requires a team of committed people, passionate about their local community and full of innovative ideas.

Q3. Amazing! There must be something you are especially proud of in terms of organization. Can you share?

I am immensely proud of our organizing team when I see how they take ownership for the event, come up with brilliant ideas and make it happen. Organisation of such an event is a team sport and you can see great results only when all team members are committed.

I enjoy so much the event day, when everything seems to be happening by itself – guests do not realize how many hours was spent on planning, preparing, executing. This is what makes me most proud – when I see satisfaction of all team members and think “We did it!”

Q4. You and your team really did it and not even once! Still there must be something, let’s put it as ‘the most difficult part’. Any valuable lessons learnt?

Of course, event organisation is not all “unicorns and rainbows” and it can be frustrating and really hard at times. My main lessons learned are all about team building and delegation. I learned to always make sure that all team functions are covered. Key functions should be covered in the first place – head of marketing, speakers, partners, event experience, finance – should be in place from the very beginning of event organisation. I learned it the hard way as not having the key team members I had to do many things by myself.

Q5. Now let’s talk a bit about TED and Toastmasters 🙂 How is TED different from a public speaking event, say, а Toastmasters conference? Could you name 3 main specialties of TED in comparing with TM events?

If I were to name three main differences between TEDx event and a Toastmasters conference I would say it’s about the ideas worth spreading in local communities, the speakers preparation process and the event experience.

#1. Toastmasters conferences usually focus on inspirational and educational speeches, while TEDx events always feature the ideas worth spreading in local communities. TEDx speakers are not necessarily professional speakers, but people who achieved something or are doing something worth spreading. When searching for speakers, we focus on our local communities, and on ideas that can be innovative, interesting and based on facts/science.

#2. Toastmasters events rarely require speakers preparation, as Toastmasters are usually confident in delivering speeches and workshops. TEDx events, due to its specific format, usually organize the extensive speakers preparation process, which includes workshops, rehearsals, one-on-one work with speaker guides. If speaker candidates are not working on preparation of their speeches, they may not be accepted to be on the stage during the event day. As event curators, we need to make sure that the quality of all TEDx speeches will be on a very high level.

#3. The event experience is what makes TEDx events different from all other conferences. When we present ideas from the stage, we also show them at the conference venue in between the sessions. That is why, during TEDx event one can get to experience the Virtual Reality, get to see the robots, solar cars, get to practice sign language, salsa dancing or impro techniques. We always make sure to organize the networking opportunities and space for participants.

Q6. Let’s assume any of us reading this story suddenly wants to become a. an organizer or b. a speaker at TEDx – what do I do? What are the first steps to undertake?

If you want to become an organizer check whether you have a TEDx event organized in your city/town, contact organizer and join the team. If there is no event happening in your neighborhood, apply at website for a licence and bring ideas worth spreading to your community – town/area/university.

If you want to be a speaker, first check if you qualify for TEDx requirements – if your idea is new (was not discussed before in other speeches, books etc), if it is interesting for broad audience, if it is based on facts/research. If your idea meets these 3 criteria, contact your local TEDx organizer and fill in the application form if they are searching for speakers. What TEDx organisers are NOT searching for – is inspirational speakers, professional speakers, life coaches, life stories – this type of speeches are being declined by the majority of TEDx events.

Q7. Thanx for the tips) Last question – what have you learnt being a TEDx organizer and how it helps you in your TM journey?

TEDx organisation has definitely helped me to become a better leader. In fact, my first TEDx event in 2015 was my High Performance Leadership project in Toastmasters. That was when I first realized that I can be a leader and got valuable feedback from my mentors.

Now I feel confident managing 30+ people teams and it definitely helps me both as a District leader in Toastmasters, and in my professional life.

Spoiler: for more details about TEDx organisation – check my article in one of the next Toastmaster magazines 😉 

Photos by Agata Dabrowska

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