This weekend I attended the 3rd installment of TEDxVancouver.
It was held at the Chan Centre out at UBC which is a stunning place to witness any kind of event or performance. In this case, a thousand people came out for the day to listen to speakers from all different backgrounds and disciplines.
I was initially reluctant to attend a conference where you have to apply to go (I missed the previous two installments due to being out of town). What if I wasn’t worthy enough? In the end I decided to apply and just be myself not caring if I didn’t end up being accepted. I had expected a more daunting application but it wasn’t much more than a registration form with a few extra questions about myself.
Turned out I had nothing to worry about as I got my invite a few weeks later.
After a lively discussion on Twitter with @TEDxVancouver about this process, I agreed that there is a problem with many people signing up for conferences but either don’t really want to be there or aren’t willing to make the most of it. The application process forces people to make an extra effort to show that they want to be there and to be open to the ideas presented. I like that concept, especially when dealing with an increasingly bigger audience that wants to attend events like these – being the first in line to buy a ticket doesn’t necessarily make for a good attendee. I’m still not a fan of this process, as it was presented at least and organizers seemed to want to find a better way to do this that doesn’t come across as elitist as many people have labeled the application process.
A bit of a disclosure: while my application was accepted to attend TEDxVancouver, I was later asked if I wanted to attend and take photos under a (free) media pass, which I ultimately did. I contemplated simply attending (without my camera) as a paid attendee but decided I wanted the option to take photos of the event since I like to do that anyway and it’s rare to have camera access in a venue like the Chan Centre. I would have gladly paid the paltry $80 admission for the value that I got from the event.
Tickets went on sale just a week before the conference was scheduled to happen. I saw on Twitter that as the day got closer, people were able to extend ticket invites to their friends. I thought that was a little strange and possibly suggested that not all those that applied and had been accepted chose to buy tickets and organizers were trying to fill seats at the last minute. It kind of cheapened the whole application process in my mind. I have no idea how widespread this was. Having helped to organize conferences myself, I know how hard it can be to get everything right in the days leading up to the conference – especially with one this scale. Knowing that the TEDx organizers are all volunteers (and it’s a non-profit) helped me understand the difficulties they are under as well to produce a solid conference.
This was definitely a solid conference…and possibly one of the best ones I’ve attended in Vancouver.
One challenge with a conference like this is having the right speakers. The schedule wasn’t finalized until the very last minute and I honestly didn’t care who was speaking. I was going on the premise that TED (and TEDx) is famous for bringing together an amazing assortment of speakers from all walks of life to help inspire the attendees. I wasn’t even sure I needed to be inspired but I went in with an open mind.
As the day unfolded, I found the speakers that took the stage were incredibly engaging. One nice thing about the TEDx format is that you have a short amount of time to get your story out. There is no Q&A, which usually bores me to death (that’s what the hallways & after party is for). Just give your talk and move on to the next one. It made the day go fast, with little time to get bored if the topic wasn’t compelling. Instead of being exhausted at the end of the day, I found it energized me…which is usually the intent of any conference, but rarely the result in my experience. My mind was racing when I finally went to bed that night…still processing all that had been said in the talks, and the great conversations I had with many people during breaks.
Interspersed throughout the day were a number of videos from TED.com featuring people discussing topics that were somewhat related to the upcoming in person talks. I quite liked this format and while it’s apparently mandated by the TED folks, it makes sense that it’s a good way to spread those ideas around beyond your own city limits. In particular, I found Marcin Jakubowski’s talk about open source ecology and his ‘global village construction set’ facinating. It really hit home thanks to my recent experiences building 3d printers.
One thing is for sure, I got a lot more out of TEDx than I expected to and will be thinking about the talks that occurred for a long time to come.
If you were reluctant to apply like I initially was, I encourage you to let it go and apply to attend next year’s event…or any TEDx event for that matter. I think there are at least 3 different ones happening this month in and around Vancouver alone: TEDxCapU (already over), TEDxSFU (Nov 26) and the Vancouver edition I attended.