5 Lessons I Learned From Organizing a TEDx Event



“Learning never exhausts the mind” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Conversations were going on everywhere. People were connecting with new faces, or others they knew but in a new way. They now had something stronger in common. Some were even catching up with people they had not seen in years. The local speakers were in high demand with peoples questions and congratulations. 

The energy was electric and contagious. 

This was how it felt a week last Friday at the TEDxWomen event that I helped organize TEDxKingStWomen in Hamilton.  The day went better than we had hoped for and with over 80 in the room it was a day that I can look back on and feel really good about. 

Less than 8 weeks ago I was advised that I had been approved for the licence to run an independently organized TED event.  To be honest I thought I had missed the boat, applied too late and not left myself enough time to pull it all together. 

My procrastination was going to defeat me before I had even started.  

Why had I thought of doing this?

What was I thinking?

Where should I even start? 

I sat staring at a blank sheet of paper and an online PDF TEDx Event Manual of 115 pages. Yikes it was like being back at school for exams!

Lesson 1  – Revisit the reason you decided to do something in the first place.

I recalled that the catalyst was some promotional pieces put out about the great entrepreneurial vibe in the City. Except the presence of women in these pieces was lacking and minimal.

“That can’t be right”  I said, to no-one in particular. With at least 75% of the focus of the work I do being spent working with entrepreneurial and professional women, I could reel off half a dozen names of accomplished women I would want to learn from and hear more. Another few minutes and I had more added to the list.

A few conversations later with people I knew and I was climbing on to a soap box. Something had to be done. But what?

The Universe has a way of finding those answers for you when you ask. Up pops the TED Women Conference of 2015. So why not a TEDxWomen event? I have wanted to speak at a TEDx event, but now I could take it a stage further and run one. How difficult could it be?

Wait a minute putting on an event like this takes a lot. 

Lesson 2  – Remember that other like minded people want to see this happen. 

The first person I spoke to about it was so enthusiastic and supportive I knew it could happen. Within a few hours she had a list of suggested speakers, possible venues, email introductions lined up and most of all a belief that I could pull this off. Without her I might have stopped right then.

The room was going to be filled with extraordinary women and the great thing was this extraordinary woman had already bought the first ticket. Just a few dozen more to go!

Once I started to talk to others about it we quickly formed an organizing committee and started to fill out many blank sheets of paper with ideas, plans and actions.

But unlike a normal TEDx event this had to coincide with a specific date, the TED Women Conference on May 28th or 29th.

Surely 6 weeks was not enough.

Lesson 3 – Never under estimate your capabilities.

My procrastination had meant a late application for the licence. When TED responded that the decision process was as much as 3 months I thought I had missed the window. So I did not do anything more.

Then all of a sudden it was a go. We needed speakers, a venue, videographer, catering, sponsors and most of all an audience.

Others timelines were not matching my urgency. Potential speakers were not replying, sponsors not responding, venues and caterers slow to get proposals back, ticket sales were slow.

I will admit there were times when I was more than ready to pull the plug on the whole event. 

Focusing back on the why and the belief of others helped maintain the momentum. The theme of the TED Women Conference – Momentum – it seemed particularly apt.

We were building it, but would they come?

Lesson 4 – People are busy, over committed and make last minute decisions.

The ticket sales with 10 days remaining were still looking light. But we had to make certain commitments based on bigger numbers. The belief had to be there.

I thought about my own decision making process when it comes to this type of event. I calmed down a little.  I spoke to others who ran events and sold tickets. “Hamilton is a last minute town” I was told. I felt a little bit more calm.

We are all busy. We have a lot going on and there are many events and opportunities competing for our time, attention and resources.

In the last week ticket sales increased and suddenly I had the opposite worry, had I planned for enough!

Now all these people were coming was the day going to live up to what we promised?

Lesson 5 – Stand on the shoulders of giants – Follow in others footsteps

The 115 page manual from TED was written for a reason. The forums available and other TEDx events sharing their lessons and best practices are there for a reason too.

TED has a success formula. For a first time organizer I think we followed it fairly well. It works.

As long as you can be flexible, roll with the punches, continue to learn and plan as much as you can then the chances of success are high.

Overall I feel the whole event was a great success. The feedback from attendees on the day and since has been fantastic.

Here was two attendees thoughts; 

“WOW! What a great day!  Thank you to the team for organizing a truly wonderful event.” – MW

“The TEDx was fabulous!   Thank you!” – JK

The biggest measure for me though was that several people this week have contacted me to say how much they regret NOT being able to make it. How disappointed they were in missing it based on what they have heard.

So I know the next time will be even better.

5 Things I Would Do Differently

1. Give myself way more time to apply for the licence and plan the event.

2. As the licence holder take much more of a strategic leadership role and delegate 90% of what I ended up doing this time.

3. Keep the event small and have time for an attendee application process as many of the other TEDx events do. We can even add a local webcast next time for over flow.

4. Add more local speakers with a wider ranges of topics and add in more performers too.

5. Have more on the organizing committee with much more specific roles for each member.

When I was in the midst of the organizing I was saying to myself that this was not something I wanted to do again.  But the day was such a great experience and the demand for such events for women seems so strong I think you will see my applying again for a licence!

If you want to know when the next TEDxKingStWomen event is going to be drop on over to the website and fill in the email form on the right hand side of the page. www.tedxkingstwomen.ca

When you are on the list you will also then be advised of when the local speaker videos from this year have been uploaded for watching on TEDx Talks. And in the meantime you can check out photos from the event on our Flickr Group  www.flickr.com/groups/tedxkingstwomen/  more will be added soon from the professional photographer. 

Wishing you a brandtastic day! 

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