Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

TEDxSF - Little TEDx Just Like The Big TED

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 18, 2009

I popped into the TEDxSF conference yesterday at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and really enjoyed the presentations.

I've never been to the big TED conference but I've seen many videos and this was just like it.

Conference is probably not the right word to describe TEDxSF it is more like attending a series of theatrical performances.

And each TED presentation seems to exist within a TED template:

- Pretty much everyone has a slide-show presentation to aid their 20 minute performance.

- There is always an emotional moment or hook.

- A TED presentation will always seek to inspire

- It will encourage the audience to think beyond their boundaries.

-It will make copious use of in vogue terms such as: powerful, community, culture, creativity, innovation, engage, passion, transcend, think big, connect, connections, educate, universe...

- Each presentation has to have a funny glitch with the slides

- Humility and self-deprecating humor is essential.

- High ideals and big ideas are essential

- A call for change (usually without offering a way to change).

- Ending with a potential standing ovation moment.

There is so much similarity in all TED presentations that sometimes it seems as if each one is a parody of a TED talk.

But please don't misunderstand me, I love everything about TED, the people it attracts, and the incredible distribution of groundbreaking ideas that it enables. [It's yet another feather in the already very feathery hat of Chris Anderson.]

Less geek and more chic

I enjoyed all the presentations and I loved the music and comedy presentations too, they really helped to break things up.

I also liked being in a largely non-geek crowd. A couple of superstar angel investors were there, Stewart Alsop, and Jeff Clavier. And I ran into Jim Daly and Bruce Lowry. It was really refreshing not to be among the regular tech/media/PR crowd.

An explosion of TEDs

TEDxSF is an independently organized event following the TED format:

TEDx is a new program that enables local communities such as schools, businesses, libraries, neighborhoods or just groups of friends to organize, design and host their own independent, TED-like events.

There are a lot of local TEDx events coming up all over the world - 353! [Find one near you.]

The local TEDx events are less exclusive than Big TED and less elitist. You apply for an invitation and you are asked to write about your wishes for a better world. If you fit into any of these job categories you stand a better chance of an invitation: artist/designer/creator; industry leader; making a living by thinking big; professor; VC, lawyer, press, inventor, social entrepreneur, technologist, other.

You can apply to TEDxSF here: TEDxSF.

The next TEDx . . .

I'm looking forward to the next one in April and I am also looking forward to the TEDx events evolving, and maybe striking out a little on their own and developing their own local personalities.

I loved sitting back and watching the performances and I joked with one of the organizers, Jeanne Alford, "It's great, it's just like watching TED videos!" And it was.

I'm sitting there for hours, with others, in the dark, just watching...I would prefer to interact, debate, discuss, share -- in real-time, in real life, with real people.

If I'm just watching, then I can do that online. I'd rather not have the equivalent of an online experience when I'm out and about. I want a shared experience, and I want to share my experiences, and I want to experience others.

The Big TED has pioneered a great format but I'm sure it's not the only way to tell inspiring stories, there must be other ways to bring people together as participants, and maybe even as activists, too.

It would be great for TEDx events to experiment with different formats. I'd love to see the 'x' stand for experimental... as well as exciting, sexy, exuberant, existential, extrovert, exultive, and always extraordinary... But not exclusive. It would be great if it were a little bit more inclusive, a little more "Bill" than TED, a little more grounded.

But I have no idea if that's even possible. There is a very long list of rules that control every aspect of a TEDx event. But surely the point is not to clone Big TED, surely the point is not to have a homogeneous, franchised TED spreading throughout the world. The Golden Arches of TED?

I'd love to see the little TEDxs experiment, create, and explore, then bring the best back into Big TED. That would be amazing.

I'd like to congratulate the organizing committee: Jeanne Alford, Heather Mason, Christine McCaull, Taylor Milsal, Suzie Katz, Mike Marquez, Peter Pham, Sumit Guha, Michael Levit, and Jason Johnson, and everyone that helped out - you did a superb job!

I'm looking forward to the next one and please let me know if I can help in any way.

- - -

This is my favorite TED video. It is from 2008. Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor's incredible experience of a massive stroke.









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