“So who is this TED fellow anyway?”

What it is like to plan a TEDx event

Have you ever watched a TED talk? Those bite-size chunks of oh so inspirational thinking from some of the world’s leading people have always interested me. How they manage to get it so spot on and have you going “yesss I so agree” by the end, and how their own special brand of “Ideas Worth Spreading” managed to become synonymous with world-leading ideas. It interested me so much that this year I decided to take on the task of organising a TEDx event. The question above is the first thing I was asked in my first sponsorship meeting- it sort of threw me but definitely set the tone for the chaos of the months that were to come.

TEDx events operate under license from TED, but are run by people around the world for their own communities. As we began at UCL and are affiliated with TEDWomen our name logically followed. TEDxUCLWomen was born in 2013 with their ‘Women Unbound’ event.

This year the previous team wanted to make it bigger and better, which given that one of their first speakers has now done a talk on the actual TED California stage, is a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless we applied for our licence from TED, assembled a team of great talent from UCL and across London, discussed our “Momentum” theme and set to work with the words of Ang Swee Chai in 2013 in our heads “We will make big changes by making many small changes. This is within our power to do. We do not need permission.

The first challenge was trying to emulate some of those big TED ideas.

What it is like to plan a TEDx event

Now this is no easy task. It turns out that these perfectly presented talks in California are perfectly presented because TED spends so long with every single speaker, from selecting people with great ideas to learning about them, working out their personality and translating that into an accessible and engaging talk. This was exactly where we began; my co-organiser and I spent a few months doing a little bit of ‘professional stalking’ and checking out some of the incredible women London has to offer at other events before compiling our hit list. We could never have predicted the response. Over the past month our team have been amazed by how much we have learnt. We leave every speaker meeting buzzing from the incredible ideas we have just witnessed taking shape into a great talk. By now we have had so many, but it never seems to get old.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tell you that the fourteen talks we have planned for the 28th May contain hurdles, t-shirts, an entirely new way of imagining history, gremlins, swearing and jokes, but they are united by the powerful stories of the women we are proud to have standing on our stage.-a stage which is currently being laser cut and fitted with water pouches (don’t ask). This was an idea that came to our set designer over a glass of wine, an idea that currently looks like it will be incredible.

What it is like to plan a TEDx event

What we learnt from Maryam and the wonderful people at TEDxEastEnd however is that great speakers just aren’t enough. The best TEDx events are about the exciting experiences that you offer your audience alongside the talks.  The things that get people talking and interacting with all of the like-minded people they have come along to meet are what ensures that your TEDx event has a lasting impact and enables people to build connections that form into the kind of ideas we are trying to spread. With this in mind we worked hard to ensure that our TEDx experience reflected the big ideas in our own community. Instead of going to corporate caterers, we worked with the Chickpea Sisters, a group of refugee and migrant women who turned their love of cooking and chatting into an exciting catering business. We worked hard with local artist groups such as Peachy ‘n’ Keen to create exhibitions for our audience as well as getting in touch with local filmmakers to create a programme of short films for people to enjoy. We even managed to get ourselves Chardine Taylor-Stone, who when not curating events on black British feminism and drumming in her band, collects vinyl, a selection of which she will be playing for our audience as they enjoy a nice glass of wine to finish off a hectic day. We wanted to ensure that we gave as many people as possible the chance to use the great platform the TED name gives to share their work, and in meeting so many awesome women personally I think it has already paid off.

What it is like to plan a TEDx event

Organising TEDx events mean hard work and long hours. You have to think of everything, from providing people with TEDxUCLWomen thermos cups to decreasing our environmental impact and ensuring that our tote goodie bags are sweat shop-free. But if you put in this time and have an engaging team around you, you actually end up learning a huge amount more about your community than when you set out to ‘represent’ it in the first place. So when we roll out that red circle next Thursday I’m excited to tell all of the stories I have heard over the past few months.

If you like what you have read and want to join us next week to meet interesting people and learn something new then tickets are still available here: www.teduclwomen.com/tickets

People of all ages and genders are welcome as long as you come with an open mind. If you can’t make it then keep an eye on our website and social media (Facebook) and Twitter) to hear about what we are up to in the future.

If you are feeling really brave and this has made you wonder whether you might like to set up your own TEDx event then get in touch at sarah@tedxuclwomen.com – we are really friendly and happy to share our ideas!

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About Author

Sarah Campbell is a final year Language and Culture student at University College London. She has been working with NGOs for a number of years and is passionate about women’s rights, education, social justice and grassroots development. She currently works with Global Giving UK.

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