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Connection and Consensus

How TED built one of the world’s biggest brands using people power

Excerpt from Issue 3 Gather

On any given day, there’s a TEDx event – and sometimes multiple events – happening somewhere in the world.

The global TEDx movement (the ‘x’ stands for ‘independently organised’ TED event) began in 2009 when TED head honcho Chris Anderson decided to broaden the reach of the TED brand by allowing pretty much anyone, anywhere, to hold a TED-like event.

The rules are relatively simple: maintain the spirit of TED (multidisciplinary, focused on the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world), hold it over one day, keep it volunteer-run and not-for-profit, don’t mess with the logo and stick to the naming conventions. You need to live in the city where you’re holding your event, and while you need to apply for a license, it’s free.

There’s a whole lot of fine print around videoing, distribution, sponsorship and PR, but it all fits onto one web page, an example of admirable restraint around rules and regulations that has without doubt contributed to the rise and rise of TEDx globally – close to 60,000 talks have been given in 60 languages at 13,475 events (and counting) since the program launched.

Mogadishu, Somalia; Queenstown NZ; Portland, Oregon; Caracas, Venezuela; almost every major city in every country has held a TEDx event (North Korea is a notable, if unsurprising, exception), but TEDx events are also held in prisons, on university campuses, in corporate boardrooms and school gyms – anywhere with a platform, space for chairs, and a decent AV setup.

According to TEDxQueenstown organiser, Trent Yeo, the popularity of TEDx comes down to the phenomenon of ‘inspired generosity’. The generosity of TED as an organisation, certainly, but also of a legion of volunteers who work their butts off to put on TEDx events.

Speaking to me on Skype from a coffee shop in Queenstown, where he is TEDx licensee, an annual event he helps organise around his day job as director of ecotourism business Ziptrek, Trent tells me about the people he’s met attending 17 TEDx events in the past three years.

“I don’t think I’ve been in a group of people who want to share as much as this group [TEDx organisers]. The purpose of TED is to propagate ‘Ideas worth spreading’ and in my experience people are very interested in sharing knowledge, contacts, experience. You end up with so many skilled, inspired and driven people in one room, and I think that’s why it’s gone viral.”

The main TED event (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design),which recently moved from Longbeach, California to Vancouver, Canada, is a pretty exclusive affair with a reputation (not entirely undeserved) as an enclave for tech billionaires.

“But,” says Trent, “while TED itself is very exclusive, the model is not, and the annual TED conference (which runs over five days) funds a whole year of content production for the whole world.”


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