My last post was about the excellent speakers at the TED conference. (They all get to speak for exactly 18 minutes give or take 0.) TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. In this post and the next I will share with you what I learned about their structure and organization – some of which could apply to other conferences.
Each year I am involved in putting on a major event – The Global Spa Summit. Along with a stellar (but lean) team, our goal is always to keep GSS at the cutting edge so studying other successful event formats seems like a good idea. The World Economic Forum and Renaissance Weekends are other models from which we have learned a great deal.
Here are some things I observed at TED :
1. Each year the format is similar: There are 1 hour and 45 minute sessions with approximately 5 speakers, each talking for 18 minutes. There is a full 1 hour break between these sessions. There are no breakout sessions – everyone goes to the one general session all the time. This definitely makes scheduling easier and avoids the problem of wishing you could be at more than one session at a time. You don’t miss anything.
2. There is always an overarching theme and each of the sessions has a short, intriguing title. This year’s overall theme was “The Rediscovery of Wonder” and here are the titles of the various sessions:
Invention and Consequence
Threads of Discovery
Beauty, Imagination, Enchantment
The Echo of Time
Only If, If Only
It does set a tone. Although most of the talks could have fit under many different titles, I do think that it gives a sense that we are going exploring. It was a nice contrast to your typical conference title that is along the lines of: “The 5 Things You Should Know About XYZ.” These more concept-oriented words evoke emotion – they feel gentle, somewhat mysterious and got me a bit more out of my head.
3. The TED Commandments are guidelines given to each speaker to assure that every presentation is interesting, inspiring – and doesn’t go over the very critical time of 18 minutes. They are written in a fun way and yet are taken very seriously. I understand that when one is accepted as a speaker for TED, a box is delivered with stone tablets on which these TED Commandments are written. Brilliant.
I. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick.
II. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
III. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
IV. Thou Shalt Tell a Story.
V. Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
VIII. Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
IX. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
X. Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee