How I hosted a TEDx event & lived to tell the tale

When two people independently suggested to me that I organise a TEDx event, I dismissed the idea, saying I hadn’t got time, I didn’t have the right kind of contacts, and various other excuses.

However, the seed was planted and somehow wouldn’t go away.

Having been to three TED conferences, I realised that organising a TEDx event would be a great way of getting to know people in Exeter and Devon who are enthusiastic about what they do and are making a difference in the world. I also had an instinct that if I worked on the project with a friend it would be a great chance to bond with the friend and we could share the load together.

My dear friend Claire Kennedy came to mind immediately because I knew she loved watching TEDTalks, and our children were friends. So, about a year ago, I was having a coffee with Claire and tentatively suggested we might organise a TEDx event in Exeter. Much to my surprise, she gave a very positive, “Yes!” to the suggestion. Probably just as well at that point that neither of us had the least idea of what would be involved in terms of hours of hard work.

We didn’t know how many people or organisations in Exeter knew about TED, so we thought we’d start small – maybe 100 people or so. No one had so far organised a TEDx event in Exeter we were able to take the name TEDxExeter. The licence was granted within days of applying – in June last year. Suddenly we realised this really was going to happen.

There were several factors early on which gave us momentum. Luckily, my brother Chris Anderson, the TED curator, became our first speaker by agreeing to speak at TEDxExeter, and in fact we organised the date of the event around his diary.

Things really started to come into focus up once I attended a workshop for TEDx organisers at TEDGlobal. There were TEDx organisers from all over the world at the workshop, and it gave me a real sense that I was now a part of a growing and exciting global network. I met the organisers of TEDx events in places like Cairo, Baghdad, Ramallah and Jaipur, as well as organisers from the USA and UK. I picked up lots of tips from talking to people, and over the months we have had a certain amount of mentoring from the TEDx team in USA as well as from other TEDx organisers.

As word started to get out that TEDxExeter was going to happen, people started getting in contact and we discovered that there were in fact a lot of TED fans in Devon. Lots of people said to us, “This is so great! I was thinking of doing a TEDx event but haven’t got ‘round to it yet!”

Claire and I spent last summer looking around at possible venues to hold TEDxExeter. No venue seemed quite right until we found the Northcott Theatre at Exeter University.

the Northcott Theatre (via bazzadarambler)

We had an anxious few weeks waiting to hear if the Northcott would agree to have us. There were twists and turns along the way, and finally, in October the Northcott was confirmed as the venue – and then the realisation that we were now planning for 460 attendees!

From the minute we got our licence, Claire and I were on the lookout for speakers and performers for the event. We spent many afternoons googling people we thought might be great speakers, looking at their websites and getting in contact. We shot out arrows in all kinds of directions in the hope that something would come of it – sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t.

We went to elaborate lengths to try and contact Chris Martin of Coldplay, a local boy before he was an international superstar. No luck on that front, but great that his mum called us to say he would be out of the country in April, but would otherwise have been interested.

However, lots of people did say yes, and as word got out that the TEDxExeter line-up was going to be really interesting, people started to contact us asking to speak or perform. So we spent many hours in a local café, meeting enthusiastic TEDx’ers ready to contribute.

In the end, TEDxExeter was a huge learning experience for Claire and me. We had times of tearing our hair out, we laughed a lot, and, more than anything, we’ve got to know lots of truly wonderful people. The day itself went better than we could have hoped, and we have been thrilled to bits by all the enthusiastic and positive responses we’ve received. It’s exciting to see lots of action and ripple effects resulting from it all, and we hope that the inspiration and challenges and connections will continue to bring about positive change in Exeter and beyond. And with our fantastic team we’re now planning TEDxExeter 2013 — set for April 12, 2013!

Jeanie Honey is the organiser of TEDxExeter. Read more from the TEDxExeter team at their blog.

View photos from TEDxExeter on Flickr.

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