Redefining The Modern Conference

Over 18,000 speakers presented at TEDx events last year in venues ranging from large formal auditoriums to pop-up stages under expressway bridges.

A grassroots offshoot of the annual TED conference in Vancouver, the one-day TEDx events are organized by independent local community organizers in 170 countries to create a live and virtual forum for “Ideas Worth Sharing.”

Launched in 2009, TEDxUSC was the first TEDx event, with the added “x” implying “Ted to the power of x.”

Perhaps more than any other conference, the TED organization’s programming and digital distribution of TED Talks videos illustrates the potential of online content to drive audience exposure and brand reach globally.

It also emphasizes the shift in the very definition of what a conference is today, evolving from a live solitary event to the physical hub of a virtual media ecosystem.

There’s a long list of strict requirements for TEDx organizers to adhere to if they want to use the TEDx logo. One of them is that TEDx events are required to post videos of each speaker session online in a similar style as the mothership event to maintain brand cohesion from a consumer-facing perspective. By mandating the digital format for the community websites, TED strives for a clear synergy between the TED and TEDx online user experiences.

Today, there are over 70,000 TEDx videos on the internet, all of which posted originally at the individual event websites. TED’s corporate team mines those sites for the newest videos to find the best content for inclusion on TED.com.

Meaning, the TED organization has created a vast well of potential user-generated content through TEDx to feed its own brand.com website. That’s the key success story here. The ability to crowdsource content to co-create conference programming — with an organization’s community driving the content creation process — is the dream scenario for any conference organizer today.

“TEDx Talks have been viewed more than one billion times on TED.com, YouTube, China’s Youku video hosting site, and a variety of TED’s distribution partners,” says Jay Herratti, deputy director of TEDx, based at TED headquarters in New York. And, he told Skift, “We think there are still more opportunities down the road.”

TED and TEDx Talks are always 18 minutes or less, and they’re usually scripted into three distinct sections, much like a three-act play.

First, the speakers begin by explaining who they are and why they’re an appropriate expert to discuss a specific subject.

According to Lori Corpuz, the millennial-age lead organizer of TEDxBushwick in Brooklyn, TEDx audiences are often fascinated as much by the speakers as they are by the content. They want to know about the speaker’s personal story and how it led to that particular moment on stage.

“The first part is becoming vulnerable,” Corpuz said. “You’re uncovering to the audience who you are, what your story is, because then we’re all on the same page with you. We understand what your environment is, and kind of your frame of mind.”

The middle section of TEDx Talks focuses on the idea itself. This is where anyone has a chance to share their message on a global stage, especially if it’s picked up on TED.com because the idea was innovative and well-articulated with a clear story arc.

There are a three things coming together here. One, TEDx is the idea engine generating localized content from events in almost every corner of the earth. Two, TED provides the content strategy, distribution framework, and the legitimacy of a global media brand. Three, the audience, both live and virtual, promote the TED and TEDx brands when they share the videos online.

It’s the attractive collision of content cross-pollination where every component of the conference is helping promote every other component.

“TEDx’s mission is to provide communities the structure, identity, and guidance to organize events that connect people, spread ideas, and inspire positive impact at the local level,” explained Herratti. “Our work here is to discover and spread the best ideas that bubble up from TEDx communities around the globe.“

Which bring us to the question: Is TED/TEDx an event platform or a media platform?

“When you create a conference today, the takeaways from the experience are the anecdotes and the networking, but it’s also the online content that derives from that,” said Corpuz. “I think TEDx is about spreading awareness, so that’s why I think of it more as a media platform. I guess it’s kind of blurring the line about what conferences are nowadays.”

Merging live events and virtual media to increase brand exposure is at the forefront of TED strategy internally, mirroring the discussion among the larger conference industry at large.

“At TED we see community and content as two parts of the whole — inseparable and mutually dependent,” Herratti said. “Every great TED or TEDx Talk begins with an event with a stage and an engaged and attentive audience. This relationship between the speaker and the audience is what gives energy and authenticity to each talk. For this reason, we think of communities first and then content.“

The focus on community and content is designed to inspire action. That’s the focus of the third section that makes up most TED Talks. Speakers are encouraged to deliver a clear call to action at the end of their presentations to provide live audiences and online viewers a direction forward following the event.

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