Behind On The Edge


It’s 6:30 and it’s way too early for a Saturday. A TEDxVienna event day starts at 7:30 at Volkstheater. At least, for the team. And we’ll be there the whole day until the evening. So, first: coffee. (Since I’m on the edge of falling asleep again already…)

At a TEDx event like this, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There are a lot of people working together, a lot of different teams that depend on each other. And every one of these teams experiences the event from their own distinct angle.

Social Media: Keep calm and #hashtag

While the attendees register for the event, the Social Media Team start to set up their notebooks and chargers and emergency WiFi, and open their pre-prepared Google sheets and Google docs to prepare for their social media live-coverage. When I enter the social media booth, time suddenly starts moving in fast-forward – although it definitely stops for a second when the Clairvoyants open TEDxVienna’s On The Edge with their psychic powers. But in the blink of an eye, our first speaker Jake Roper appears on stage, talking about our fractured digital and real selves in different contexts.

(As Social Media nerds, we can relate…and instantly whatsapp about it. Social Media is about multi-tasking, after all.) With live-coverage, you have to monitor all the channels simultaneously, react instantly to the discourse online, take a look at the pictures that the photographers are handing over to you shortly before the break and decide within seconds which ones to keep and upload.

Social Media in the works.

As Jake Roper accurately states: “Social Media is curation.” On Twitter we summarize the most important points the speakers make during their talks – like the fact that computer scientist Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman is able to predict how missing persons might look today, or how cyberpsychologist Linda Kaye is trying to find links between our behavior and our use of emojis. And we share our most favorite quotes, like Shahak Shapira’s: “Art does not solve problems. Art exposes problems.” (Btw remember the song MMMBop? We did. 🙂 Thanks @ShahakShapira #OnTheEdge)

Besides all the hashtagging, Social Media is like any other team. Everyone in the audience held their breath when cyclist Fabio Wibmer performed a backflip on stage – the only differences with the Social Media Team is that we tried to catch him #looping.

Fabio Wibmer mid-flip.

Tech and Camera: Say cheese!

By the time the second session starts, you can’t help but observe that you are being observed: The whole event is live broadcast on camera. But the Tech Team is doing a pretty good job not letting us realize it most of the time. While Pablo Garcia talks about the blurred lines between the #fake and the real, and Dean Buonomano tells us about our brain bugs (e.g.: What do cows drink?), one camera guy is sitting in front of four different monitors, always connected via his phone to the camera teams who are (live)covering the event, running around the venue, carrying heavy cameras attached to their backs.

While Peter Emerson is talking about majority voting and how democracy could be more inclusive, and journalist Asha Siad is telling the audience about the moment during the refugee crisis that changed her life, the Tech Team makes sure that we not only see the speakers but also their presentation slides and the reaction of the audience – while live-streaming on Facebook during the event, and rewatching the talks on YouTube later.

Creatives and Bloggers: Attention to detail

During the break, the attendees get the chance to try Dori Adar‘s video game and chat with him about his talk on game designs that show people‘s racial bias, because The Blogger Team host a “Meet the Speakers“ side-event in the Blogger Corner. (Thanks again to Linda Kaye, Pablo Garcia, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, Dori Adar and Peter Emerson for taking the time to discuss your talks with our attendees!)

Although the Library at Volkstheater is infamous for not being easy to find, it definitely became the place to be – not only because of our Blogger Corner, but also because of the vrei exhibition in there that offered the chance to overcome your fear of heights using VR.

The next time you attend a TEDxVienna event don’t miss out on the various exhibitions during the breaks, and notice all the wonderfully designed details that surround you – from the posters on the walls to the goodie bags on your shoulder. (A big shoutout to the Creative Team for beautifying our conference time and time again!)

Volunteers: The power of the crowd

If you want the real, up-close TEDxVienna experience, you can join the volunteers tasked with taking care of the audience in the main hall during the show. That’s the best glimpse you can get of the video screen on the stage. Which was a very good spot to be, during Karen Dolva’s talk about designing technology to end social isolation. (Did you know that lots of seniors suffer from “leathery fingers” which prevent them from using touchscreens and therefore exclude them from tech?) While Islam Mosa talks about new power sources for health tech, Chenthur Raaghav Naagendran envisions a smart city made out of responsive graphene elements, and 11 year old Maanasa Mendu explains how to use the “piezoelectric effect” to combine the harvest of wind and solar energy, the volunteers make sure that attendees who arrive late from the breaks still get a seat in the auditorium.

Being close to the stage is also a good spot to listen to the musical intermissions – like the Vienna Songwriting Circle performing songs composed especially for the occasion.

Volkstheater full of ideas worth spreading.

Event Management: On Stage

Of course, none of this would be possible without the efforts of our Partners & Event Management Team. They are the ones who organized for Christian Waldner opening the third session with his balancing act on a slackline right above the audience while listening to his prerecorded thoughts on mindfulness (“Up here, I can not afford to overcomplicate.”).

Photographer David Jay’s touching talk about portraying cancer survivors ended with standing ovations. With his hilarious talk about human sex differences, David Buss confirmed our theories about the conflicts between the sexes (Did you know that men suffer from “sexual overreception bias” leading them to interpret signals as sexual when they are not meant to be? And that women’s breakup behavior can be described with the “mate switching hypothesis”?). Software engineer Max Hawkins told us how he left his perfectly tailored life by creating apps that randomly tell him what to do next. At the end of his talk he urged the audience to question algorithmic control: “Don’t do the default. Don’t do the preference. It’s easy to get caught in a place where you can get controlled.”

David Jay on the TEDxVienna stage.

Speaker Liaison: The Backstage

For the last part of my really long behind-the-scenes review (thanks for bearing with me), I want to give you the very essence of “behind the scenes”: Backstage.

First thing you need to know about backstage: It is the quietest place in the building that day.
The Speaker Liaison Team manages to create a general aura of calmness for our speakers and our curators Vlad and Reka, who are highly focused on their moderation. The speakers who have finished their talks are discussing the other talks that they can follow on the live-stream, like they did with Dina Zielinski’s talk about data storage, when she mentioned the evolution of digital devices.

Second thing you need to know about backstage: They have delicious food.
Which I ate while live-streaming Gavin Wood‘s talk about how blockchain has commoditized trust, and Stephanie Wehner’s talk about the quantum internet and secure online communication, and Anders Sandberg’s talk about the end of the world. Although I switched back into the main hall to listen to Nicholas McCarthy playing the piano – with one hand. (Backstage is btw also the natural environment of our Communications Team, since they are in charge of organizing the interviews between our speakers and the reporters of various newspapers.)

Jake Roper and Shahak Shapira backstage.

Behind the scenes

Being a member of TEDxVienna, for me, really is what “behind the scenes” feels like. You get a glimpse into the workings of so many different academic disciplines while listening to the talks. You get to look over the shoulder of so many talented people on the team running the show.
And you get to learn from all of them.

A huge THANK YOU to all of you for making this happen! <3

Photo credits:

Samuel Colombo

Daniel Willinger

TJ Taha Alshemaree

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About Verena Ehrnberger

Verena works as a data privacy legal expert and studies philosophy at the University of Vienna. Always juggling multiple projects, she is seriously addicted to coffee.

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