Most people know TEDx conferences from watching TEDx Talks on YouTube. Some might have even seen particularly interesting ones at university or at school. However, the conference experience itself is seldom talked about and with this article, we seek to change that. I have interviewed three very different people who have all been involved in TEDxVienna: a conference attendee, a team member, and a conference-only volunteer. The insights given by these three will hopefully help shed some light on the inner workings of the TEDxVienna conference and show how unforgettable the experience of attending it or being involved can be.
Interview #1: Conference day volunteer
How did your volunteering at the conference come about?
Everyone knows about TEDx Talks. The first time I used one was for university, because I had to do a presentation about where I obtain resources for my essays. My topic was TED Talks. I watched many videos, and I really got into it. First, I was watching them only for my presentation, but then, I started listening to the Talks for personal entertainment and because of the really diverse and interesting topics. There are so many talks about linguistics and language, which are both very interesting and very relevant to my studies. I went from using TED Talks only for university to using them in my private life.
Then, it was a coincidence. I stumbled over a post on Facebook about how volunteers were needed for the day of the conference. Up to this point, I hadn’t even known that there was a conference in Vienna. When I saw that, I immediately applied. I didn’t really think about it.
What was your job at the conference?
I was assigned to the section “Information and Guidance”. That, I suppose, was one of the best sections to be assigned to, because I actually got to watch the Talks. I absolutely loved my team. We were about seven or eight people and it just worked perfectly. Even though it was stressful at the conference, the atmosphere was very productive but relaxing at the same time. I was impressed with how stable and well-organised the entire event was.
What did you enjoy the most at the event?
Watching and experiencing the event first-hand and meeting the speakers. You see something that you don’t see every day.
Do you think that you gained something important from this experience, personally?
In terms of teamwork, I learned a lot. As I said, I’ve seldom worked with people who were that motivated to be part of something bigger. That was really memorable.
And lastly, how would you describe the conference using one word?
Would “simplexity” work? Because that’s what the conference was called. No, I can think of something better – yes: Insightful.
Interview #2: Attendee
How did you first find out about the TEDxVienna conference?
Teaching English for Engineers at college level, I am always looking for input and inspiration. TEDx Talks have become a standard resource for me. When I learned about TEDxVienna – as far as I remember, I saw an announcement online – I had found an opportunity to experience the Talks first-hand.
Why did you decide to visit the conference?
Basically, I wanted to see the TEDx materials produced. Being part of an actual audience is a much more immersive experience than just watching something online. Besides, there’s much more to see at the conference, not just the Talks.
Which talk was the most interesting to you at the conference?
The Talk by Freddie Feldman about the LADs project was incredibly inspiring. I teach IT students and am therefore absolutely fascinated by everything that happens in the digital world. The founders of this project develop technology that helps people who suffer from a disease which would normally prevent them from communicating with others. They build special microphones to keep them connected to the world, which I think is very impressive.
Feldman has found a way to combine innovation and helping others. To me, that is what TEDx is all about: Ideas that are new, fresh and creative but can make a world of a difference for someone.
What did you gain from the experience?
It was an overwhelming impression of what academic skills and creativity can achieve today.
Would you visit another conference?
I am definitely going to be in the 2020 audience. Sadly, I won’t be able to make it this year, but I’ll definitely be there next time!
How would you describe the experience at TEDxVienna using one word?
Simplexity? No, just joking. It might something like: “Listen/Learn”.
Interview #3: Full TEDxVienna team member
How long have you been a part of the TEDxVienna team?
Five entire years! Two of them I wrote for the blog, then took over as Blog Team Lead and in June 2019 I got the chance to join the Curation Team.
How did you become a member?
Initially I simply enjoyed watching TEDxTalks on Youtube, until one day, a friend convinced me to attend an actual conference here in Vienna. That was Brave New Space in 2014. There, it dawned on me that the concept of TED or TEDx is so much more than simply consuming a piece of inspiring information: It is the dialogue that it sparks, the thoughts it triggers and the hunger for discoering new perspectives that it awakens. Back then, all I wanted was to write, so when I found out at the conference that they were looking for Blog team members, I applied. I’ve been part of TEDxVienna ever since.
What made you want to be a part of this organisation?
The cause and its team. It is very rare to work with such a large number of people who are so like-minded when it comes to their values, but so different in regards of their age, culture and profession. I simply love this plethora of different paths of life, all of them meeting in this one big passion for ideas worth spreading.
What is it like to experience the conference from within?
Stressful! With About Time being my first conference as a curator, I gained a much deeper insight into its processes, structures and…secrets. It is fascinating to see the simple draft of an idea growing into something so big, meaningful and impactful over the months. You see, it is a long journey from coming up with the conference’s theme to the morning of the event itself.
As a curator, you oversee the brainstorming sessions, the meetings, the venue visits, the selection and curation of the speakers, even the hours of struggling with endless excel files! But the most rewarding moment of experiencing the conference from within for me is when, after the last session, the entire team gathers on stage for its traditional group picture. This moment is priceless, there is just so much happiness, pride and relief in it.
What do you enjoy the most about the conference?
Definitely the Talks. We carefully select speakers with unique stories or projects, speakers who might not be famous in the mainstream sense, but outstanding experts in their respective fields. I have felt and learned so much through the past TEDxVienna Talks! For example, I have learned to be aware of where I leave my DNA traces.
What have you personally gained from working at TEDxVienna?
Plenty of professional experience and, most importantly, friends!
Is there anything that attendees must know before going to the conference?
My personal advice would be to join the pre-registration. By doing this, you can already mingle with the TEDx crowd and get into the venue faster on the day of the conference.
How would you describe the conference experience using one word?
Can I get two words here? Then I’d say “Happy Birthday” would be the words that fit best. This is our ten year anniversary, let’s not forget to celebrate it!
[Answers have been edited for length and clarity.]