Global TED's ingenious offspring: TEDxAustin
TED is understated. TED is sophisticated. TED has legions of fans worldwide yet holds a very small, intimate court.
So, who is this guy? Actually, TED—Technology, Entertainment, Design—is a nonprofit organization that design and tech geeks have been quietly following (and appropriately geeking-out over) for years. Serving as an unbeatable source of inspiration, the TED brand has expanded since its inception 25 years ago, when it began as a yearly conference featuring highly regarded speakers sharing "Ideas Worth Spreading."
Hearing the outcry from the army of people unable to obtain exclusive tickets to the TED conference in California, the organization began posting its most popular speakers on its website, under the moniker TEDTalks, for free. People got, well, to talking. The speakers chosen are so consistently ingenious that talks on how school kills creativity, orgasms, the sixth sense and the paradox of choice have been viewed over 20 million times alone. If the appetite for this creatively processed information was so huge, why couldn't it be done on a smaller level, tailored to a specific community?
If the appetite for this creatively processed information was so huge, why couldn't it be done on a smaller level, tailored to a specific community?
When these questions started coming up in cities around the world, Nancy Giordano jumped on the opportunity to helm the ship and set up Austin's outpost, TEDxAustin. TEDx's have sprung up across the globe—see TEDxTokyo, TEDxOslo, TEDxKhartoum—each planning an individualized mini-TED experience under the approved TED framework and rules.
"100’s [of TEDx's] have happened around the world," Giordano explains. "Austin, Paris, Amsterdam are among some that really have created a mini-TED experience, engaged in bringing fresh, locally relevant ideas in a community that gets to hunker down and enjoy them together. It's cool to be a part of this worldwide community."
And community is key. Just as TEDxAustin culls its list of speakers from a possible 90 down to a final 14 (a process which Giordano calls "excruciating"), it curates the audience. If you want to attend Austin's yearly conference, you first have to apply, then be considered and finally, be invited. The point is not to be aristocratic, but to ensure that those people that do attend are a diverse group who actually do something—in their professional, personal or civic life—with the information presented at the conference.
"What was so fascinating that first year  is that people were so stunned to walk into a building and realize there were so many people in Austin they hadn’t met. People get very much into their own little community," Giordano says."You aren’t guaranteed that you are going to be with your spouse our your coworkers, so you are, by nature, extended to meet new people."
The topics over the past few years at TEDxAustin have stared worldwide issues square in the face on a city level. "Each city has its own cultural moment in which certain things are happening," says Giordano. "For example, in Detroit you have a very different set of cultural conversations and momentum than you do in Austin."
Austin has had the good fortune to be poised and credited as a city best resourced to pull out of this era's recession. Thus in 2010, TEDx curated a collection of conversations called "Play Big." Austin is quirky, weird and wonderful, but it's also important. CEO Doug Ulman of Livestrong and co-founder Phillip Berber of A Glimmer of Hope came to speak on their globally relevant work and encourage Austinites to "think big."
In 2011, the focus shifted towards "Right Now." Austin has secured itself as a city of the future, so how could we ensure that future? The talks become much more issues-oriented and topic-sensitive. Conversation on honorable capitalism, the future of education and the decline of men were centerpieces.
In February of 2012, the conversation will shift towards the very real growth of Austin. Giordano hopes to appeal to both a person’s head and heart with "Beyond Measure," a theme wrapping its arms around "drastic change and giant complexity."
People get very much into their own little community. [At TEDx] You aren’t guaranteed that you are going to be with your spouse our your coworkers, so you are, by nature, extended to meet new people.
"But the TEDx experience is not limited to one yearly conference. Events range from a small screenings of past talks in a library to gatherings like the recent simulcast at Alamo Drafthouse. Whatever the event may be, the TEDxAustin team (who, by the way, all work on a volunteer basis) wants to inspire dialog.
"Being able to watch [TED] in community is really extraordinary," Giordano says. "To get a chance to be in community with people who have been curated the same way the conference has been curated, to be interesting and open minded, and you get to make these incredible relationships and friendships.”
In fact, don't feel too left out if you are never able to attend the infamous, flagship west coast TED conference. "The drag about going to the big conference is that those people that are flown around the world, you don’t really get a chance to hang out and collaborate with them," reveals Giordano. "The wish was to come back and create that similar kind of experience with the people that you get to work and play and plot with every day. And so, that is where [TEDx] was born."