TEDx Totnes

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9 months of full immersion and change involved in running TEDxTotnes

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As a confirmed fan of TED talks and with a strong sense of adventure, Gillian Healey decided to apply for the licence to run Totnes’ second TEDx event on May 12 this year. She was excited at the prospect as she enjoys going out of her comfort zone and accepting a challenge, and she was aware that it would be hard work and not a straightforward project. It would be a live event after all, and the technical team from the previous event had warned her: ‘It’s a live event, things won’t go to plan.’

Now the event is over, Gillian reflects that it was the nine months of planning the event which were the biggest challenge for her – a journey which she has found equally fulfilling and frustrating, with the end result of total delight at how brilliantly the live event went on May 12. Her un-ending positivity and true grit got her through it all, and she has come out feeling a better, more enlightened person!

Luckily hardly anything DID go wrong on the event day itself – and the 100 strong audience were not even aware of the inevitable small slips that happened. It was unanimously agreed to be a great success, live streamed to KEVICC where over 500 students watched it through the day, as well as being shared live around the world. There were over 250 logins to the live stream with people watching it in Portugal, Jordan South Africa, and the US.

KEVICC’s live-streamed it into the Ariel Centre and the Assistant Principal, Ben Cotton, summed it up: “it was a phenomenal success. Our students were inspired, provoked and challenged.” Everyone who watched felt the same. And Gillian says this is how she felt throughout the whole TEDx planning and production experience.

“When I was first asked to apply for the TEDXTotnes license, I said no,” she says. “I wasn’t ready. Then I realised I had been handed the opportunity of a lifetime and I would definitely regret not doing it. Now it is done, I am so glad I took it on and I know I have grown neurons as a result, and the self development I have gained has been amazing.”

Gillian’s journey to running the TEDxTotnes event in Dartington began with finding a team of volunteers to help, and deciding on a theme for the day. TEDx have strict rules and stipulations about how their events are run, which protects the brand, and adds even more to the value of anyone involved in a TEDx event.

“I had been told by my predecessor, who ran the first TEDxTotnes event, that finding the right team to fill the roles TEDx stipulate are needed, and having them on board as passionate about the event as me, was vital. Luckily I found some local dedicated ‘TED lovers’ who also had the skills needed for the team: technical, social media, PR and marketing and event planning for the day.

“Based on the roles the TEDX licence spelled out, I looked for busy people because they are the ones who get things done! BUT they are busy, and this is all voluntary. Sadly, I lost two team members over the months because they took on too much in their own work and personal lives. There is a lot to do and the team really had to prioritise it in their busy lives,” she continues.

“Several times I came across new hurdles that I wasn’t expecting, and needed sorting, and there was no-one in the team with the time to take them on. So it all fell on me, I was the only one with the whole picture of how the event would run, and a few times it felt overwhelming. I even had to stop my own work in January to concentrate fully on TEDx. That was tough on my family, but they were so supportive, and got me through.

“Some valuable advice from the TEDxExeter licencee was not to give somebody a task that is not in their realm, but stick to their passion and expertise. That was very true. It is hard to delegate when you don’t understand the process yourself. So I needed to immerse myself in everything in order to understand what could be handed over to the various members of the team,” says Gillian.

The next important step was to decide on a theme. “I did not know what I wanted but went with my gut feeling, and came up with title ‘Change’ the day after Brexit,” continues Gillian.

“I love change and I embrace it. I like to put myself in different situations to make change, just as I was doing by running the TEDxTotnes event, so I felt it would be an interesting one to investigate with the speakers. The theme needed to be broad enough to encompass a diversity of talks from science and technology; the economy; education; health and wellbeing; music and poetry and more.

“I was delighted with how it came together. Another interesting thing with TEDx events is there is no full dress rehearsal, as it is then too ‘staged’ and loses the spontaneity of the event. This meant that the day of the event was the first time I had seen all the speakers together, in the order I had put them, interspersed with recorded TED talks which fitted the theme. That was amazing, and an emotional journey for me.”

How did she choose the 12 speakers?

“This was a massive part of my job as the licencee and something I was looking forward to, though I had no idea how complicated and time consuming it would be,” continues Gillian.

“TEDx wants local people who are not used to speaking, as their modesty and vulnerability is endearing to the audience. About 50 people applied to speak, then they had to provide a 3 minute video, which helped me narrow down which talks would work on stage. The hardest thing was having to tell people that their talk would not work this time for various reasons.  Luckily I worked with Danielle Krage, the brilliant speaker coach, and she helped me explain why certain talks were not quite right for the TEDx format.

“Then the speakers had to hone down their talks to around 12 minutes, learn them by heart, and deliver them standing on the red spot on the stage. TEDx stipulates that they must not have political or religious slants, and they must avoid offending anyone. We had a massive process working with the speakers, for months, taking things out of the talks. Even the titles had to be really considered. Danielle was really helpful thinking about the broad spectrum of who might be watching the talks and coaching the speakers to find that inner nugget that each one wanted to get over to the audience. Some of the speaker’s stories were almost unrecognizable from the beginning to the end of the process,” says Gillian.

Gillian is delighted with how the day went and hugely proud of the speakers she chose. “They were all brilliant,” she concludes, “and so great that they were local. I knew that, even if they were not the best in their field when they first applied, it was a chance for them to journey towards becoming the best. TEDxTotnes gave a voice to people who do not usually get heard. And I am so proud to have been the cog that achieved that for them on May 12.”