Dave Troy is an event organizer extraordinaire, having organized everything from TEDx conferences to Barcamps. He is most known for his work in organizing TEDxMidAtlantic and the recent TEDxOilSpill in New York City. I recently had the privilege of picking his brain about his organizing process and challenges. The following is a transcription of a paraphrased interview.
[Z] Hey Dave, thanks for taking some time to fill us in on your organizing processes. Do you mind starting off by explaining the process of how you find speakers for your conferences?
[D] Sure. TEDx is more of a brainstorming process: identify who would be good choices, reach out to 3 or 4 times more people than we expect to actually show up as speakers and then treat it as a sales funnel. We don’t necessarily give it too much thought. After maybe halfway through wrapping up the slots we reevaluate how to move ahead with what kind of topics, etc. It’s process driven.
[D] It feels like a numbers game. That’s because with TEDx you have a larger source pool. With more industry specific conferences, the source pool is smaller.
[Z] How do you get feedback on the events you organize?
[D] We get informal feedback through emails from attendees. We haven’t had time to think of a meaningful process. The experience is different for TEDx because one person can see the whole conference. With larger conferences, everyone is everywhere so it’s more difficult to get consistent feedback.
[Z] What’s your biggest hurdle as an event organizer?
[D] In general it involves getting people to register and commit. People are making fewer plans in advance. It’s hard to get people to register a couple days before. As you’re coming up on an event, you don’t know if you’re going to sell it out or not so you don’t know how much budget to commit to the event. At TEDxOilSpill we didn’t get a real amount of registrations until 9 days before the event and it sold out in the next 7 days.
[D] Having mechanisms to manage registration expectations would be very helpful. People have busy schedules. On any given day, people have 3 or 4 things they could choose to do. Events are easier than ever to organize which means there are so many of them to choose from. Registration then becomes an option on attending. Then you’re dealing with an overbooking scenario.
[Z] What’s the main functionality that would boost your overall event experience?
[D] TED conferences or Barcamps tend to produce this very active engaged community while they’re at the event, then they generally leave feeling energized but with no way to continue the conversation or to reconnect with the speakers or attendees. We’re trying to address this concern.
[D] Hands down the thing that TEDx could use is a way to keep the attendee community connected to one another. If every talk had a discussion board, the ability to have videos integrated, but noting feedback from live attendees vs. video viewers. This could create a pretty 3-dimensional picture of how the talks went off.
[D] With bigger industry specific conferences, there’s a lot more room for variation and quality of speakers. They have promotion of the unknown element. You never really know if the speakers are going to be good communicators.
[Z] Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions Dave. You’ve been very helpful. Good luck on future endeavors with TEDx conferences and Barcamps!
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Mark Mzyk, organizer of a TEDx conference in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina earlier this year, about all things event related. TEDx conferences are offshoots of the well-known TED conferences. The following transcription is a paraphrased interview.
[Z] How did you arrange speakers for your conference?
[M] We had a committee of people to brainstorm names of speakers and other people in the industry that might be helpful in finding speakers. This might not scale well. Having another way to find speakers would be great.
[Z] How did you look to get feedback about the event?
[M] We didn’t use any formal method for obtaining feedback. We had an after party where we talked to people and got some more informal feedback.
[Z] If you were able to use a formal system of getting feedback, what elements would be useful to get feedback on?
[M] What people thought of the overall event and what their takeaway was. Did they gain insights? Did they feel that they had easy access to the speakers? (Attendee access to speakers is a big part of TEDx.) Feedback on venue, food, pacing, and thematic grouping. I would lean towards having a customizable form with targeted questions and open-ended answers.
[Z] What kind of relationship do TEDx conferences have with the TED organization?
[M] TED and TEDx have a pretty loose relationship. TEDx organizers have to get permission from TED to put on the event and then they have a set of guidelines to follow. Other than that, there’s not a very strong relationship.
[Z] What was the biggest hurdle in preparing for and managing the conference?
[M] Our biggest hurdle was managing the lineup of speakers and getting responses from them. It was especially difficult when speakers dropped out at the last minute and we had to fill their positions.
[Z] Did you consider taking call for proposals (CFPs) to engage speakers?
[M] That’s something we considered but didn’t have the time for since we were starting our search later in the game. If we were to take CFPs in the future, our concern would be managing being swamped with them and determining which speakers are serious.
[Z] Thanks so much for your time Mark, your answers have been very helpful. Good luck on any future endeavors with TEDx conferences!