How a real-life TEDx is like from the volunteers’ perspective
Thursday, November 20th, wasn’t an ordinary day in Groningen. Stadsschouwburg, the city’s beautiful theatre, was hosting Groningen’s third TEDx event – an attraction to more than 550 guests and over 15 speakers from around the globe. TEDx is a conference hosting speakers that share Ideas Worth Spreading, the “x”standing for an independently organized TED event in the form of the world-famous TED talks that were started up by the US non-profit organization Stapling Foundation.
The essence of TEDx are the talks with inspiring speakers that offer you a unique and outstanding look at the world by talking about a variety of great topics. But experiencing a real-life TED event – instead of watching a mere YouTube clip of one – shows you that there is more to TED than what you see on stage.
At Groningen’s 2014 TEDx event, more than 30 volunteers were working behind the scenes to actually make the whole thing possible. Several of them, the curators and organizers, were working over months to make TEDx Groningen happen.
Melissa Oudshoorn-Fuller, lecturer at Hanze University, was one of them. As the director and licenseholder of the event, she assisted host Mark Kierans in welcoming the guests and leading them through the day. “For me, it is always an exciting time. As coordinating all pieces of the puzzle, only on that day can you see if they fall in place”, she says.
“Thank god we have Melissa for this happy, cheery, allamericanpositive attitude which is what makes these events possible in the first place!”, is what one of her fellow organizers, Vladimir Bartels, tells. “She’s amazing and she doesn’t put up a happy face, she lives it.”
Most of the other volunteers were only present on the day itself, working at the check-in of guests, in the backstage area, in the speakers lounge or as bloggers or editors of the event’s videos. Pilar from Spain who helped backstage liked the special atmosphere behind the lights. “I loved that experience and I also liked to help people. I felt happy to know that I was making possible that event”, she says.
Vladimir who is a journalist was reminded of his hectic days of broadcast when working backstage. “It was my third TEDx and it won’t be my last. The best part is the amazing feeling that, with the whole team, no one excluded, you pulled something off that brought joy and inspiration to a lot of people. Personally I enjoy directing the registration a lot more than being in the audience: I feel I’m contributing, not just feeding off somebody else’s talk.”
During the very long day – the volunteers were present from 8 am until 9 pm – most of them worked on different kinds of tasks and helped wherever they were needed. Katarina from Czech Republic found that especially great: “It is fully enjoyable to do all those little things during the whole day – doing whatever is needed and being totally flexible. I also liked being responsible and fully present, but mostly have fun and sharing a lot of smiles and ideas.”
While many of the volunteers were very busy during the talks, the backstage crew could actually watch the talks during their work. The main feeling they describe when summing up the experience is one of inspiration. “A lot of the speakers touched the subject of ‘what are we doing here as humans, and where should we go?’”, says Cas who monitored the live stream. “Though none of them actually asked that question, a lot of them seemed to be searching for answers. They found answers in the internet, the connection to each other, in psychology, in philosophy and even in contemplating violence in society. That really inspired me.”
At the end of the day, after a morning of preparations, excitement, small and big crises to be solved, a lot of plates with sandwiches to be carried to the guests, and 16 exceptional talks, all the volunteers felt exhausted but very happy. “Seeing the satisfaction around, being all together very happy within the TEDx organization team – that was the best moment of the day”, is how Katarina describes it.
“TEDx is about alternative thinking, reflexion and sharing”, sums up Pilar. “I loved to be part of it because you feel comfortable and at the same time you learn something new. That is something that schools and universities should improve and incorporate.”
“It is a combination of big inspiring ideas and unique people”, adds Katarina. “I will definitely watch the live stream again, and listen to all the talks”, says Cas, referring to an option for all those that couldn’t be part of this exceptional day: All the talks have been individually uploaded on YouTube and can be found here.
All others who would also like to be part of the unique TEDx experience in real life – as visitors or volunteers – can look forward to next year or search for the next TEDx event in their own cities.