My experiences from TEDGlobal>Geneva

photo credit: James Duncan Davidson/TED

I wrote a first version of this post sitting in the airplane on my way back to reality, and I am glad I did because at that point my experiences from TEDGlobal>Geneva and the corresponding TEDx organiser workshop weekend were still fresh. Those few days were a rollercoaster of emotions and impressions, and I would like to share some of them now after having structured my thoughts.

For those who are not yet familiar with the TED community, I should explain what I was doing in Geneva aside from having drinks at appallingly expensive prices.TEDGlobal>Geneva was a two-session TED conference which was preceded by a 2-day programme exclusively attended by people who organise local TED events (so-calledTEDx events) in their communities. Over 400 TEDx organisers gathered for an all-day workshop put together by the TEDx team from New York, a group of genuinely nice, approachable people who seem to be having the time of their lives watching how communities all over the world make the TED brand their own. We learned about all the things we need to consider when preparing for such events and listened to more experienced organisers share their learnings and approaches. The workshop was followed by a full day of activities in and around Geneva with plenty of time to network and have fun.

Alex Rudloff explains how the TEDx team keeps track of events all over the world

I have never been in a room with so many truly extraordinary people before. It was almost comical how every person I met impressed me with their story, and just when I thought that it can’t get any better, someone shared an even more amazing facet of their life. Just to name a few, I met Jimmy, who holds the arguably coolest job title of ‘educational technologist’ and spent the weekend asking everyone how they arrived at this moment in their lives to build a collection of people’s stories online. I also talked to Jacqui, who spends her time helping tech startups get their idea across to the world and who instinctively said ‘go for it, they would be lucky to have you’ when I mentioned that some day I would like to do something similar. I had the pleasure of sharing a room with Laura, who seemed to just get me from the moment we met, both on an emotional and a rational level, and will surely go on to change the world. I got inspired by Kate, whose motto is ‘do the work and build your portfolio’, which is why she convinced a firm to hire her for free so she could develop her skills in communication and PR from scratch and later go on to build a career on that. She is not only capable to summarise the role of the UN better than the actual tour guide, but is also one of the nicest and most generous people I met this year. Reza started talking to the group I was standing in about greeting rituals in our respective countries before revealing that he was organiser of TEDxTehran, an event for more than 2000 people in a country where large gatherings are generally forbidden. The full extent of his team’s accomplishments only became clear when he was invited to speak about it on stage as an honoured contributor to the TEDx community. He later shared his personal TEDx story in this moving blog post. Finally, when I thought it couldn’t get any more inspiring, I got to know Adam, whose first job was in a circus as abubbleologist. He made the simple task of blowing bubbles into an art form and eventually developed a show which he performed with autistic children. Now he is a professor in ‘concept development’ — which, as I learned, means enabling students to discover what they want in life through projects that shape the way we perceive the world (more in one of his TEDx talks). He also wears a Ravenclaw scarf and, when asked, will tell you that it is a souvenir from his former school, which should give you a first impression about his sense of humour.

The reason that I am sharing these stories is because they illustrate what we can achieve when we go for the things we want in life. The people mentioned above are merely a few examples out of the many acquaintances I made during these three days. I also talked to several teachers who are passionate about educating youth and giving them a voice on stage, even if they have to constantly fight against the narrow-minded rules and antiquated structures of the school system in their country. I met people who advocate for freedom of expression by organising local TED events in times of political crisis or even war. I was surprised and impressed to learn that a lot of these seemingly outgoing people are actually introverts who push themselves outside of their comfort zone to organise TEDx events for their communities because they believe in the power of ideas to shape the world.

Embracing the power of TED

These few days made me more aware than ever of the power of community. I exchanged notes with people who put on professional events with a six-figure budget multiple times per year, but were still curious to hear about my experiences and happy to share insights. If there is one thing I learned, it’s that no matter how well we seem to have it together, we are all making it up as we go along, calling the shots with the information available as best as we can and trying to be a bit less wrong every day. It is incredible how when people exchange experiences, the shared knowledge ends up being much, much more than the sum of its parts. I realise now even more than I did before that it is not enough to do great things — sometimes it is just as important to talk about them and get the ideas out there. The TED spirit is all about sharing ideas that have the potential to change the world, and I believe that this community is collectively capable of doing just that (bless her, so young and naive). This wonderful moment shared by fellow attendees underlines this quite nicely:

New friends in front of the TEDGlobal>Geneva venue

These four days were full of excitement, fun, determinedness, inspiration, and a sense of pride to be a part of this community of incredible people. This trip has been an energising, but also humbling experience, because my accomplishments were put into relation to truly exceptional things other people do all around the globe. After this weekend, it was difficult to get back to reality and accept that the rest of the world does not quite work that way (I now know that the appropriate term for this feeling is#TEDCrash).

Me in the audience at TEDGlobal>Geneva (photo credit: James Duncan Davidson/TED)

One thing I am certainly taking with me, which will also influence my future decisions, is that it’s always worth going for the things that make you truly passionate in life. As Shawn Achor puts it in his beautifully witty and motivating talk embedded below, if you are happy, you will be more creative, more productive, and accomplish greater things. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way and it is comforting to have a crowd of people who think alike. I am looking forward to great things to come. Bring it on.