TEDx - innovation, inspiration and 'ideas worth spreading'

By Max Flanigan

Hundreds came together at Auckland's TEDx conference over the weekend to share ideas. Photo / Phil Grindle, Kingsize Studios
Hundreds came together at Auckland's TEDx conference over the weekend to share ideas. Photo / Phil Grindle, Kingsize Studios

On Auckland's North Shore this weekend, a host of visionary thinkers from the global creative community spoke to challenge the status quo of our society. This independent event was part of a global conference network that brings people together to share ideas.

Traditionally the TED signature derives its name from fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design. However more recently the subject matter has broadened into 'ideas worth spreading'.

This cross discipline approach chooses only to focus on bringing visionary thinking to its audience. As founder, Chris Anderson suggests, knowledge is interconnected anyway and so this conference is aimed purely at people who are excited by ideas.

This weekend a generous auditorium provided by Westlake Boys High ran close to capacity. Whether drawn by brand sake or speaker line-up, a well connected crowd assembled en masse to hear answers. Tickets for the day's event sold at $100 a piece. The audience obviously expected more than just a lyrical waxing.

This year the Auckland conference, widely popularised by the brilliant TED.com, posed the question, 'What If?'

Such an open invite drew inspired perspectives from doctors, adventurers, inventors, artists and business leaders alike. All of whom united behind this rhetorical question to imagine a world of empowered people.

Each 18 minute presentation employed a precise recipe of passion, multimedia and storytelling to share experiences and impart wisdom. The featured speaker line-up included talks from Dr Divya Dhar, Richard Webb, Dr Privihani Bradoo, Kate Smith, Julie Bartlett, Jonathan Milne, Stephen Knightly, Richard Loseby, Ken Ring, Plum Jungle and Team OneBeep from Auckland University.

Whether eureka blossomed, depended largely on the connection between each speaker and audience member. Less circumstantial were the gravity of topics on display.

Whilst TEDx Auckland maintained an 'ideas first' approach, their subject matter this time was less technology and more social transformation. This seems to follow a wider trend since the recent TED 2010 event from its inaugural California home adapted the theme 'What the world needs now'.

Refreshingly, the TED style of world righting seeks to provoke change through inspiring ideologues. The message is not societal intervention but instead audience members are asked to play an active role in realising their dreams. As this year's TEDx Auckland opening speaker Cindy Gallop phrased it; 'make shit happen'.

The 'x' stands for independently organised. In this case the organiser was Richard Hollingum from the Department of Doing. True to reputation, his artistic licence evolved the TED catchphrase from 'ideas worth sharing' into 'ideas worth doing'.

This active approach was re-enforced by engagement tactics such as requesting each attendee write dreams and list micro actions against them. These personal agendas were then photographed for posterity, stuck on the wall for visibility and reply e-mailed as a reminder.

Despite a relentless drive for political and personal change, the digital personality of this event remains ever close. Technological fluency and social activity are the dominant features of any TED conference. Individual presentations raised some discussion around these principles as they addressed online challenger brands, software inventions and applied game theory. But the real action was in the format rather than the content.

Throughout the event, illustrations of each presentation were drawn in real time. Visual communications were exhibited with multimedia projections. Roaming photographers captured thousands of images throughout the crowd. Each talk streamed live via TVNZ7. Speakers conferenced live over Skype. A flood of Twitter chat built around the hashtag #TEDxAkl. Foursquare users swarmed in their groups to 'check in' to the event both physically and virtually.

Ultimately the event style hinges on a passive presentation format but its real success will be measured by the connections, networks and actions that are realised within its growing community.

Through a physical Auckland presence, this event brings cutting edge perspectives directly to the New Zealand audience. The content has always been available but usually only online. There's something special to be said about actually being there. Next up isTEDx Christchurch on October 22.

Graphical Illustrations from TEDxAKL here.

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