[Lessons Learned] Organizing a Corporate TEDx

Random Observation/Comment #449: Find activities that encompass multiple hobbies and aim towards a true mission… like TEDx. Organize a TEDx or more events appreciated by your community if you want to be happy.


TEDx licenses are granted to those who demonstrate a well-rounded theme that can provide multidisciplinary speeches, demonstrations, and general talks. It’s not meant to be a marketing ploy for your company to sell a product or anything based on doing more than expressing your passion and sharing your ideas.  Just like any other event we organize, there’s a big room, some guerrilla marketing, and then a few inspirational speakers. Simple, right? Nope. Here’s what went into the organization:

  • Speakers.  We had 8 speakers and 2 separate moderators for each session. Due to the importance of the event, we gave them around 5 weeks to prepare. There was a timeline in place with milestones. None of them were followed. People procrastinated. What else is new?
  • Speech Coaches. Our internal toastmasters club volunteered some advanced speakers to review content, listen, provide guidance, and tweak the speaker’s speeches. Every speaker actually had 2 or 3 coaches work with them.
  • Logistics. This includes room setup, video recording, photographers, slides, playing videos, transitioning between speakers, sign-up sheets, volunteer sheets, moderators, post communications, etc. This was no easy feat.
  • Marketing. What’s a bunch of speakers without an audience? We spent a lot of time spreading the word in different creative ways:
    • Our version of social media. We posted to different groups and utilized synergies between groups
    • Independent bios. All speakers provided their own photos, backgrounds, and list of random facts to get their teams pumped
    • Our internal newsletters. Our corporation has great newsletter coverage from different groups and it was excellent at reaching a diverse audience.
    • Sign-up tables. We hosted lunch sign-up tables with the speakers telling more people about the event.
    • Toastmasters support. Toastmasters members were also informed of the upcoming TEDx and helped with evaluations and speech prep/supportive environment for the speakers.
    • “Recommended” attendance by more senior speakers. Speakers who were also managers were able to rally their team for the hour event. Speakers would also tell their friends to join.
    • Training our volunteers to pitch the event. With a large number of volunteers within the firm, each volunteer just needed to convince 2 or 3 people to join and we could easily reach our 100 mark.
  • Artifacts/Docs/Presentations
    • About Our TEDx. For those who asked us what TEDx is, we had a well thought-out answer. This gave the background of “what is TEDx”, “What is our theme this year?”, and “How do I get involved?”
    • Speaker Kit. Specifically for the speakers, our kit contained some extremely useful information:
      • What is TEDx? – a message to the speakers about the TED vision and our own.
      • What is our theme this year? – we used “proactive learning”
      • What are some examples of TED talks? – we were narrowing down which TED talks to show that were related to proactive learning and wound up sharing all of them.
      • What is some advice for speakers? – I’d suggest including the TED Commandments
      • What are the guidelines to the speeches? – we recommend personal stories
      • What are some key milestones for the speakers? – the main 3 steps are:
        • Content/Flow. Write out the speech and outline the speeches into chunks/widgets that can be moved around. Find a solid introduction that draws the interest of the audience and a conclusion that gives a call to action and inspiring view.
        • Audio/Voice. Record yourself speaking while only focusing on voice inflections, intonations, and pauses. Read through it, remove your filler words, and start to memorize.
        • Video/Body Language. Record yourself going through the whole speech and add any visual cues with slides or props. Walk the stage, use eye contact, smile, and stand tall comfortably.
      • What is the speaker order, format, and agenda? – we put together a general agenda for the day-of the event.
      • What resources are available to me? – we mentioned the speaker coaches
    • Full Script. This was much more for the moderators and room setup team. Moderators need to be enthusiastic, include their own story, and know how to introduce their speakers.  Here, we also wrote difficult to pronounce names and asked the moderator to reflect on the speech to make the transitions less awkward.  We also recommended how the projectors/video would show on the main screen when the TED videos were being played.
    • Speaker photos and bios. This was important for marketing. We also included some rapid fire questions that give the speakers more opportunity to talk about their background with fun facts.
    • Consolidated speaker slides with Thank You slide.  We put all the slides together on one consistent powerpoint and added a huge Thank you slide at the end of it.  We worked out logistics on how/when to change slides.
    • Wiki page for organizing logistics and assigning volunteers.  Wikis were great for sharing any of the information above.  It was also easier for people to volunteer themselves for any outstanding tasks.

Lessons Learned/What we Did Right:

  • Allow for at least 6 weeks of planning.  Most of this time is for the speakers to prepare, but it was all a lot more work than expected.
  • Have speaker try-outs and choose a diverse group. Everything worked out great, but I think we could have did some auditions.  For the audition, while the speech does not need to be completed, we want a well thought-out topic.
  • Keep speakers on their toes. People will procrastinate, so write weekly words of encouragement and suggestions to give them milestones of where they should be for a checkpoint.
  • Hold a dress rehearsal at least a week in advance. This will let those who did not prepare to get a kick in the butt and prepare a lot more. Without that extra time pressure, it wouldn’t seem real.  You’ll also need to work out the slide changes and moderator transitions.
  • Have the speakers talk to each other. Since all the speakers worked in the same firm, it was easier for them to meet and share ideas. The result was an interesting correlation between speeches. Key words were shared and topics weren’t overlapped.
  • Assign multiple speaker coaches to speakers.  Not all speaker coaches have the same strengths. It’s important to have at least 2 per speaker so there’s a second opinion for speech content.
  • Give moderators a full script.  This was extremely important to run through by the dress rehearsal. It even included where people would shake hands on the stage and how the stage could be used.
  • Have hands-free microphones. Whatever the venue may be, it’s essential to have clip-on mics so speakers can use their hands to emote.  Holding microphones tends to restrict body motions in many ways (even though comedians do a great job with it).
  • Delegate your work. Add volunteers and have them help out. There’s plenty of work to do.
  • Market the event creatively. Other than having a website, make sure you have ways of confirming registrations (something like eventbrite) and sending updates when the dates get closer. We also bought red and white TEDx wristbands to give to volunteers and speakers to wear.
  • Use technology for communication/organization.  If we were doing this outside of the corporate world, i’d probably have a lot more shared google docs and calendar reminders for different milestones.
  • Send post communications.  It’s important to let attendants of the event additional information about those topics after the event.  This is especially helpful if you plan on holding another TEDx.
  • Have fun! It’s a lot of work, but it’s important to finish strong.

~See Lemons Organize a TEDx