In Search of Ideas Worth Spreading

Article by Yujeong (Erin) Lee

Istill feel like “that” teenager, who has no idea what’s going on in this world. I still believe that dreams can come true and powers that can change the world. And this was enough for me to take courage to organize TEDxWestFurongRoad.

Below is a rather candid story of how my friends and I have been organizing a TEDx event for the past seven months and how we grew as a team by tackling obstacles and finding out what works and what doesn’t work.
About TEDx, x = independently organized event

2TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience in the spirit of ideas worth spreading. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis. The content and design of each TEDx event is unique and also developed independently, but all of them have features in common.

Creating a vision

Being a TEDx event provided a pretty clear goal of creating a TED-like experience in the community level. Being an independently organized event, on the other hand, required a unique vision. Spending my teenage years in China, I was often disgruntled by the lack of opportunity I had here as a third-culture kid. I hoped that this TEDx event could be an opportunity for expats or TCKs like myself to attend an event where there was a lower cultural or language barrier. I wanted to organize an event that could further serve as a platform, where people who had no relationship whatsoever could make connections. Reminding myself of this vision not only helped me maintain the focus but also empowered me to keep going.

Managing a team

After a month of discussion and planning with my co-organizer, we sent out letters to a dozen students from three international schools, inviting them to join us. By February, we were a team of eleven people. More than friends, these were people I trusted and respected.

3As a relatively big group, deciding on meeting time and location could have been a problem. Because each member took their commitment of his or her time and effort seriously, our meetings were smooth and easy-going. For the next months, we would work on various projects in different committees, taking charge of finance, communication, publicity, and so forth.

Applying for the license

This really should have been my second step. All TEDx events are operated under license granted by TED through application, interview, and evaluation. The prospective organizer is responsible for applying and acquiring the license for the event, and this can take up to eight weeks. Even after reading the lengthy list of rules and regulations in TED’s organizer guide, several items of my proposal needed changing in order to better represent the spirit and purpose of TED.

One of the major issues was coming up with a name for the event. Because the venue I had in mind was the Xi’an Art Museum, located near the Big Pagoda, I applied with names like YantaSquare or YannanRoad. However, titles that represent the community, such as Xi’an, Qujiang, or Yanta, were not allowed to be used as the event name for first time organizers who have never attended a TED event. After reapplying twice and exchanging probably two dozen emails, we decided to call it WestFurongRoad, named after a major street two blocks away from the venue, and we were officially licensed as a Standard TEDx event.

Searching for speakers ideas

I think what makes TED and TEDx unique is that they require those organizing to search for ideas, rather than people. We did not realize how difficult this would be until we began searching. Ideas were everywhere. People with ideas were frequent. People who understand how to convey ideas and present them in a new perspective were rare.

4Unlike other projects where we were divided into committees, this required a group effort. We soon learned that most ideas could be discovered through communication, not observation. Trying to extract ideas from anyone we met became part of our lives. It was surprising, too, to find ideas that shaped and defined this community.

As an event solely organized by a group of high schoolers, the most challenging, yet exciting, aspect was probably that nobody could tell us what to do. We had to steer our own boat—understand the currents, spot any icebergs and figure out how to get around them.

With an unspoken obligation that we must benefit the community yet uncertain feelings about our scope of influence in the community, we nonetheless pressed forward for the past seven months. With just a few weeks left before the event, we do not know which shore we will be docking at. All we know is that we’ve become part of this community

TEDxWestFurongRoad is an independently organized TED event held in the community level of Xi’an in the spirit of ideas worth spreading. This officially licensed TEDx event is scheduled for October 29, 2016, taking place at the Xi’an Art Museum as an invitation-only event (100 attendees). We aim to bring together diverse minds to give idea-focused talks that foster learning, inspiration and new perspectives in a TED-like experience.

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