TEDxTownsville Goes to TED Global > Geneva

Words by Tania Clarke, TEDxTownsville Licensee/Curator

It’s difficult to convey via words how life-changing the TEDGlobal experience was for me. Attending TEDGlobal was everything I had hoped it to be. I’ve witnessed the power of the X in local communities but I hadn’t witnessed the impact it had on a global scale.

If you’re following TEDxTownsville on social media, you may know that I attended TEDGlobal>Geneva in December 2015. The gathering was for over 500 TEDx organisers from around the world to come together and exchange ideas, connect and learn TEDx best practices.

The stunning TEDGlobal stage at CERN

For a very lucky few hundred, the event was our qualifier to expand into a bigger TEDx event for our community. What this means for Townsville is that we’re doubling our attendance this year. Good-bye 100 person audience limit.

Attending a TED event is no easy task. I applied months in advance desperately hoping to get the opportunity to attend. I finally received my confirmation in September and scrambled to make travel plans to fly out by December 2nd.

The itinerary was to attend a TEDx workshop on the Sunday, an events ‘Unconference’ bootcamp on the Monday, and the actual TEDGlobal event on Tuesday afternoon.

I arrived on the Friday after a 48 hour trip to Geneva due to engineering issues on the plane and an unexpected overnight stay in Dubai. Can Australia be any further away!?

On Friday and Saturday some other TEDx-ers and I met up to explore the beautiful city of Geneva. Despite not having had a formal TEDx gathering yet, it wasn’t hard to spot another TEDx-er. I was greeted by numerous friendly faces and asked a simple question “are you here for TEDx?” followed by a warm grin and a conversation like we’d known each other for ages.

 TEDx organisers from all continents of the world. Photo courtesy of Cristina, fellow TEDx organiser

On Sunday we had the official TEDx workshop held at CERN (squeal) which was about upping your game and tips on how to organise your event better, how to curate speakers, how to create better engagement and building your community. The workshop was hosted by the TEDx staff from New York who are all extraordinary humans that get the opportunity to witness people changing the world every day, through the TED brand.

On Monday we attended a session on Peace Diplomacy at the Geneva Graduate Institute, featuring past TEDGlobal speaker Melissa Fleming of the UNHCR. Take a moment of your time to watch her TED talk, I sobbed throughout her talk and felt like my heart would tear in half hearing about the refugee crisis our world is facing as we speak. 

Never before have I been surrounded by so many genuinely passionate, inspiring and incredible people. The group represented over 80 countries and collectively spoke hundreds of languages. I felt blessed to experience such diversity and culture.

TEDx organisers from Spain, Australia and England

I learnt that people in the most disadvantaged communities had the courage to overcome laws and government to have their communities ideas heard.

TEDxTehran held an event for over 2,000 people in a country where gatherings of large groups of people are forbidden. I learnt that a maximum security prison in Nairobi held a TEDx event for their prisoners to talk about crime prevention, education and expression.

 TEDx event at a Nairobi prison

A city in which the government had seemingly abandoned managed to pull together their community and hold an event under a bridge with a stage to rival the best, completely made of recycled material. These stories illustrate how when you have the courage to do something, nothing can get in your way.

After the Sunday workshop and Monday spent in boot camps about speaker curation, the big day loomed closer. On Tuesday morning, we got to witness TED rehearsals before the actual event. The event was held at an old central power plant that went on to become the opera house of Geneva, known as the Batiment des Forces Motrices.

 TEDxTownsville and TEDxSouthBank

The theme of the event was “Critical Junctures” and curated by TEDGlobal curator, Bruno Giussani, a truly intelligent and knowledgeable human. A talk that deserves a special mention was the Q&A with outgoing UN High Commissioner of Refugees, Antonio Guterres about how we can better welcome refugees. Guterres effectively explained the complexities of today’s refugee crisis. If you want to find out how you can help with this crisis, fellow organiser Crystal writes a brilliant article here with practical advice. 

In amongst soaking in all the knowledge, I was pleased to talk to many fellow introverts who push themselves out of their comfort zones each and every day to organise TEDx events for their community. All because they believe in the power of how ideas can shape the world.

TEDx events are about ideas worth spreading, with an emphasis on the worth. Organising a TEDx event is one of the most difficult things you can do and a HUGE responsibility. It’s also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever been involved with. As organisers, we have a responsibility to pool ideas and pool knowledge to solve our problems of the world through TEDx.

The few days of exchanging knowledge and ideas made me aware that community is your most important asset. It was comforting to know that we are all just making it up as we go along using our common sense and information available on this journey. The TEDx organiser journey can sometimes feel isolating but now I feel like I’m involved in something greater and our small event can help shape our future.

The TEDGlobal experience filled me with knowledge about how to create a better and more inclusive TEDx event for our community, but it also taught me that I should strive every day to be a better human being and a better global citizen.

What I love about the TEDx community is that they willingly part with their best ideas and knowledge, because they genuinely want you to create a better experience for your community. As a TEDx-er, we are all in this together and never before have I felt like I truly connected with so many people.

I feel confident and capable that I can serve my community and the world after attending this event. Yes, I wasn’t joking when I said the experience was truly life-changing business! I realise now that I need to work even harder to be a better global citizen.

I am prepared for the challenge ahead and eager to make a difference with the TEDxTownsville team (Renee, Mel, Adrian, Brenton and Danielle) by giving a platform to people to have their ideas heard. There are people who do truly exceptional things in this world and I feel honoured to have met many of them in Geneva.

I feel that it’s more important than ever, we as a city do everything in our power to improve the attitudes and actions of the community we live in. And with TEDx in our arsenal, we are collectively capable of changing the world.

If you want to connect, email me at info@tedxtownsville.com