July 20, 2010
Dave Troy is an event organizer extraordinaire, having organized everything from TEDx conferences to Barcamps. He is most known for his work in organizing TEDxMidAtlantic and the recent TEDxOilSpill in New York City. I recently had the privilege of picking his brain about his organizing process and challenges. The following is a transcription of a paraphrased interview.
[Z] Hey Dave, thanks for taking some time to fill us in on your organizing processes. Do you mind starting off by explaining the process of how you find speakers for your conferences?
[D] Sure. TEDx is more of a brainstorming process: identify who would be good choices, reach out to 3 or 4 times more people than we expect to actually show up as speakers and then treat it as a sales funnel. We don’t necessarily give it too much thought. After maybe halfway through wrapping up the slots we reevaluate how to move ahead with what kind of topics, etc. It’s process driven.
[D] It feels like a numbers game. That’s because with TEDx you have a larger source pool. With more industry specific conferences, the source pool is smaller.
[Z] How do you get feedback on the events you organize?
[D] We get informal feedback through emails from attendees. We haven’t had time to think of a meaningful process. The experience is different for TEDx because one person can see the whole conference. With larger conferences, everyone is everywhere so it’s more difficult to get consistent feedback.
[Z] What’s your biggest hurdle as an event organizer?
[D] In general it involves getting people to register and commit. People are making fewer plans in advance. It’s hard to get people to register a couple days before. As you’re coming up on an event, you don’t know if you’re going to sell it out or not so you don’t know how much budget to commit to the event. At TEDxOilSpill we didn’t get a real amount of registrations until 9 days before the event and it sold out in the next 7 days.
[D] Having mechanisms to manage registration expectations would be very helpful. People have busy schedules. On any given day, people have 3 or 4 things they could choose to do. Events are easier than ever to organize which means there are so many of them to choose from. Registration then becomes an option on attending. Then you’re dealing with an overbooking scenario.
[Z] What’s the main functionality that would boost your overall event experience?
[D] TED conferences or Barcamps tend to produce this very active engaged community while they’re at the event, then they generally leave feeling energized but with no way to continue the conversation or to reconnect with the speakers or attendees. We’re trying to address this concern.
[D] Hands down the thing that TEDx could use is a way to keep the attendee community connected to one another. If every talk had a discussion board, the ability to have videos integrated, but noting feedback from live attendees vs. video viewers. This could create a pretty 3-dimensional picture of how the talks went off.
[D] With bigger industry specific conferences, there’s a lot more room for variation and quality of speakers. They have promotion of the unknown element. You never really know if the speakers are going to be good communicators.
[Z] Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions Dave. You’ve been very helpful. Good luck on future endeavors with TEDx conferences and Barcamps!