Well, kind of.
TED, the Long Beach–based ideas conference organized around brilliant speeches from great thinkers—a conference which has become only more famous by regularly releasing those speeches in full online—recently unveiled plans to have independently organized TED events around the world under the banner of TEDx. (The photos throughout this article are by Rodrigo A. Sepúlveda Shulz from Paris’s TEDx event, held in May.) On September 10 this year, Toronto gets a TEDx of its own: TEDxTO. Organized by Paul Crowe and Tyler Turnbull and held at Theatre Passe Muraille, the free event will feature eight main invited speakers, talking for eighteen minutes each; four speakers, chosen from public applications, talking for three minutes each; an in-person audience of one hundred; a free live webcast running alongside; and the theme of “What’s Next” structuring it all.
TEDxTO will be held on September 10 this year, rather than September 21 (as this article originally mistakenly noted).
“We wanted to push all of our speakers to deliver a speech or talk about something that they haven’t talked about before,” explains Crowe. “So we may be inviting someone who, in the past ten months, has done fifteen speaking appearances, or put out a book and been on a tour, but we don’t want them to deliver that standard pitch. By the theme of ‘What’s Next,’ it’s more of a challenge to the speakers to—whether they’re of the education world or design world—come in and find a speech that you can deliver in eighteen minutes, best speech of your life, and talk about what you see as next. ‘What’s Next’ could be someone talking about where they see their industry going from a trend standpoint, or what they would like to see Toronto do, or Canada do. It’s very open to them to define what ‘What’s Next’ means to them and their world.”
Crowe and Turnbull aren’t revealing details about speakers until early August: until then they’re focussed on soliciting applications from the public for those four shorter speaking spots, the deadline for which is this Friday. All they’ll say is that, for the eight lead speaker spots, they sent requests out to their “first eight that we’d like to see,” and have some confirmations from them. Complete details on tickets, too, are forthcoming: some will be available through the event’s sponsors, others will be done through their Twitter and Facebook pages, and still more will be available through an application process on their website where anyone can apply for free tickets—but where not everyone will be picked. “We have a committee of about seven to eight people that’ll just be curating those applications with the theme of diversity guiding our decisions,” says Turnbull, who, with Crowe, runs an advertising blog called AdJoke. “We don’t want this to be an advertising conference full of one-hundred people, just like we don’t want it to be a health-care conference full of similar types; the more diverse group we can get, the better.”
In spite of the “curated” audience, done to make sure that, as Crowe puts it, “there’s a great mix of people from diverse backgrounds, diverse thoughts, diverse industries,” what will seemingly most separate TEDxTO from other conferences like the Moses Znaimer–helmed IdeaCity—and even TEDxTO’s California parent, which set rules for TEDxTO’s audience size and which must have many of TEDxTO’s independently organized details run by it—is accessibility. “One of the things that was really important to us,” says Turnbull, “was broadening the group of people that could come, because we put in a lot of effort into organizing, and we wanted to give as many people access as possible.” To that end, the entire event, for the attendees and those watching the webcast, will be completely free. “So there isn’t,” Crowe says, “‘Can I afford the tickets?'” (IdeaCity’s regular tickets cost upwards of three thousand dollars; TED’s, for their main conference, more than double that. Even watching the live webcast of TED’s main conference is the most expensive part of a subscription package that costs more than a thousand dollars.)
“We’re trying to differentiate TEDx,” Crowe says. “Everything from the way to the tickets are free, to where the venue’s gonna be, to the type of the speakers, to how we really try to integrate networking into it—but not in the people-hand-off-a-business-card, shake-a-hand, move-on [way].” TEDxTO’s success, Crowe and Turnbull hope, will help to prove Toronto as wholly worthy of an official, satellite TED event. Says Crowe: “we really truly want to have an event at the end of the day where people sitting next to each other in the audience are sitting next to someone they probably never have been sat next to at any other conference in their life, and they’re listening to a speaker they’ve never heard speak about something that they’ve never talked about before.”
Applications for TEDxTO “community speakers” close on Friday. Finalized ticket and speaker details will be available on TEDxTO’s site in August.