Taking you behind the scenes of the beginnings of TEDActive, here's part one of two of an interview with TED's Content Producer (that means she helps pick the speakers) and TEDActive host, Kelly Stoetzel.
What was your first experience attending TED like?
My dad went all the time. He would come home and be so excited about it. He’d talk about it all the time. But, I didn’t really get what it was. So, when I first went to TED -- I went as an attendee for a number of years before I worked here -- I had no idea what to expect.
The first session was just so incredible and blew my mind so much that I almost couldn’t process my feelings about it. I remember being blown away by the first day. It was an amazing experience that had such a huge effect on me, even after hearing about it for so long from my dad who was so passionate about it. It was amazing to hear all these different kinds of stories. Some were more personal, inspiring stories, some were business related, some of them were about science, but all of them were about things I was really excited to learn about.
So, you started attending TED and you fell in love with it. How did you start working at TED?
I started attending TED, went for a few years, and when Chris took over, I emailed him. We started talking about speaker ideas and met up the next time that (he came into New York he was working in California at the time) and became friends. Then, he decided to move the office to New York. I happened to be at a good point in what I was doing to switch, and I really wanted to be a part of TED so I begged him for a job! (Laughter)
My background before this was in the art world, but we talked a lot about speakers and speaker ideas. There was at least one speaker I recommended to him that was a really big hit at TED, Vik Muniz. So, I already had a track record. Doing what I do with the speaker program was what I really wanted to do. My interests, partly from attending TED for so long, are really diverse. I love learning about lots of different things, so that my passions are a really good fit with the job.
After you’d been working with the speaker program for a number of years, TEDActive, or at the time TED@Aspen, landed on your plate. Why was the simulcast conference interesting to you?
Well, first, the simulcast experience is totally awesome. I remember at TED@Aspen, we planned to do it and it was under partnership with the Aspen Institute in the fall, but it happened in February. It was planned that I would oversee the simulcast lounge there. We usually broadcast a little bit, and I was always involved in that, so when we decided to do a remote simulcast, I think it made sense for me to oversee it.
The first year in Aspen I didn’t really know what to expect. We had this huge disaster right before it started. The way that we livehosted had to evolve because there was a real need to communicate with people, and it set the tone for that experience.
Now, in Aspen, what happened is that the day before the conference started, the AV team had hung a projector right next to a sprinkler head. It was less than 24 hours before TED was due to start. People were showing up, arriving there. The fire alarm went off, the sprinkler started going off and it had to be completely empty before it would stop. We couldn’t just shut it off. We had couches set out, plush chairs, blankets thrown over the backs of them, pillows -- all this stuff that was totally absorbing water. And this water was gushing out of this thing. It was awful. We were shut down by the fire marshal. We were all wading in water. We ran to the gym and got towels and mops. There was a disaster relief team that we brought in to help us too, but it was also all hands on decks with hairdryers, drying out this place. We didn’t know if we were even going to be able to open for TED because there was the potential issue of mold.
The fire marshal was awesome and agreed to come back the next morning at 6:30 to check the place out and see if people could be let in. So we dried everything as well as we could, everybody did. We closed up a room and put a whole bunch of dehumidifiers in there and left them. And, we went to sleep for the night, just hoping that we could set back up in the morning. The guy came and met us at 6:30, let us open up and we all came together to arrange furniture.
So, when some attendees had first shown up and there was a flood and people dumping buckets out. Some were like, “No way! I can’t believe this all came off.” It created a totally different atmosphere, that we had been through a disaster together, attendees included. It really set a great tone that, I think, continued today. It ended up being the best thing that could have happened.
Also, at Aspen, it was a lot smaller than TED, so people started to self-organize. It became such a close group of people. One guy organized a huge snowball fight, and there was a lot of other stuff like that happening, because it was smaller. When we moved to Palm Springs, we still saw all that happening and we decided to step it up a bit. Now we have TEDActive, and that really captures the focus of what the event is -- letting attendees plan stuff like that, also planning some of it, but really getting people to have fun. Of course, they can also choose to just sit and watch the conference, go to the events and still have a great time. Part of the fun is when the attendees plan things themselves, and so we try to let that stuff happen naturally.