TED was an acquaintance of mine. I had brushed past him a few times online.
Friends would share his videos – Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, Sheryl Sandberg and other business giants sharing their insights – always interesting, but I never took the time to really get to know TED.
That all changed on a sunny Saturday in Portland. TEDx Portland ( #TEDxPDX ) had come to town and I was going to get up early and spend my day with TED. All I knew going into it was that a bunch of people would talk, but beyond that my expectations were low. It didn’t take long to learn it was more than a few people talking, TED is an event!
Three thousand people filled a sold-out Keller Auditorium to share in the TED experience. I quickly learned a few basics. TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Since its creation in 2009, over 15,100 TEDx events have occurred. In over 135 countries worldwide, people are coming together to spread great ideas at these independently organized events.
So the natural question at the end of TEDx Saturday was what great new insights had I learned? Here’s my Top 5 discoveries.
1. Civil Discourse Still Exists – In a polarized world where compromise is rare, liberal hates conservative, any religious idea is radical, and if you don’t agree with my viewpoint I’ll either sue you, stalk you or make signs and demonstrate outside your window, I found at TED that people could still share ideas that others may not agree with, yet still be encouraged and supported. Portland is a hotbed of liberalism, so I fully expected to spend the day being barraged by a very specific viewpoint and agenda. Surprisingly, the first speaker of the morning spoke about “Entitlement” but not from the popular view that society and the government owes you something. Elias Cairo shared how his Greek father and the Swiss jagermeister he studied under in the Alps clearly taught him that you are entitled to nothing. You have to work hard and make your own way in the world. Not exactly a liberal agenda, yet there was thunderous applause for him. Next up was a short film about transgender, featuring a young boy secretly dressing up in a dress. There was also thunderous applause for that.
2. Real Men Cry – Big, bulky manly men stood on stage and cried as they shared their stories – stories of pain and loss and tragedy that shaped their lives. Timber Jim who was the original lumberjack mascot of the Portland Timbers soccer team cried as shared about losing his father in a boating accident, his teenage daughter in a head-on collision, and his personal battle with cancer. Legendary University of Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington cried as shared about failure and depression and dark days in the NFL. And that displays the power of a TED talk. Presenters are not giving their polished, varnished motivational speech that they give to banquets. These are deeply personal, insightful talks full of raw emotion. The only thing that strikes me funny is the crowd’s reaction to a crying man. They clap. I understand that may be the only way to offer our support since 3,000 people can’t walk on stage and give the speaker a hug, but it just seems odd to clap. It’s like, “Bravo. Cry some more!!!” If I’m standing on stage crying, just hand me a Kleenex!
3. The Power of Shared Experience – Why would 3,000 people pay $100 each for a ticket, when they could watch the event streamed online for free? I believe the answer is found in your local movie theater. There’s a big difference between watching a movie in a dark theater with a crowd of other movie lovers and watching by yourself on your home television. At our core, humans are social beings, but today most of us live in an isolated world. It’s a treat to experience a live event with 3,000 of our closest friends and neighbors (that we’ve never met!) There’s also other perks to being there live, including Salt & Straw ice cream at the breaks; a custom Timber Jim/Portland Timbers scarf; and a cool TEDx Portland backpack that every attendee received.
4. People Need People – Many of the talks highlighted the many faces of need in the world around us – hunger, homelessness, and the unaddressed need of menstrual hygiene among poor and homeless women. There are so many different types of need that I have to admit I’ve never even heard of some of them, but the encouraging part is the stories of regular people who step up to make a difference. Tracey Oseran saw an opportunity to feed the hungry with all the food wasted daily by grocery stores and restaurants. She started Urban Gleaners to pick up and distribute that food to those in need here in Portland. Israel Bayer gives a voice to the low-income and homeless in the city. And Nadya Okamoto is a high school senior who has already started a non-profit that has active members across the country helping with the natural needs of homeless women. These stories all highlight the truth that one person with a good idea can make a huge difference in the world for thousands in need.
5. Variety Shows Rock! – When I was growing up, the variety show was a popular format for network television. Carol Burnett, Sonny & Cher, Donny and Marie and even The Brady Bunch had an hour-long variety show. Sadly, the format fell out of popularity on TV, but I realized it is alive and well at TED. The day-long event is so much more than speakers talking. There are short films and live music mixed with incredible speakers. We enjoyed a local band, a live orchestra synched to video, a stage-filling chorus and a musical group that is comprised of only trombone players. Perhaps the best part about the TED variety show format is that if one performer or entertainer doesn’t resonate with you (that’s the fancy way to say you’re bored), give it 18 minutes and you’ll be on to something totally different.
To use the old OPB tagline, it was ‘Time Well Spent.’ Not only did I meet TED in Portland, I experienced TED in Portland. The experience reminded me of our underlying belief at 100SEVEN, that branding is not about a product or a service, its about people connecting with people. I won’t be waiting another year to connect with TED again. At TED.com there are over 2,100 TED talk videos. Perhaps I’ll invite a couple thousand friends over to watch with me!