TEDx Fort McMurray - a WINNING formula

The gang of volunteers who put together TEDx Fort McMurray got it right.  They built on the success of their inaugural event in 2012 and stepped it up more than several notches in 2013.  I've written a couple of posts about the actual presentations, but haven't said much about the event as whole, the process of selecting speakers, the build-up to the event, and the day itself.  I'll do that now.

As a caveat to my comments, I will admit that I am not overly familiar with the nuances of what the TED organization demands in terms of organizational and operational requirements.  It is quite possible that suggestions I offer are impossible to do based on the rules of engagement.

The Selection Process

If you're not intimately involved with TEDx, you may not know that there is an application and audition process that all candidates have to go through.  The selection panel spends hours of personal time meeting potential speakers (in person and via Skype), hearing early iterations of their presentations, and debating who should be invited to participate.  They consider a lot of things, including content balance, alignment with the theme, and the ability of the presenter.  Yes, some people don't make the cut.

The incredible flow of presenters and topics that we experienced on Saturday is largely due to the diligence of this committee.


Once selections were made, each presenter was teamed up with a coach.  I was honoured to be one of those and had the good fortune to assist artist Lucie Bause with her InTER-CoNNecTion talk.  I'm not sure how it worked with the other folks, but I felt this was a valuable process.  My only criticism would be that I wish I could have been out front to watch Lucie's presentation.  From my vantage point in the wing, I couldn't really see anything.


Based on comments from a number of the presenters, they appreciated having two full days of rehearsal in the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts.  This coveted time in the space not only gave them familiarity with the technology, it gave them quality time with each other.  Relationships have been formed through the TEDx process, and that's really cool.


I've gone back and forth on this one, worrying that the two step process may have stifled attendance.  We had room for an additional 150 people in the house, and I heard first-hand reports from people who got frustrated with the application phase of the process and just bailed.  On the other hand, the people that did go through with it were highly motivated and made for an excellent audience.  The price of $50 is absolutely nothing for the quantity and quality of what we experienced.  I'd have happily paid several hundred dollars for the privilege of seeing those 11 presentations.

One way or another, TEDx Fort McMurray deserves a full house.  Something needs to change to make this happen in 2014.  Whether the application process gets dropped, or a stronger marketing push happens. a shift in thought needs to happen to get bums in seats.

Photo Booth

This was a HOME RUN!  Set up in the office area at Holy Trinity, I got my picture taken with Lucie, gave the young fellow my email address, and they sent the beautiful shot immediately.  I had the high resolution image on my iPhone and ready to share within one minute.

That wonderful system enabled me to post my picture with Lucie and Baby X to Facebook and Twitter during the event, which added way more value to the brand of TEDx than if they had been posted later that day or the next.  Great job.

Video Box

Ashley Laurenson (@ashcakequiggles) created a marvellous cardboard box/video experience.  Guests walked in, pressed a button on the camera, and got to say whatever was on their mind about the TEDx experience.  Too fun!  Watch for a this collection of observations and video interactions coming soon.

Ball Pit

I didn't try the ball pit located at the far end of the hall, but Heather did, and she loved it.  Two strangers crawl into this pit filled with plastic balls, at which time they are given a set of random questions to explore with each other.  By the end of the process, you are strangers no more.

The Lunch

We were seated with random people based on a number that had been placed on the back of our name tags.  In this way, we got to sit and chat with people who we would probably not instinctively gravitate toward.  Lunch was contained within a reusable picnic basket filled with an awesome potato salad, fried chicken, and fruit salad for dessert.

Highlighting the sustainability piece, Loraine Humphrey explained the significance of the meal and how it was being served.  Everything was made with natural ingredients, packed in reusable containers and eaten with biodegradable utensils.  This is a great example of how to make the narrative of the event stronger.  Had nothing been said, that story thread may not have been appreciated or shared.

The Length

We were bagged by the end of the day - absolutely nothing left.  For us, the length seemed to be an issue.  As we talked about the experience after getting home, we wondered if you are mandated to have videos between each presentation?  If you are, then it might be advantageous to pick ones that are slightly shorter.  Had everything neatly wrapped up by 4 pm, the length of the day would have been perfect.

The Emcee

Matt Youens did a brilliant job of personalizing the experience, of moving things along, and of allowing the presenters to bask in the adoration of their fans for just the right amount of time after they were done.

The Organizing Committee

While Matt has become of the face of TEDx Fort McMurray, there are many others who were equally outstanding in their organizations efforts.  Let's see if I can name them without checking: Rolando, Loraine, Renee, Jude, Michelle, Karen, Ken, Jeanettte, Stephen and Zayal.....did I miss anyone?

The Volunteers

The helping hands who made TEDx a success were awesome.  Friendly, engaging, informative, they elevated the experience and can't be thanked enough.

The Buzz

I can think of four or five individuals who are actively planning to apply to present next year.  At the end of the day, that has to be one of the more important measures of success.  Another measure of effectiveness will be the video versions of the 2013 presentations and how often they get shared and viewed.  That's where you will come in, and you, and you, and you!

Closing Thoughts

Outside of working on growing attendance and shortening the length of the experience, I'm not sure how the organizing committee can make the 2014 event better.  That said, I'm sure they will find a way to top themselves; they always do.


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