Saturday, May 05, 2012

Hans Rosling on TEDx and decisions it needs to take

I have been following Hans Rosling for several years, marvelling at how he gives context and lively narrative to what seems like boring data. He has more influence than many broadcasters I know. If his talks at the TED conferences get posted to the site, then he's guaranteed a least a million views. His first one has currently logged over 4 million views. His talk work because he puts simple stories across in ways you wouldn't  expect. Having met him a couple of times at Le Web, I was also struck by how easy it was to strike up a conversation with him - he took time after the talk to chat with members of the audience.

A few weeks ago, the TED organization organized a meeting for TEDx conference organizers. These are conferences organized independently of TED. That may sound like a rare breed of people. But in fact there were 233 TEDx events in April 2012 alone. 650 people accepted the invitation to turn up in Doha. If they paid their own airfare, the rest was free for a week. From my own experience, the TEDx conferences themselves turn out to be variable in quality - ranging from disguised business conferences which borrow the TED name for their own purposes to events which are certainly a good research and development ground for the main TED conferences themselves.

It was on the outing that Hans Rosling gave an impromptu interview, following up from his washing machine talk. It must have been prepared because it was filmed in the typical TED style using multiple cameras (for easy editing). He starts by picking up from the line of a recent talk (above) where he concludes that we're striving harder in the world to get washing machines in the world than to spread democracy. But he also said something extremely interesting about the challenge that's going to face TED very shortly.

At the moment the TEDx movement is a loose network of very creative people.

It is an emerging international civil society organization. It has enormous potential  and the decision about the next step will be crucial.  As it expands, friction will emerge as the discussion starts as to which direction it wants to go. Will it run projects, will it run education or will it make statements?

TED has built an industry around coaching people to deliver a brilliant TED talk. It has polished performance and established a successful business model for itself. An elite will pay relatively large attendance fees to network (though a 6000 dollar ticket is considerably less than the cost of a piece of research from one of the big accounting firms). That helps to support the new talent given a once in a lifetime chance to share a brilliant concept, thought or idea.

I still believe the weakness to TED is follow-up. It will have to professionalize that part of its business - you cannot leave that to passionate volunteers. As a digital storyteller myself, I am always curious as to what happens next. I wonder which direction TEDx will choose?

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