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Just Back from TED and SXSW

by Mark French

This is my first week back in the office after attending South by Southwest (Interactive) in Austin and TED in Vancouver. It’s been a great week and a half to learn a lot of new things, meet new people, recharge the batteries, and get motivated! In fact, both SXSW and TED provide important lessons for any organization wanting to create events with real impact.

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SXSW and TED are very different. SXSW attracts upwards of 75,000 and is spread across the city of Austin. TED is an exclusive gathering, requires an application, and charges almost eight times as much to attend. But both events share more in common that you might think.

Both SXSW and TED attract a highly-motivated audience of people who come to learn and meet others. Both organizations empower their attendees to accomplish their objectives. They do this through intentional design that is outcome-oriented. 

As a newcomer to SXSW, I was impressed by the large offering of content on digital, media, video, marketing, technology, and analytics. For any organization wanting to reach and engage their key audiences, these disciplines are critical to success. SXSW delivers a plethora of great, high-energy content, presented by real experts and practitioners. It is like drinking from a fire hose! There is real depth to their offerings.

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SXSW also offers an engaging main stage experience with big names. Speakers there included Jack Welch and Al Gore. But unlike, TED, they have a minimalist approach to production. It’s competent but limited to the basics required for the audience to hear the speakers.

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For an event of this scale, it would be easy to get lost, but SXSW creates multiple opportunities for people to meet and create connections. They have a great app and smaller gatherings, and there are countless smaller social functions hosted by companies or other groups to facilitate mingling and relationship-building.

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TED is very different than SXSW. It is more centrally managed with an incredible amount of time devoted to content curation and the making of an experience. Where SXSW Interactive is focused on practical education, TED takes on the big topics and issues of the day. TED features brilliant speakers from academia, scientific institutions, and business that challenge the way we think about the world, the human condition, and the universe. No speaker makes a main stage presentation at TED without rigorous practice and coaching.

TED is an experience on steroids. There are interesting exhibits to engage you. You see speakers you would never see at most corporate gatherings. The food looks amazing and tastes great. The seating is plush. The visuals are better than anything you’ve ever experienced. You see world-class entertainers who you’ve never heard of perform on stage. You interact with people who are changing the world and our understanding of it. And the conference lives on forever in video that is state of the art. My guesstimate is they use almost eight cameras to record each main stage presentation, and it’s beautiful video that is quickly but elegantly edited together and posted to their site.

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What TED and SXSW share in common are commitments to very high quality content, a belief in creating a strong sense of community among attendees, a desire to provide a unique and compelling experience, and a desire to extend the value of the event beyond the live event itself. Both organizers show respect for their attendees and provide unique and compelling value propositions, and both enjoy near-zealot loyalty. This isn’t a bad combination, and something all events could aspire to emulate.

This year Leading Authorities will see some of the best conferences in the world, and we will work with many organizations to design and produce better meetings. We believe in the power live events and are inspired to share new ideas that cause organizations to re-imagine their own meetings.

If you are interested in taking your event to the next level, we would welcome a conversation. Submit the form below to get started.

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