TED talks get millions of views and thousands of people have attended TED and TEDx events around the world every year. Whether you are a TED fan or not it is undeniable that the TED style works to attract audiences and keep them engaged.

So how do they do it? I’ve been to quite a few TEDx events, have run my own TEDx event for the past five years and in 2013 had the opportunity to attend TEDActive in California. Here is what I think makes these events amazing:

1. The Content:
A friend of mine who is a filmmaker showed me a video years ago of a man telling a story about the evacuation of a refugee camp in north Africa. The video quality was poor, the sound was just ok and all that was behind him was a run-down looking wall. It had no bells and no whistles; yet the story was incredibly compelling – we couldn’t stop watching.

Great talks are the core of great events. TED talks are all about finding people with great ideas and showing them to the world. As a producer or curator your job is to find and support your speaker. Whether they are a seasoned public speaker or this is their first time on stage, there is always support you can provide. For more on this, read my posts on how to give a great talk and curate an inspiring line up.

2. The Design
Paying attention to the look and feel of your event will make the audience feel they are at something special. The design plays a key role in creating an immersive experience (more about that in point 3). For me the design includes the stage, the space and the printed materials.

I am not a designer but have a strong aesthetic view and have worked with incredible designers and creative people. The goal is to create a common theme through all design elements so that each can create the right feeling for your audience. For many TEDx events, including mine, this is about reflecting your theme in all aspects of the visual presence.

Stage design can often feel daunting and in my opinion is often an afterthought for most conference organisers. But a great stage is not about creating something complex or expensive, it is about creating a beautiful frame for your speakers and their ideas. Keep in mind how the stage will look live, in photos and on film. Here are some examples of great simple stage designs:

3. An Immersive Experience
From the moment your audience arrives at your venues they should feel they are stepping out of their everyday lives and entering a new world. Beyond branding and decoration, what can you create outside the stage area that your audience can interact with? Here are some of what my team at TEDxEastEnd have done over the past five years:

  • Greeters: human arrows that guide your audience to the venue to help build anticipation – like a yellow brick road or red carpet.
  • Food: working with local businesses or caterers so that the food feels like a connected part of your event and not just an add on. Can the food tell a story, can it build on your design and theme, or can it be interactive? Little touches like popcorn for the audience to enjoy during the event can make them feel like they are about to sit down to watch their favourite movie. A social enterprise the uses recycled food or employs disadvantaged young people can add a socially conscious element.
  • Art: how about transforming you venue into a pop-up gallery? We have collaborated with local artists who can display their work and be on hard to talk to the audience during the breaks about their pieces. We have helped display the work of unknown artists and we have used the art to be another way of reflecting our theme.

An immersive environment gives your audience a world they can explore and interact with, it makes your event more memorable and it helps reinforce the purpose of your event beyond the main stage and talks.

4. Before, During and After
For me an event starts from the moment someone signs up to attend. Making the registration process simple and keeping in touch with attendees to get them excited before the event all add to the mind set people will be in when they arrive on the day. Can you tweet your audience teasers or a photo of their badge? Again, all this adds to people feeling like they are part of something special and creates the foundation for a great experience.

How do you interact with your audience during the event? I have already mentioned using human arrows and will talk about logistics in the next point, but using social media during the event can get your audience to feel more a part of the day. Is there a hashtag people can use, will you share tweets on a twitter wall or display instagram photos on screens around the venue? These will all get your audience to feel they are active participants in the day rather than passive viewers.

After your event do you keep in touch with your audience – sharing photos and content created on the day? Keeping communication open after an event can help you build you community and make it easier to get people interested in future events.

5. The Logistics
I believe one of the secrets of a great event is to ensure that the operational and technical aspects are so well planned and managed that they become invisible; allowing the audience’s attention to focus entirely on the content and the message being delivered. This involves paying attention to the details – creating a flawless experience for your audience. Here is a checklist for what to pay attention to when organising an event:

  • An easy registration process – online using a ticket platform (eventbrite, brown paper tickets, etc). Making sure that it is a one or two click process and doesn’t involve a lengthy sign-up or payment process. On the day how do participants register and pick-up materials that avoids long lines or any hassle. Registration is the first time people will interact with you and will give them an idea of what they can expect from the event itself.
  • Do participants have an easy way to access all the practical details – directions, schedule, map, wifi passwords etc.
  • Test all the tech and AV you plan on using for the event. A problem with mics or slides can distract your audience from what you really want them to pay attention to. Working with professionals in lighting, sound, projection, film, photographer etc to rehearse and test is essential. Take a look at my post about technical aspects of an event for non-technical people for more details.
  • How will people move through the space, can they get to their seats easily and quickly, what is your policy on later comers? Do you have clear signs and helpful staff in place to answer questions? Can you get people in and out of the room as quickly as you need to keep you programme to time?
  •  How will you deal with problems on the day, try to troubleshoot a list of things that can go wrong and come-up with a plan for each of them. Here is what I think about before a TEDx event:
    o What if someone doesn’t have a badge?
    o What if the tech fails – slides, mic etc?
    o What is a speaker doesn’t show up?
    o What if too few or too many people come?
    o What if you are running behind schedule?
    o What is someone gets sick or has an accident?

The logistics on the day depend on your staff team – whether they are volunteers or paid staff. Does everyone feel ownership in the event going well and how can you work with them in advance to both train your staff and get them invested in your success? Make sure any font facing staff know how to answer common questions and know about the programme. Clearly outline a process for when issues arrive. And of course emphasize how important it is that the staff reflect the values of your event and are professional, friendly and approachable.

These are the five elements that I believe, through over 10 years of experience, come together to make a truly unforgettable and amazing event.