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9 Things I learned at TEDxHouston

On Saturday, November 3, 2012, I attended TEDxHouston at the Asia Society. I've attended all three of the TEDxHouston events, and I'm thrilled by the progress they've made in putting on a world-class event.

Fun and games are an important part of any TED event, and Christine Stevens and I enjoyed the Smilebooth. Tq121105tc2

Supporting TEDxHouston is now a matter of moving past compliments and digging into where they shine and what other things they could do to help Houston gain international recognition as an engine of creativity and innovation. From the very first event, they've made important contributions, such as launching Brene Brown into the national spotlight. 

What I learned and observed this year:

  1. Comfortable places to network are just as important as good seating at the event. This year's venue, The Asia Society, provided many different areas to mix and mingle, and it was easy to be comfortable and to hear the person you were meeting. It's hard to imagine it could get any better in this area. 
  2. New faces were wonderful to see. The previous events were almost like reunions, but this time new faces outnumbered familiar ones. 
  3. Authentic, locally sourced food is great, but more variety and service would be appreciated. Yes, that would run up the cost. I used to pay $700+ every year for a similar conference in New York, so clearly, I'm willing to pay more. 
  4. Speakers were bettered prepared and more consistent in quality. Before the event, I would have said I prefer Houston-based speakers only, but since my favorite presenter was from out-of-town, I guess I appreciate them more than expected. 
  5. I am not the typical attendee. When everyone else jumps up to give a speaker a standing ovation, I'm usually displeased with that speaker. One of the reasons is that I don't enjoy hearing someone "rally the troops" around popular ideas. I want to be shown the cutting edge and hear ideas that take me out of my comfort zone. 
  6. More games and activities were planned than happened. It's natural that low interest will cause some ideas to die a natural death, but it felt more like the event was too thinly staffed to follow through. Despite having many volunteers, I'm beginning to think the event isn't recruiting the right skills from their volunteers. Solving this problem represents a considerable management challenge that may not be interesting to the sponsors. Maybe fewer activities should be planned, or maybe I should lower my expectations. Many of my expectations were formed back when I used to attend a Fast Company conference called "Real Time" which excelled at activities. However, they don't do that conference anymore because after about 6 interations, it never made money. I hope someone figures this out one day, but it may not be TEDxHouston. 
  7. CulturePilot produced one of the best conference program booklets I've ever received. It was a pleasure to use both for looking up items and for taking notes. It appears to have been less expensive than other equally functional programs. GOOD JOB!
  8. My favorite presenters were Nilofer Merchant and Chitra Divakaruni, and I also appreciated Mariam Haddad, Karen Walrond, Viswa Subbaraman, Andy Hines, Anthony Brandt, Nick Skytland, Jeffrey Kripal, and Craig Rusin. When I'm attending, I'm looking for a speaker who will either give me a new and better perspective, or teach me something I didn't know before. 
  9. I had no way to voice my criticisms for the messages provided by Jay Berckley and Stephen Klineberg. And although Jay Berckley was available after the event, I realized that not having the opportunity to ask questions in a "forum" can be a serious drawback to these events. It's one of the reasons I prefer the Pecha Kucha format, where the speakers are supposed to hang be available at a specific table after the event for questions. (Although I know they often don't follow through.) 
Stephen Klinberg is one of Houston's most important thought leaders, and someone whom I admire deeply. So I was probably most frustrated by his presentation. Want to know why? Comment and ask me to post about it!