TEDxUMN: The Good, The Bad... and The Memorable
I have always loved TED Talks. Four years ago, when I was still in high school, one of my teachers excitedly told me there was going to be a TED talk at the University of Minnesota campus. I didn't even blink an eye before buying a ticket right then and there. We showed up to the event, and I knew immediately that if I ended up attending the U, I had to be involved with TEDxUMN. Of course, I did end up going to the U (best decision I've ever made), and consequently, I joined the TEDxUMN team.
I remember introducing myself to a team member, who is now our director, and asking him how I could get involved. I gave him my email address and I thought I'd never hear from him, but the following semester, he emailed me with instructions on how to join the team. I joined, and had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting myself into.
Even at last year's event, I wasn't fully aware of all the planning and preparation that went into executing such an event, but I kept doing my thing, soaking it all in.
This year, I was fortunate enough to be promoted to the TEDxUMN Board, made up of 12 highly dedicated student leaders completely committed to making each year's event better than the last. And, honestly, this year blew all the others out the water.
REAWAKEN, this year's event, was twice as successful as last year's. We sold 1,000 tickets in less than one month's time. Our design team set up a truly beautiful stage where 8 powerful speakers and one ultra-talented taiko performance group shared their ideas worth spreading, and 21 hours later, I'm still beaming.
TEDx Conferences, I'm sure, are life-changing experiences for everyone in the audience. But I don't think people know just how much work goes into planning an event like ours.
I've spent every Thursday night since September in a classroom on campus brainstorming ideas, solving problems, and trying to manage a budget so our event would go off without a hitch. Yesterday, I was on campus for 15 hours, save for the hour I spent traveling to Burnesville and back to pick up last year's stage letters. I barely ate, I drank 32+ ounces of coffee and a 16 oz. Rockstar, and didn't even bother to wear my Fitbit because I figured it'd crash trying to calculate the steps I took running all over. I was literally on my hands and knees outside, chalking information about Reawaken on the campus sidewalks. When you put that much energy into something, it feels incredible to see it all pay off.
Despite everything we did to create a #Flawless event, we didn't anticipate the chaos that would come when trying to register and hand out name tags to 1,000 people in the 30 minutes allotted for check-in. It was madness. Because we are situated on a college campus, we want our events to be as accessible as possible to all students, so we kept ticket sales running through late afternoon, and then allowed tickets to be bought at the door. For that reason, we didn't have name tags made for everybody as they started to show up. We had a lot of name tags, believe me, but somehow we didn't have the right ones.
People weren't happy, but my years in retail taught me to be patient and brush off the nasty looks people give when they're upset about something trivial and outside of my control. People got their name tags eventually, and that's what matters. If nothing had gone wrong, we wouldn't have a place to start making improvements for next year.
There's always a lesson hidden in the "bad" stuff.
It goes without saying that I've enjoyed my time with TEDxUMN. And I'll be honest, there were more nights than not when heading to campus at 7:30PM for a board meeting was the last thing I wanted to do. Mostly when it was -20 degrees during the Minnesota winter. There were times, not more than two or three weeks ago, when I didn't think we'd hit 1,000 ticket sales; there were times I wasn't sure we'd even hit 500.
But every weird, tangled experience–from painting giant foam letters in my garage on a rainy afternoon, getting wine drunk during a meeting, frantically boosting every Facebook ad to increase engagement, or alphabetizing name tags in the living room of our associate director's frat house–resulted in a memorable event for me, my team, our speakers, supporters, sponsors... and most importantly, the community.