Tedx Grand Rapids 2015

TEDx: How to Make the Most of Your First Event

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend my first TEDxGrandRapids event, which CQL sponsored financially and with volunteers. TED is a non-profit organization devoted to spreading ideas, innovation, and knowledge. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that incorporate TED values and ideas. 

The theme for this year's TEDxGrandRapids was Constant/Change and posed the questions: "What if, instead of chasing after change, we focused on the things that remain constant beneath it all? Could there be just as much to learn from things that stay the same?" The 15 outstanding speakers centered their sessions on this theme to answer these very questions. 

Because this was my first ever TEDx event, I was ill prepared for the full experience. While this didn’t impair my time there, I could have gotten more out of the event if I'd been better prepared. Looking back, there are a few things I wish I’d done differently to make the most of my experience. Learn from my mistakes and make sure to do the following before the your next event!

How to Prepare Before the Event

Research the Speakers

Find out some background on the speakers and their topics beforehand. Having a clear idea of what you’ll be hearing will allow you to understand the speakers’ material better and have more in-depth conversations with other attendees between sessions.

Scout Out the Location

Know the location and area of the event. Having a familiarity with the venue you’re attending is ideal, especially if it’s downtown and parking or one-way streets are prevalent. This kind of simple prep work before the event will make your day smoother and less stressful.

Prepare to Network

Make sure to bring business cards or another easy way to share your contact information with other attendees or speakers. I cannot stress this enough. This event is as much about the speakers as it is about increasing your own social and professional circle.

Pack Supplies

Bring something for note taking. Some people are tech savvy and others prefer the old pen and paper. Either way, with so many ideas being shared, taking notes during the event is the best method to remember the insights you’ll gain. For most of the speakers, the pen and paper method was all I needed to take notes for later research. In most cases, I actually took more notes on the dialogue that happened during the breaks.

What to Do When You Arrive

Get There Early

Okay, technically this is something you should do slightly before arriving, but you get the idea. You’re going to have an incredible, albeit busy, day. Give yourself plenty of time to get there and mentally prepare. Plan to arrive about 10-15 minutes before the initial sign-in for the event. Not only does arriving early help you beat a good portion of the crowd and early morning traffic, it also gives you an opportunity to talk with event coordinators, speakers, and other early arrivers.

Prepare to Mingle

Mingling is a core aspect of what TED events are all about. Depending on your personality, you might find this kind of networking a challenge. There really is no advice needed for people who can talk to anyone about anything, but there is definitely good advice for those who have a difficult time starting conversations.

I’m a very social person when it comes to groups. With that in mind, I still have a hard time starting conversations with strangers. For those who experience the same challenge, the easiest solution is to bring someone with you who is the complete opposite and can start the conversations for you. More often than not, that friend or colleague will include you in parts of the conversation that will display your core strengths and knowledge.

Alternatively, if you fly solo to the event, try to make yourself appear as approachable as possible. Don’t bury yourself in your phone or tablet, as tempting as that may be. Going to a common location like a seating area, standing table, or food table, will usually invite the social butterflies to you. Once you make contact with someone, your thoughts about the speakers and sessions are really the only talking points you’ll need.

Enjoy the Sessions!

The sessions at a TED event are a good mixture of live speakers and video. Typically, the event breaks sessions into one and a half to two hour blocks, with hefty breaks in between. Each speaker has 18 minutes, which is an optimal amount of time to get information out to the audience without overwhelming them.

Usually, you’ll want to take notes so you can do further research on your own. If you take notes on an electronic device, I definitely recommend dimming the backlight before the session starts. The light might not bother you, but it could be a distraction to others in the audience. Don’t forget to turn your phone off (or at least on silent, who are we kidding?).

My TEDxGrandRapids experience was filled with great discussions. There were plenty of speakers that really made me think. For me, there were a quite a few lectures where I was not the core audience. Even in these cases, I was still able to grab bits and pieces of good information that sparked my creativity and innovation.

I was most moved and interested in the session by Kim Dabbs on the aftermath of innovation. It dealt with looking at new innovation and how it affects people at different socioeconomic levels. I was intrigued by her backstory and sense of humor, as well as her social entrepreneurship. It definitely made me think about what I can do as an Innovator to help those that truly need it.


TEDx events are as much about learning as they are about meeting and connecting with new people in the area. These events truly drive you to look at problems with a fresh perspective and innovation, or to collaborate in new ways with your peers.

In my one-day experience, I met several new people and have insightful, meaningful conversations. I learned so much about areas I don’t have a lot of experience in and never knew would interest me. I’m looking forward to my next TED or TEDx event and the new connections I’ll be able to make with other innovators. Knowing what I know now, I expect the next event to be even more incredible.

Didn't make it to the event this year? Don't worry! You can watch the sessions here

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