I know I’m supposed to swoon a little at the idea of being an Official TEDx Speaker, that doing this will rain down confetti and job offers and fame on me. But in the end it boils down to this: TEDx is just another organisation asking me to work for free. – Frank Swain
Journalist Frank Swain wants you to know that he turned down a TEDx talk because he’s tired of being asked to “work for free.”
He misses the point of TEDx entirely.
Swain, like a lot of other people, seems to think that TEDx events are solely about self-promotion and “exposure” rather than an opportunity for a community to come together and put “big ideas” on the table to discuss.
Having been the first-ever presenter at the San Antonio TEDx–and still enjoying the fruit of connections made at the event (even if my “big idea” didn’t pan out), I can say that being a TEDx Talker isn’t about “the show” but rather about the sense of community the event helps forge.
When it comes right down to it, as a citizen I want to be a part of a city that values public discourse and for which a cadre of people (all volunteers, by the way) come together to make that happen. TEDx has helped communities like mine do just that. More precisely, the volunteers at TEDx (both the speakers and the committees) have helped cities do that. It’s not just the speakers who volunteer, you see.
Without a doubt, the TEDx brand helps draw people to these events, a vital component to success. When I worked in non-profit professional theatre, we called this getting “butts in seats.” It’s a powerful draw, and it brings people to listen to others whom they might not otherwise ever encounter in a large city.
The end result of the TEDx experience–the connections, the publicity generated for ideas (as opposed to local sports teams), the good vibes generated between participants on the day of the event and afterward–is worth the time of anyone (speaker, volunteer, or attendee) who believes in the value of conversation, connection, and community.
If that’s not your thing, though, and you can’t fathom doing a little volunteer speech-making, then don’t bother submitting an application or just politely say “no” to an invitation.
There are plenty of other people who are willing to embrace the opportunity.
Kindly make way for them.
Because I want to hear what they have to say.
Update: Portions of this post were excerpted and appeared in a News.Com.Au article a few hours after hit “publish.” Interestingly, I was in no way compensated for this exposure but am grateful that a reporter on the other side of the planet cares what a hyperlocal Texas journalist and author thinks.
Hands down, this was the best TEDx San Antonio talk in 2010. Watch it. . . and then imagine if my good friend Alicia had said “no” to TEDx because they didn’t offer her money.