In December 2019, I had the privilege to represent TEDxNorthwesternU at the annual TEDWomen conference in Palm Springs, California. Following the theme of Bold + Brilliant, this conference exposed me to a myriad of innovative ideas, introduced me to an inspiring array of people and provided me with lessons to bring back and apply to our own conference.
During the first day of the conference, I was able to attend one of the many workshops offered by TED that allowed attendees to explore topics and ideas that interested them. I chose the workshop titled “What an Escape Room and Your Life Have in Common.” At this workshop, I was introduced to other organizers of TEDx events, including fellow collegiate organizers as well as people who work with other Chicagoland TEDx conferences. Together, we engaged in a series of escape room style challenges that challenged our abilities to think outside of the box, adapt quickly and collaborate with people we had just met. While these are skills that can be applied to all aspects of life, being able to participate in these challenges with other TEDx organizers taught me how these skills specifically apply to conference planning.
The people that I had the opportunity to meet during the TEDWomen conference were easily one of the best parts of the conference. I quickly found a group of fellow collegiate TEDx organizers who each taught me news techniques to bring back and use to improve our conference. I was grateful to meet them, and I cherished the time that we spent together discussing the talks and sharing our amazement of the TEDWomen experience. However, I was introduced to incredible people throughout the conference. I spent one dinner eating with a woman who worked with Google and had lived all over the world and I ate breakfast with a writer for one of my favorite publications. While waiting in line for the photo booth, I struck up a conversation with two women who started a non-profit organization to support and provide agency to survivors of human trafficking. Even the most mundane of activities provided me with the chance to talk to people from across the world and learn more about their stories.
While the people were amazing, the speakers are obviously the pinnacle of any TED or TEDx event. Former President of Liberia, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was the first democratically elected female president of an African country and gave the opening talk of the conference. While it may seem as if it could not get any more awe-inspiring than that, all of the talks managed to exceed my expectations. The ideas ranged from using data as a basis for a universal basic income, to the taboos regarding menstruation and solving urban planning challenges by working with the people who actually live there. Each of the six sessions exposed me to new ways of thinking, with many making me laugh and several bringing me to tears. The conference culminated with a talk about becoming a dangerous woman given by the dangerous woman and founder of TEDWomen, Pat Mitchell. I even managed to get her to sign a copy of my book after her talk!
Ultimately, TEDWomen was such a transformative experience and reminded me of the shared values at that are at the heart of the larger TED community. The opportunity to highlight and share ideas with people who are working to make the world a better place is an incredible experience. It reminds me why I got involved with TEDxNorthwesternU in the first place. The incredibly supportive TED community gives me faith in humanity and excites me through the exposure to some of the world’s most clever and innovative minds and ideas. Attending the TEDWomen conference only left me craving more TED and TEDx experiences in my life and I cannot wait to put on this year’s TEDxNorthwesternU conference.