3 Lessons Learned from Planning a TEDx Event

Tomas Solari Yrigoyen
Tomas Solari Yrigoyen

Tomas is an Argentine student in the MS in Enterprise Risk Management program at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School with living experience in France, Singapore, Argentina, and the United States. During his time at Carey, he has founded and led the Professional Communication Club and was the team leader of the first TEDxJHUDC. His hobbies include watching his favorite soccer team Boca Juniors play every Sunday and reading about Latin American politics. Tomas is looking forward to using the leadership and analytical skills he’s developed at Carey as he continues his career around the world.

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On February 18th, 2017, a group of students from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, the School of Advanced International Studies, and the Krieger School of Arts & Scienced Advanced Academic Programs ran the first ever TEDx event at JHU’s Washington, DC location. Leading the team that made the first TEDxJHUDC happen was perhaps the greatest learning experience of my life. I could write a book on every single lesson learned but for the purpose of this post, and to not bore you with too much text, I am going to list the three biggest ones.

For TEDx to happen, much had to be accomplished: from forming a team to identifying speakers to reserving a venue to managing logistics. And many tasks had to be addressed as they came at us unexpectedly, including speakers dropping out close to the event and running out of plates and coffee mid-event.

So what did I learn from accomplishing and addressing all of the above?

  1. Network, network, network

To put together an event of this magnitude, you need help. To get help, you need to meet people. To meet people, you need to talk to people you don’t know. This sounds really simple but it’s much harder in real life, especially when you are as shy as I am. Going to different happy hours, participating in activities organized by Carey clubs, founding my own club, going to leadership retreats, talking to my classmates, meeting for lunch with one of the TEDxMidAtlantic organizers, forming a soccer team, and asking the school faculty and staff for advice were all crucial for the success of this event. Each of these activities made taking the next risk easier, whether it was asking people to join my team or talking to the amazing speakers that participated in our event.

I was also able to find help in unexpected places. Student Services put me in contact with Priya Prakash from the MS in Healthcare Management program who had already hosted two TEDx events in the past. The connection would not have happened if I hadn’t established a relationship with Mike or Ben from Student Services in the last year. In addition, I was able to meet Andrew Hinton, a GMBA student involved in student government and a marketing focused club, at a school leadership retreat. Priya and Andrew were great assets to developing a website for the event.

I could talk for hours about how getting out my comfort zone helped me. One thing I know is that talking to a person I don’t know will be easier next time, and I can’t wait to meet new people, and see who I can collaborate with on future projects.

  1. Take advantage of Applications and services designed to make your life easy. If you can’t find one, that’s a great idea for a future business venture.

We did not have to be experts at all aspects of the organization process. The good news is that today, there are applications or vendors that can help you with practically any task imaginable. For example, we needed to create a website. Did I know a web designer? No. Did I need a web designer to make a great website? Heck no. There are apps such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly and more that let people with no experience create gorgeous websites in a very short time. The same thing goes for designing flyers or selling tickets. We used Canva.com to design our flyers in minutes. Furthermore, we used the popular Eventbrite to sell our tickets. To create our 3d TEDx letters we found over ten vendors online and eventually ordered from the cheapest one, perhaps not the best idea since I don’t know if the foam letters will survive until the next event, but they looked cool enough for one event. For printing our attendees’ packets with the speakers’ information, we went to FedEx. Unfortunately, the collaboration did not pan out and we went to another printing store–US Printing and Copying–where we received great customer service for half the price.

  1. Assign Big Roles to People

I’ll be honest: I improvised a lot for this event. I started with a work breakdown structure and tried to use what I had learned in my project management class. I tried to give people small roles and deadlines. What I found is that people become disengaged when they have small roles. I found that those with bigger roles were the most enthusiastic about the event. One example is one of the executive team leaders: Karina Oganyan. She oversaw logistics with Emily Dabish. They had a huge responsibility, including designing the attendees’ packet, coming up with the seating arrangements, the schedule for the event, ordering catering, making sure everyone had a role during the event, making sure the speakers were informed on when to get their mic installed and where, making sure the stage was properly set up, and much more. Karina took ownership of her role and did an amazing job.

Shuting Luo is another great example of someone with a big role–she was in charge of rehearsals and communications with the speakers. The role required her to exchange hundreds of emails. Not only did she do an outstanding job, we could tell she was excited about the event as she even brought her amazing camera and took pictures during the whole event when no one had asked her to do that.

Motivating people as a team leader is definitely challenging and I have so much more to learn but I feel that I will be able to do a much better job next time as I give people bigger roles.

Although these were the greatest lessons for me, my one advice to people who want to do an event like this is to stop thinking about it and just start doing it. You are going to make lots of mistakes, and you’re going to get frustrated, but the personal gains are out of this world.

Trust me. Start. Now.

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