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Tuesday, April 3, 2012
TED offers everyone the chance to speak or perform
By JULIAN LITTLER
Special to The Japan Times
TED — the increasingly popular New York based, California-held ideas event— is coming to Tokyo. The conference, whose speakers were previously by invitation only, will hold an audition in Tokyo on May 29 as part of a worldwide talent search. Organized by the TEDxTokyo team and hosted at Roppongi Hills in collaboration with Google, the Tokyo auditions will contribute to the global search for speakers and performers for TED Long Beach 2013.
TED, whose mantra is "Ideas Worth Spreading," has become particularly well known for its 18-minute TED Talks. The acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, the focal points of the talks. Available to watch on the TED website, the talks have been viewed more than 700 million times since it went online in 2006, with subjects spanning fields from science, medicine and social innovations, to art, design and the performing arts.
Since its inception in 1984, TED has changed owners from founder and creator Richard Saul Wurman to current owner and TED curator Chris Anderson, who took the organization's headquarters from California to New York, even though the main stage continues to be in Long Beach each year.
At $7,500 a ticket, TED is not for everyone, but theoretically its TED stage is open to anyone who has an idea worth sharing.
"The truth of it is that it never really was our intention to be exclusive at all," Content Director Kelly Stoetzel explained from New York via Skype. "We love getting recommendations and having people submit stuff to us".
Past TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Richard Dawkins and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. This is a pretty high-caliber list of thinkers and innovators.
Having become the most influential global ideas conference, TED's huge door price and attendee application hurdles are offset by the free content that is constantly uploaded onto www.ted.com. This includes not only talks from TED, but also those from other conferences and TED events, including the TEDx independently organized talks, if they are ideas felt to be worth sharing under the slogan, "Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world."
In a recent New York Magazine article, Benjamin Wallace tells how a "well-to-do" guy tries to mug a TED photographer of his all-areas pass by attacking him from behind and yelling "I need your badge right f*cking now", followed with "No, you don't understand, I need to get in there and meet those people." Wallace's anecdote provides an idea of how big a deal a chance at TED has become.
This kind of popularity has yet to hit Japan. However, that may change with the arrival of "Super Presentation," a six-month documentary program about TED, its talks and presenters, which premiered on NHK on Friday, March 30, and was directly followed by a live video discussion ("Hangout") on Google+. "Super Presentation" currently screens every Monday night from 11 to 11:25 p.m.
TED had its first public auditions in New York last year, under the title "Full Spectrum" — a theme chosen to encourage an opening up of presentation formats.
"We wanted to see what that would turn up," said Stoetzel. Though the organizers planned for only one audition winner, four people ended up on the Long Beach stage and three others' videos went into the online TED Talks archive.
TED wanted to explore ways of bringing new talent to the stage that would otherwise be hard to find through their own research and outreach alone, explained Stoetzel.
The success of the New York venture brought about the decision to run auditions in 14 cities around the globe. The events are being organized in collaboration with local TEDx groups in each location, and the audition cites are intended to be regional TED hubs for the TEDx-produced talent searches. According to Stoetzel, having the local TEDx groups producing the events was also a way for TED to acknowledge the valued role played by TEDx organizers.
TED hopes to fill half of the 2013 conference places with success stories from the auditions. Applications for audition places in Tokyo opened March 21 on the TED website and anyone can submit a talk proposal until midnight, April 10. Successful applicants will be notified by April 23, with the live auditions being held on May 29.
From the global auditions, those chosen to speak in Long Beach 2013 will receive an all-expenses-paid trip, including accommodation, to next year's TED event, where they will get to share their ideas alongside other inspiring presenters.
While unpaid, taking the TED stage in Long Beach can change lives. Stoetzel said that she explains to speakers the potentially life-changing effects and popularity that can follow a TED talk, warning them that "they need to be ready for this."
Susan Cain, who presented a case for the place of the quiet and contemplative in the recent March TED conference, has already had more than 1½ million views in less than two months. Many other speakers end up on constant talking tours.
What does TED hope from the Tokyo auditions?
"We are not looking for a typical motivational-speaker type, nor for someone who is promoting an organization," Stoetzel said. "Even if it's a nonprofit, we are not looking for anyone who is promoting a book or a product."
Instead, TED is looking to hear from people who are uniquely qualified to talk about something.
"If they invented something or designed something with relevance for the future, or can demo something or have unique insights through their hobbies or cutting-edge research — these are the kinds of presentations TED are looking for," said Stoetzel.
Artists and performers are also encouraged to share their work, perform or present insights arrived at through their work. Stoetzel emphasizes that TED is "looking for things that have real substance to them, from a wide variety of fields."
Japan's first TED speaker was Ken Mogi, who presented in March this year. A regular within the Japanese media, who also teaches at universities and conducts research with graduate students in Sony Computers Science Labs, Mogi is no stranger to public speaking. He explained that he doesn't normally write up his speeches, but for TED he wrote eight versions, rehearsing around 30 times in his hotel room.
"TED is off the mark", he said, "It's something Japanese people, especially, are not prepared for."
Mogi is referring to what he says is an under-preparedness in Japanese education for this kind of presentation, particularly in English. Mogi's 2012 TED Talk was about the resilience of Japanese people based on numerous trips to northeast Japan after the tsunami and earthquake last year.
What is Mogi's advice for those wishing to audition for TED?
"Many people think that TED is about presentation — that is true, but it's not about a know-how or a methodology," he said. "I think you should genuinely be looking for ideas that are worth spreading, something within you, something non-trivial that is not of the market. To be successful at the TED audition you have to really dig deeply into yourself."
With 50 to 60 speakers and performers expected to take the Long Beach stage in 2013, TED hopes that roughly half will come from this year's worldwide search. Everyone will be able to view the successful auditions on www.ted.com this summer for discussion, comments and ratings.
The auditions can be presented in Japanese and TED have not ruled out the possibility of being able to present on the Long Beach stage in Japanese. The newness of the worldwide search seems to have TED on their toes thinking in flux about how TED Talks at Long Beach may look and be run in the future.