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TEDxUofT 2016: behind the scenes

Conference organizers share the scoop behind the student-run TED conference

Organizers of the TEDxUofT conference gathered for a 360° photo. All photos courtesy TEDxUofT.

Seven hundered delegates. Twelve speakers. An eight-hour conference organized solely by students at U of T, the long-awaited for TedxUofT wrapped up on Mar. 19. U of T News asked Krisha Ravikantharaja and other student organizers to share more on behind-the-scenes of TedxUofT 2016.

“I joined TEDxUofT because I believe in the power of spreading ideas – ideas across fields that spark discussion, result in action and eventually bring about change for the better,” said Bala Krishnamurthy, an engineering student in his final year.

Most of us, Krishnamurthy included, joined the TEDxUofT team because we are self-proclaimed ‘TED nerds,’ who believe in TED’s mission.

For those of us on the team, it’s hard to believe that TEDxUofT’s fourth annual conference has already come to an end. On Mar. 19 we welcomed 700 delegates to the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts to hear the words of a dozen speakers, discover the newest innovations from start-ups from the Toronto area, and speak with others about the ideas they were learning.

It’s an 8-hour conference that we start planning eight months in advance. On top of course work, part-time jobs, and other extracurriculars, team members like Romeena de Almeida, still make time for team meetings and countless hours of preparation.

“When I joined TEDxUofT, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and just how much work it would be. There were nights with little sleep, but knowing that the work you do will facilitate a day of conversation, excitement, and learning for so many people makes you work hard.”

This year’s conference included an elaborate stage backdrop that reflected this year’s conference theme – ‘The Edge.’ We assembled the 1000-piece backdrop (see photo below) in a limited 5-hour framework the day before the conference.

But it’s not just the organizers who put aside hours for the conference. At this year’s conference, Patrick Lavoie and Christopher Stalzer (both in the photo below) spoke about their transition from being professional ballet dancers at the National Ballet to becoming first year undergrads at U of T, and fellow first-year Swarochish “Swish” Goswami spoke about why he believes in the potential of social entrepreneurship.

“I wanted to participate in TEDxUofT because giving a TED talk was one of my dreams growing up,” said Goswami. “The experience was surreal given how everyone involved in TEDxUofT, from the organizing committee to other speakers, were so supportive.”

As a team, we value professionalism and quality above all else, but one of the toughest challenges we face is being taken seriously as a student-run organization. But Technical Director Pierre Roquet believes an entirely student-run operation has its advantages, too.

“Being a student means we know our target audience – what they expect, and what they want. I think part of the reason we stress ourselves out prior to our event because that’s at stake. We have to assume that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

And yes, things always go wrong. A catering order may show up late, a speaker may be having technical issues minutes before they go on stage, or a sponsorship deal may fall through last minute. But the team’s web-developer, Nilay Shah, thinks a diverse team can overcome many of those challenges together.

“The best part of being part of the TEDxUofT team is being able to collaborate with people from various different disciplines. We have rich discussions before making decisions because of our various backgrounds and experiences.”

For many of us, this will be the last TEDxUofT conference we organize.

De Almeida says, “Having a team that cares about you, your work, and the organization keeps you going and makes the journey so worthwhile. At the end of it, I will miss all of the work, the meetings, the phone calls and even the stress.”

During closing remarks at this year’s conference, Chair Issey Roquet (above photo) brought several members of the team to tears when she thanked them for the work that went into the conference.

“It’s been a huge learning curve for the entire team, but everyone’s worked together to get here. And every moment has been worth it.”

Photo below by Issey Roquet

Watch the behind the scenes vlog of TedxUofT 2016 

March 24, 2016

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