In April 2018, I attended my very first TED conference. I had been to several TEDx events, but these events don’t even begin to compare to the “real thing”. My mind was of course blown by many amazing talks, including Frances Frei’s talk about creating trust, Dylan Marron’s talk about turning online hate into positive conversations, and Simone Giertz’s talk about how building useless things alleviated her performance anxiety. And of course, I met many brilliant people that I would never have had the chance to meet back at home in Melbourne, Australia. But something surprising that I took away was how I could start to be a better conference attendee.
Start a conversation with a stranger
Being an introvert, I dread the breaks at conferences. Breaks mean either standing on my own or desperately hoping to see someone I know that I can talk to and avoid looking like a “Nigel no-friends”.
TED was different. I challenged myself to shed my introverted skin and instead start up conversations with strangers (which was pretty much everyone, as I didn’t know a single person there!). On one particularly memorable morning, this meant striking up a conversation with Reed Hastings and chatting about his work habits – which needless to say, was fascinating.
If you happen to be standing next to me in the coffee line at the next conference I attend, I’ll be the person that strikes up a conversation with you.
Stop being such a cynic
The mindset I brought to TED was one of immense curiosity and openness. I wanted to soak up as much learning as I could in the five days I was stationed at the Convention Centre in Vancouver. But when I reflected on how I approached past events that I went to, while I was curious, I was a lot less open.
When it comes to conference speakers, I am a pretty cynical person. I believe that most speakers too often promote their agenda rather than furthering their audience’s. TED made me ultra-aware of my default behavior (partly, because it felt so refreshing to drop the cynicism).
I now intend to approach the next conference I go to with both curiosity and openness and see what that brings. I suspect I’ll probably hear things that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.
Self-impose a technology ban
If you look around the average conference room, chances are at least a quarter of people are on their phones or checking their emails. And this is happening while someone is on stage speaking. I am certainly guilty of this behavior.
But at TED, there was a technology ban in the main stage room, except for the two back rows reserved for media. People actually give their undivided attention to the speaker. Such a novel idea, in this day and age, and as an attendee, it was truly remarkable to witness.
While not every conference has the caliber of speakers TED attracts, I am going to power off my technology at the next conference I attend. Hopefully, I’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how much I learn by tuning out digital distractions.