Event Review: TEDxTransmedia – When (Curated) Content Makes an Excellent Experience

October 3, 2010

in Conference, Events

On September 30 2010, TEDxTransmedia (web, twitter, facebook) took place at the Radio Télévision Suisse building in Geneva, Switzerland. Organized by a team from the European Broadcasting Union led by  Nicoletta Iacobacci (interview), the event was originally planned for April 2010 but had to be postponed due to the ash cloud generated by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, that transformed the northern European skies in a no-fly zone. TEDxTransmedia attracted some of the most renowned players in the field and an international audience composed mostly by public service broadcasters and other professionals from the media world.

Nicoletta Iacobacci - Organizer of TEDxTransmedia

I took an early flight from Amsterdam to Geneva, and arrived while the second presentation was already taking place. My first hurried impression was that of a humble event with some untidy logistic details, but the impact of the program rapidly transformed my skeptical approach into an enthusiastic support. The conference, unlike many other TEDx events, was dedicated to explore ideas around one specific theme (transmedia) through different points of view. I came with little knowledge on the topic and left with the strong belief that the “transmedia approach” applied to traditional broadcasting could -or better, should- be applied to conferences to upgrade the live experience.

“In transmedia storytelling, content becomes invasive and fully permeates the audience’s lifestyle. A transmedia project develops storytelling across multiple forms of media in order to have different “entry points” in the story; entry-points with a unique and independent lifespan but with a definite role in the big narrative scheme” Source: Wikipedia

Why is transmedia important for conferences?

Currently, even if we are all super-connected digitally (think of facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc), there are also more physical events than ever taking place. Most of them are dull, just a mediocre re-purposing of and old formula that involves a bunch of speakers, a shoe-box like room, chairs and some slides. Content is no longer king, but the experience is (content is still very important and a necessary condition). The transmedia approach to content and experience offers a key to upgrade a once passive moment into one that is worth living in presence.

TEDxTransmedia proved very valuable as a whole, especially by watching all the sessions together and meeting the actors shaping this new way for telling stories, where the audience becomes an active part and the human factor -rather than technology- re-gain the scene. To quote Jeff Gomez, one of the speakers, “Transmedia will “listen” for what you want… Only humans can give you what you need…”.

Jeff Gomez - "Only humans can give you what you need"

Venue

TEDxTransmedia has hosted by Radio Télévision Suisse. The venue was probably the less remarkable thing about this event, but still it didn’t degrade the overall experience. As said before, content and passion are two things that cannot be replaced by an amazing location (unless the location represents the experience per se) or flawless execution. My comments are aimed at creating awareness in conference organizers by identifying some aspects that could be improved and not to diminish the wonderful event orchestrated by Nicoletta and her team.

The conference took place in a “viewing room” and it’s adjacent spaces located on the basement of the headquarters of a TV station, and the room was obviously optimized for TV/film viewing and not as a place for live presentations. The stage was too narrow and gave the impression that the speakers were cornered. The audio/video system was also more suitable for projections than speeches (see below for more details).

Registration, coat room, coffee break and lunch areas were all crammed together, though you were encouraged to move upstairs to the building’s lounge for a more pleasant social experience. The bar on the first floor served as the location for the closing drinks.

Audience

The event attracted about 120 attendees from several countries including Czech Republic, Brazil, Austria, USA, UK, Finland, Japan, Italy, Germany, Sweden and of course Switzerland. Most of those who I met were involved in TV/broadcasting or media in general.

Format

The event followed the TEDx formula, with short live presentations and TED talks (actually the Tim Ferris talk was from the EG Conference, but it had been re-published on the TED site as well). There were three breaks in total, two during the program (coffee break and lunch) and a closing social moment with drinks and snacks.

Speakers & Performances

The quite remarkable speaker lineup was composed by Frederic Kaplan, David Rowan, Alison Norrington, Ian Ginn, Stephen Dinehart, Christy Dena, Christopher Sandberg, Sietse Bakker, Simon Harrop, Dan Hon and Jeff Gomez. The length of the presentations followed the TED canon with 5 minute and 18 minute talks. Nicoletta Iacobacci acted as host by opening,  introducing each of the presentations and closing the event.

A musical performance by Caroline Phillips and her hurdy gurdy was a nice complement to the program and it was also made relevant to the theme by upgrading her TED Global 2010 talk to a duo setup where the other player (Mixel Ducau) was recorded and projected on the big screen (playing acoustic guitar, flute and singing), creating a live+video interactive experience, much in the way that transmedia proposes.

Caroline Phillips + Hurdy Gurdy + (a virtual) Mixel Ducau

The live presentations were complemented with recorded talks by Tim Ferriss, Maz Jobrani (to me, the best speaker from TED Global 2010) and the beautiful one below:

Highlights

David Rowan engaged in a passionate proposition on how journalism and you can “right the wrongs of the world” and save reporters from being killed, jailed, tortured and censored. Until the speech is published, you can get a good idea of it’s content by reading this presentation that he recently made at Freitag’s HQ.

Ian Ginn explained how kids don’t have the patience that we used to have and how this is generating a change in the audience’s behavior. At the same time, this unleashes several opportunities for transmedia to create compelling content by tapping the talent from new young TV makers. Ginn, who is also an educator, remarked the importance of facing the changes in storytelling and formats by encouraging “learning without safety nets and with the right to fail”. By “welcoming questions that you cannot answer”, he aims to help creating a new grammar for telling stories.

Stephen Dinehart‘s passion for transmedia soon covered his nervous start. His presentation focused on the use of transmedia to “create experiences to help people believe in love [...] to be active players rather that “seeming” to be players”.

Christoper Sandberg, of The Truth About Marika fame, gave me some interesting insights on how to apply transmedia to conferences and I could summarize his intervention with the following quote: “transmedia is about lend us your body and what we can fill it up with”. He concentrated on much of the out-of-the-tv behaviors that his company created, moving from “eyeballs” (passively watching a screen) to “fingertips” (on a computer) and “steps” (through mobile phones).

Christopher Sandberg at TEDxTransmedia

Simon Harrop was another speaker that filled me up with ideas for live events through his exploration of multisensory transmedia, or the role that the five senses of an audience has in extending the reach our reach and emotional relationship. In TV and traditional marketing -as in conferences- there is a visual overload and strong competition for attention. Harrop stated that “if we want to be remembered [...] the more senses you add, do not add emotion but multiply it”.

Dan Hon, a speaker we had at PICNIC ’10 some days before TEDxTransmedia, but because of my duties I was unable to follow, presented the difference between play and games, where the former has no rules, no constraints and no goals… like child’s play. When designing a transmedia experience, he urged us to “try to make it fun and put the play back to it”.

The event had a strong emotional finale, a characteristic of a well made program, with Jeff Gomez. Jeff dragged us through  the joys and sufferings of his own childhood. But at a certain moment you realized that what started as a sad and troubled story had become the story of hardcore transmedia in itself. Transmedia should be a means to connect with real human beings and he begged us to KEEP ME HUMAN [with your work].

“Your audience takes your story seriously, so you should too!” Jeff Gomez

Jeff Gomez and his childhood hero Kikaider


Stage & Stage Management

The stage was small and in my opinion very narrow, but it was clear from the start that this room was not made for live presentations. It was decorated with vintage (radios, TVs, books, etc) and new objects related to media (there was one on the far right which was very modern and kept moving and blinking during the presentations. It was  introduced before I had arrived so I missed what it was). The layout was a bit messy but I appreciate the fact that they tried to give a personality to it, as opposed to so many perfectly functional but anonymous stages that you see around.

The event branding was provided by two roll-up banners (which I find awful) positioned at each extreme of the stage. A red circle carpet signaled the ideal spot for the speaker to stand up (as in TED conferences) but I thought that because of the height of the carpet, it could have made the speaker trip over. The countdown clock was located on the left wall of the room (right side of the speaker) and in most of the time it was out of sight as presenters tended to stand on the furthermost left and from there look right. I didn’t see a confidence monitor display, which meant that speakers had to look to the computer located to their side or to the big screen, to see what the audience was seeing.

Stage management was a combined effort of Nicoletta and one of her colleagues with the support of a technician for hooking up the microphone to the speaker.

Audio/Video/Lights

Apart of what’s been said above, I found the audio the most disturbing technical factor: the sound that came out from the loudspeakers was metallic and, probably due to the lateral and elevated positioning of the cases, it seemed to come from an awkward place rather than from the presenter’s mouth. Again, it was clear that the room was made for watching films and not live presentations.

Catering

Catering was simple and unpretentious. It was offered in the (small) area adjacent to the conference room. You could also decide to pick a plate and cup of coffee and accommodate yourself upstairs, in the more comfortable and ample lounge of the building, illuminated by natural-light.

The Experience

The curated content, passion of the speakers, relevance of the theme and quality of the attendees made of TEDxTransmedia a great experience, and for me personally an eye opener on a high-impact resource for shaping the future of conferences. The things that worked, worked very well. The details that disappointed me, mostly in logistics, were just a minor glitch that didn’t wear off the value of the conference.

Networking & Matchmaking

The high quality and strong polarization of the attendees made this event a perfect meeting point for people from this industry and newcomers like myself interested in the theme. I met a total of 10 new and old contacts with a strong relevance for my professional activities.

Support Material / Giveaways / Goodies Bag

The event badge doubled as program booklet (see below). The goody-bag was a wine bag that contained a copy of Wired magazine (UK), a sponsored tin box with a USB key containing the presentation of Bibop and a series of swag branded with the “Dare to” tagline of the conference. It included a wooden yo-yo (Dare to Play), a pack of herb seeds (Dare to Grow), a documentary on Tchernobyl (Dare to Watch) and the eBook “GenerationWe” (Dare to Read).

At the registration desk you could also pick up a notebook and a pen sponsored by EBU.

Goody Bag contents

Registration Process & Badge

The event was not free, with a ticket costing something around 200 Swiss Francs (I don’t remember the exact price as I was invited by the organizers to cover the event). Registration was made online.

Upon arrival you received the badge/ program booklet/agenda (back), and the goody-bag.

Event Badge

The badge was also the program booklet (inside) and agenda (back)

Visit my TEDxTransmedia set on flickr for more photos of the conference.

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