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RapidBlog: Heading into year five of TEDxGrandRapids, Adam Clarke shares five lessons learned

TEDxGrandRapids kicked off its fifth year last night with a launch party at the Downtown Market and announced this year's theme, Constant/Change. As the event heads into its fifth year in our community, volunteer Adam Clarke shares how the ongoing conversation has taught him a few things about people, details, and change.
To celebrate TEDxGrandRapids’ 5th anniversary, I’d like to share a bit about my experience and what I’ve learned along the way. As we prepare for the 2015 event, I am hopeful you will join us and keep teaching me more. Here are a few lessons I've learned so far.

Adam ClarkePeople want to help and are excited to build off an idea

In our first year, a team of individuals had a big idea to try something new in our community. What if we bring 750 thought leaders to the Civic Theatre, attract 18 world-class speakers, and start a conversation? What could our community be transfused with to make it a better place for all?  We knew there would be a demand and energy for it, but we were blown away by the results. 

That first event sold out, and local organizations donated time, talent and resources to make TEDxGR one of the biggest TEDx events in the world. As a team, we came up with a plan for how to spread the concept of TEDxGR. We asked community leaders to give us their feedback on whether an event like TEDxGR would be beneficial for Grand Rapids. These community leaders gave us an hour to pitch our ideas, which often evolved into a 4-5 hour brainstorming session. With so much community interest, TEDxGR has had a lot of support from the very beginning. Since then, every year has continued to follow this trend, with additional talented individuals contributing to the growth of TEDxGR. The community continues to embrace the idea of creating conversations.

Photo by Tom WagnerStories and videos start a dialogue
Even after five years, we still hear people ask, “What is TEDxGrandRapids?” Many people ask this before they realize they have watched and loved TED.com or TEDx videos. With more than 1900 videos on TED.com and more than 427 million views on the TEDxTalks YouTube page, it isn’t hard to find videos that pique a person’s interest or ignite a conversation. 
Even more interesting is when someone finds a video they disagree with or dislike. With over 1500 independent events happening around the world, someone will likely say something controversial or have a different viewpoint than yours. This is what makes the dialogue of TED and TEDx so unique. You can agree or disagree with the range of topics, and at the same time, realize people are uniquely different, and that isn’t such a bad thing.

Photo by Chris WilsonA great volunteer team makes it all worthwhile
Getting involved with community events can be time-consuming and take away from a whole slew of other priorities. Having the right team should always be a priority. Our team is fun and made up of leaders, doers, creatives, and project managers. Each member brings a special talent to add to the pot and we stir it with care. To create an unforgettable event takes a stellar team, beer, luck, atmosphere, creativity, and planning. (And let’s be serious, probably 100 other things as well…)
Each year the team has changed, and I am lucky to have worked with some of the best people in Grand Rapids. The attitude and drive of others has made it all worthwhile.

Details matter

From the very beginning, we decided we were going to try to raise the bar when it came to creating an event. TEDxGR wasn’t built to be another conference, and for five years we’ve tried to make even the smallest detail matter. From curating the audience to find the right eclectic mix, to handpicking the speakers, to serving delightful local food and beverages, we strive to put our city's best foot forward. Our goal is to make the event an exciting performance where the experience is important and the whole day is intriguing as it unfolds. This means the audience, the speakers, and even the smallest details need to settle into the right place.

Photo by Tony WrightChange is good

With this year’s theme, Constant/Change, we are reflecting on how we’ve sustained an event like TEDxGR for five years. We continue to adapt and build off of the energy that each new event creates. Each year after our team changes, and more and more people share their feedback, our event grows in its reach and impact. The change we’ve seen really isn’t just about the event; it's about the personal stories that unfold and impact the community long after the event is over. We've heard stories that range from people being motivated to move here to people finding their drive to quit their jobs and follow their passions. We've heard stories of other TEDx teams starting other events like our education event, which has led to high school students pursuing different colleges and careers. I know an event like TEDxGR isn’t the only thing that leads to this change, but sometimes the smallest spark can ignite a new direction or pursuit.

As we head into our fifth event, I can promise this year is going to include some really great speakers and will continue to change our community. I’m sure I’ll see familiar faces, but I always enjoy meeting new friends. Please say hello! And consider joining us to see how TEDxGrandRapids could change you.

Adam Clarke works for CQL Corp and handles applications, ticketing, for TEDxGrandRapids. He is an avid runner and has a passion for throwing community events.
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