TED talks are usually a pretty big deal. Drop the name and most people’s eyes will light up with an inspirational story they got from a talk they watched. They’re huge events with months of planning behind them, countless hours of volunteer work, and rather expensive audience tickets. For the past two years I’ve been privileged enough to be on the planning staff for the now twice annual TED talk held at Drexel. As a photographer, I’ve been in charge of helping plan the logistics leading up to the event, but more importantly making sure every angle gets captured during the nearly 12-hour talk – which happens to be a super-stressful 16- hour workday for the event staff.
This year’s event was for the most part a great success (Perhaps excluding the Sam Hyde debacle; a comedy filmmaker who tried to crash the talk), but it wasn’t without its hiccups. Around 12:45 during the lunch break, just 15 minutes away from the next session, we got some terrible news: Our next speaker who had yet to show up to the talk, called and canceled. Our team leader and event host Dhairya freaked out, and with good reason. We had an entire half hour of content to fill with just 15 minutes’ notice. While Dhairya and other staff paced around trying to brainstorm a distraction, I had a peculiar thought: What if I went up and talked? I couldn’t tell you what got into me to volunteer myself (I’m hardly a public speaker), but my thought process went something like this…
“Hah, wouldn’t it be funny if I went up and talked? Wow that would be silly. Wait, what if I actually went up and talked? No, that’s ridiculous, don’t go do that. DEFINITELY don’t go do that… This is a bad idea. What would I even talk about? I guess I could talk about photography…”
Next thing I knew I was pumped with adrenaline pitching a half-cocked idea to Dhairya, and before I knew it I was getting mic’d up and pushed out on stage with only a few vague talking points.
Our theme this year was “The next X,” going over the next big things or ideas in the TED fields; Technology, Entertainment and Design. With my field of photography, I thought what’s next for that? Blood flowing fast, I started with the history of photography: A classically chemical based process dating to the 1800’s, reserved to the select few possessing the technical know-how to pull it off. To the fathers of the form back then, the idea of digital photography, a camera in every cellphone, the ability to take a meaningless “selfie” at a moment’s notice – that was unfathomable. So what’s the next step today? Where do we go from digital; what’s going to blow our minds when we think we know it all? I threw around a few ideas, but tried to end on a fun note. Dhairya pushed me to do some crowd participation, so we held a contest: In the spirit of technological advancement letting us take ridiculous “selfies” for no reason, we decided to have the audience make the craziest faces they could and I’d photograph them from the stage. The top three best we’d pick after the next talk would win T-Shirts. Somehow we pulled it all off.
After it all happened I was pretty shocked, in fifteen minutes I threw something together and actually did a TED talk. And somehow, it wasn’t a complete failure, apparently the crowd loved the spontaneity and subject – and at the very least, who doesn’t like free T-shirts? At the end of the day I took one thing away from it all: Don’t be afraid to jump on the strangest opportunities that come your way, and don’t be afraid to fail!