• Better Off TED

    POSTED June 6, 2018

    When looking for inventive event ideas or fascinating speakers, planners should turn to the annual event that continues to shake up the industry.

  • Better Off TED

    POSTED June 6, 2018

    When looking for inventive event ideas or fascinating speakers, planners should turn to the annual event that continues to shake up the industry.

  • Better Off TED

    POSTED June 6, 2018

    When looking for inventive event ideas or fascinating speakers, planners should turn to the annual event that continues to shake up the industry.

Educational speakers have existed since people gathered around the campfire to share best practices for hunting woolly mammoths. TED Talks represent a quantum leap forward in making valuable nuggets of information readily available globally. This vast knowledge base—what TED calls “ideas worth spreading”—is now viewed by hundreds of millions of people in more than 100 languages. TED Talks capture the audience’s attention in an abbreviated format. Showcasing a smart formula for storytelling, the talks are only five, 10 or 15 minutes long. The brief presentations are renowned for sparking ideas and spurring action. In addition, organizers mix it up with varying speakers with different styles and cadences.

With TED’s continued success on such a global scale, we wondered if the presentations were changing how meeting planners approach their own conferences and conventions. To find out, we spoke with industry professionals throughout the Northwest. Here’s what they had to say.


Kristin Muchow is general manager of Meeting Systems, Inc., which pairs Boise’s event spaces with organizations holding meetings in the City of Trees. She recognizes that not everyone is a professional speaker, and not everyone likes public speaking. Muchow was inspired by Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk that spoke to building up confidence before presenting. She advises prospective speakers to do a Superman-inspired power pose—arms bent, hands on hips, feet planted shoulder-width apart—to trick their body into feeling confident and, as Cuddy says, “get the testosterone flowing.”

“We use TED Talks as the benchmark for compelling presentations and instruct our speakers to follow the guidelines to more effectively communicate and connect with the audience,” says Muchow. “Content is a huge component of a successful meeting, so we work with our clients to maximize effective delivery of information. Content is the most important thing about a conference—people need to feel they walked away with info.”


Some event planners make use of the simplicity of the TED format, where each speaker has an abbreviated amount of time to make their points.

Beth Ellis, executive director of convention-exposition for the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), has held her organization’s convention in Seattle on multiple occasions. This past October, they created a TED Talk–style area on the trade show floor and invited attendees to sign up and give their “pitches” in 18-minute increments. They called it “NECA Talks.”

NECA opened with Michael Callanan’s “Executive Leadership 101” preconvention workshop to inspire and motivate. Callanan says, “As you can imagine, no matter the event, today there is inevitably a leadership track for the event participants. As a leadership professional who offers training at numerous industry events, I have come to rely upon the vast library of TED Talks to enrich my presentations and inspire my audiences.” 


“As a meeting planner, our clients rely on us to provide innovative keynote speakers and entertainers. We often turn to TED Talks to source the latest and greatest. Being able to find someone who our clients haven’t seen repeatedly allows us to truly partner in the success of their meetings,” explains Muchow.

Many of the keynotes and speakers Muchow’s team has found via TED Talks include unconventional, nonbusiness-school types—the Raspyni Brothers are comedic jugglers, and Apollo Robbins is a sleight-of-hand artist—all of whom their clients and attendees loved.

Portland is known for being weird (and we mean that in a good way), an eco-leader and, of course, oh so “Portlandia”-ish. So, certainly, the city’s destination-marketing organization, Travel Portland, can’t offer planners average, ho-hum experiences and resources; they need to be reflective of Portland’s forward-thinking vibe. Travel Portland has used different forms of media, including TED Talks, to spark conversation and inspiration within the organization. “We’ve used TED Talks as a way to vet potential keynote speakers. [TED speaker] Aaron Draplin headlined our 2015 awards program, and it was great to be able to see him inspire a crowd on the TED Talk stage before approaching him about our event,” says Rindi Cerelli, meetings and events manager for Travel Portland. 


Planners could do worse than looking to the TED archives for new ways of doing or presenting things. 

“Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action,’ had a huge impact on our organization as a whole,” says Cerelli. “Focusing more on the ‘why’ of an event has helped us to develop our events program to include new activations and phase out events that didn’t have a purpose.” 

Other presentations to consider include Jinsop Lee’s “Design for All Five Senses,” in which he takes synesthesia to another level, and Tom Mujec’s “Build a Tower, Build a Team,” which is about ensuring that the team behind the created environment is top notch. Finally, Elizabeth Gilbert gives counsel worth listening to when things really get stale with “Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.” The best part? The advice is free, vetted and fascinating. 

>> An Idea Worth Stealing

Held for the past five years in Vancouver, British Columbia, the main TED conference challenges communication boundaries with innovative ideas. It recently sought to humanize the technology experience with the evolution of a virtual concierge that was more human than virtual. The Gigi app—seemingly programmed with lightning-fast humor and witty repartee—was actually a group of comedians in a war room, responding to hundreds of texts and tweets with hilarious results, including having a Diet Coke delivered to the seat of a caffeine-starved attendee within minutes of receiving a text. Eventually, the gag was revealed on Twitter, which only served to increase the use of the app’s hospitable services.

“They produced an engagement piece to attract an audience with clever banter,” says Claire Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for the Vancouver Convention Centre. Smith loves the simplicity that TED brings to its conference agenda. “Planners deal with so many sessions that run concurrently. Traditional programs provide multiple options so that everyone can find something for them. More choices can be chaotic, and attendees feel like they’re missing out on something. TED simplifies things with only one main stage. TED is bolder; it believes it has one thing that is important for everyone to hear.” 

The CDC defines close contact as within six feet or less, for 15 minutes or more with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. At gatherings of many kinds, contact tracing is used to trace the people that someone has come into contact with, before they learn that they have tested positive. This allows the people that the sick person came into contact with to be aware of the situation, and to make health-informed choices. 


In 2020, Houston First Corp. (HFC) reported that the city was slated to host 252 meetings and 611,000 room nights. By March 14, the Bayou City had already hosted 115 conventions and 137,400 room nights. Then the pandemic hit, and meetings and events across the country came to a screeching halt.

We asked Michael Heckman, acting president and CEO of Houston First Corp. (HFC) how the health crisis has influenced the organization’s business model moving forward.


Chances are, you won’t know you’re living through history until it’s too late. It’s already happening. A chain reaction has been set in motion and the ground has begun to slide beneath your feet.

This past year has been a whirlwind to say the least. As a global pandemic sent the world reeling, planners were left grasping for footholds as the event industry was brought to a standstill, and many of the most fundamental elements of live meetings and events were cast in a new light.