The vibrant community of TEDxPhilly, photographed by Kevin Monko of Monkophoto.
Earlier this week I was given the opportunity to share my experience with TEDxPhilly at an Innovation & Entrepreneurship class at UArts. When first asked by the wonderful Hilary Jay of DesignPhiladephia, I hesitated. Public speaking is not my comfort zone at all, and organizing TEDxPhilly this year was pretty damn challenging on many levels. What would I talk about? How would I close with a message of positivity? I was unsure how to proceed.
Before I go too much further, I want to say that Hilary gets it. DesignPhiladelphia is an amazing 10 day event that descends on Philadelphia each October, showcasing incredible design talent in the community, through exhibits, lectures, open studios and more. I'm in complete awe of the annual undertaking. The truth is, I reached out to Hilary independently, because when I see people pulling off such meaningful events, I want to reach out to them and ask – how do you do it!?
So back to class, back to this presentation. I was thinking about winging it and just riffing on the experience, but I realized it was a good opportunity to sit with it and think about it. I've had a canned answer for how things went, how I pulled it off (with an amazing group of volunteers), etc, but this was my chance to tell a story of how I got there and where I am today.
This is how the story goes…
In the Spring of 2007, I came upon a group of likeminded individuals — web developers, designers, and generally enthusiastic people who wanted to change things up a bit in Philadelphia. Tired of the same old same old, you need to do things in this order, etc. While we ultimately all became great friends, this was also one of the first professional communities I had ever been a part of. Need design inspiration? Check. Wanna get that WordPress question answered? Check. And so on and so forth. I always found this group to be very welcoming and everyone had something to contribute. And if you didn't, you thought of something. That's how it worked.
It was this group that gave me the guts to co-organize the first BarCamp Philly in the fall of 2008. It was a very pivotal moment for me. Oh hey, turns out I like this community organizer thing. BarCamp Philly gave way to Refresh Philly which gave way to UX Book Club Philly and ultimately my largest project to date: TEDxPhilly. Each project had different requirements, different community overlaps, different stresses and rewards.
One of the best thing to come out of TEDxPhilly from my perspective was that it was the most diverse audience I had ever created an event for. Young, old, professional, student, musician, artist, scientist, nonprofit, corporate, techie, luddite, the list goes on. The TED brand is very powerful and draws people out the of the woodwork. That's why I wanted to bring it to Philadelphia — to help people discover new people and projects and get inspired again!
So what was the message I wanted to leave with these students? It was simple and this is how I put it:
Have fun (the most important thing)
Pass it on
When asked, "how do you find community?" I said this… Just show up. That's the first step. Inevitably there's going to be someone else there who is also there for the first time, and better yet, someone that's there to welcome you and learn more about you and your interests.
Maybe you ultimately decide you want to start your own community project — figure out how to do it, either dive right in, or ask someone you look up to how they went about it. Learn from your mistakes, and share them with others.
Make things happen. Don't complain, just do. We're all in this together.