x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai conference gets the TEDx factor

Changes to the speaker selection process and venue promise to make TEDxDubai more authentic to the original format.

In the past, 1,000 invited spectators watched the speakers in a large auditorium.
In the past, 1,000 invited spectators watched the speakers in a large auditorium.

DUBAI // Fans of the TEDxDubai conference will for the first time choose some of the speakers who appear on stage this year.

And the format for the event, which is due to take place on October 29, will be completely different from previous years.

In the past, 1,000 invited spectators watched the speakers in a large auditorium, but this year the capacity of the main hall will be cut to 300, with the remaining 700 watching live television feeds in adjoining lounges.

The Dubai event is an independently organised spin-off of the TED conference, which has grown into a global phenomenon since it was launched in the US in 1984 to showcase what its organisers described as "ideas worth spreading".

The initials "TED" stand for technology, entertainment and design, though a much wider range of topics is now covered. The original conference continues to be held annually in California. Speakers who have appeared include Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Bono and Al Gore, whose Oscar-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth grew out of his appearance.

Previously, all the speakers at TEDxDubai were chosen by a selection panel. But this year "Mini-TEDx" events will be held in the run-up to the conference at which people interested in speaking will be given five minutes to address an audience. Videos of their pitches will be posted online, and the public will be able to vote for the ones they like best.

"The top three will be among the speakers at TEDxDubai," said Giorgio Ungania, one of the organisers. "We're saying the more we are the better we are, so help us to select those who you feel really deserve this stage."

The remaining speakers will be selected in the same way as before. The new format was welcomed by Nicholas Sykes, one of last year's speakers, who said: "It will engage people and get participation going, it's an excellent idea. It'll get everybody excited about the event and talking about it."

The venue for the conference has not yet been finalised.

The cutting of the auditorium capacity to 300 and the live TV feeds were inspired by the original TED set-up.

"Inside the theatre it's like a TV studio, you have to be quiet, it's a very controlled environment," said Mr Ungania. "Outside it's open and the fun is when you watch the talks together with other people so you can discuss them, it's a different experience. It's like watching a football match with friends instead of watching it by yourself."

Admission is free, but the spectators, like the speakers, have to go through a selection process that will start when the TEDxDubai 2011 website goes live in early September.

"People fill in a questionnaire online and then a committee evaluates the answers," added Mr Ungania. "We try to put together 1,000 people who we think really understand the spirit of TED. We try to get fans, people who really want to be there, that's why it's so special. We try to avoid people who just want to swap business cards."

Mr Sykes, a 34-year-old Briton who works for an interior design company in Dubai, said speaking at last year's conference was "exhilarating, fascinating and a really good experience".

"Going through the process of getting ready, rehearsing and then getting up and doing it is character-building. I now have the courage to do that sort of thing again, though I felt slightly sick doing it."

csimpson@thenational.ae