The Art and Commerce of Storytelling - How I Became A TEDx Producer


I have always been a story teller. It started back when I took my first stage. My story, although told with my body through dance, was a total expression of my soul. Story telling is something anyone can take on. And when we decide to become vulnerable, and share our ideas and purpose with the world, it’s possible to create not only magic, but also make an impact that will have a profound effect on every life.

Story telling is an art that may take on many forms. Choreography, filmmaking, literature, and now famously, The TED Talks. TED is a not-for-profit organization standing for technology, entertainment and design, but also includes scientific, cultural and academic topics. The conference, for short form, 18 minute or less talks, started in 1984 and has continued annually since 1990, with curator Chris Anderson at the helm. TED Talks are “ideas worth spreading” and there are over 2,600 TED Talks freely available online. Wikipedia notes that by November 2012, TED Talks have been watched over one billion times worldwide.

Tricia Brouk, courtesy of of Tricia Brouk.com

In 2011, TED started what they then called, “TEDx in a Box” for people in developing countries to have events in the style of TED. These independently organized events, now called simply TEDx, have become incredibly popular, and as of October 2017, TED has archived over 100,000 TEDx talks. That is almost 15,000 ideas worth spreading per year. That’s a lot of ideas, compared to the average of just 92 TED talks per year since 1990.

TEDx events provide an opportunity that TED can’t. According to TEDx Santa Cruz, as of 2015, there have been over 1500 TEDx events scheduled all over the world, in comparison to one TED event per year. TEDx turns the dream that you too can step into the red circle and share an idea that could potentially have global impact, into a reality. And this reality is something I was thrust into a very short time ago.

Three years ago, I was minding my own business writing, directing and choreographing for film, television and theater, when my dear friend and speaker, Petra Kolber, asked me to direct her TEDxSyracuse. I was a fan of TED and TEDx Talks, so I jumped at the chance to work with Petra and also become an expert on the art of TEDx. The first thing I did was invest in Chris Anderson’s book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. If you want to take a TED or TEDx stage. Start here. Period.

What I found so fascinating during my dive into TED, is that Keynotes and TED Talks are not the same. Chris Anderson says that a TED Talk is a gift not an ask. It’s an idea not an issue. And in the end, you want the audience to adopt your idea as their own. How sexy is that?

What is this phenomenon? Why did TEDx blow up? People love stories. People also love the brand. The TED brand is associated not only with big ideas, but also with big deal people. Past speakers include: Pope Francis, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates, Bono, and Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. People’s lives have been catapulted from obscurity to instant fame with a TEDx, like Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. This kind of credibility not only gets you booked on more stages, but it also drives the sales of your books and products.

When taking on the task of directing a TEDx, I approached it the same way I did any show I work on. I work with the writer on the script, as a dramaturg, analyzing the arc, through-line and its impact. And I direct the speaker the same way I do my actors, by teaching them intention, objective and action, and block the speaker by giving them choreography, which is knowing when and why to walk. And when and why to be still.

The one difference I became hyper-aware of, was that when I work with speakers, it’s all about the story or the idea. But with my actors, it’s all about them! I love my actors, but they lead with their needs.

In a room with a speaker, it’s all about their idea, so my job becomes about getting them to get out of their own way, so we hear this idea loud and clear and potentially “adopt it as our own”. This is how the magic happens. This is how the global impact happens.

Petra delivered a very successful TEDx and is also a best-selling author and sought- after Keynote speaker. Because she wears a TEDx crown, this credibility offered her up more paid speaking gigs. Her success also offered up my success. I began working with several other speakers who wanted to take a TEDx stage. I found myself with this handful of amazing speakers and nowhere to put them, so realized, as a theater producer, I had to put on a show. I applied to TEDx for my license.

The process was grueling. The application itself isn’t complicated, but the answers are. I don’t have the statistics of how many people apply for their license, which is free by the way, but the one person I know who’s brilliant and amazing, was turned down. I went back and forth with TEDx several times and each time, I spent hours crafting my answers, trying to read their minds as to what they needed from me and what would make me the right person to produce a TEDx. The TEDx team are amazing. They are communicative, helpful, thoughtful and totally supportive. However, it is truly a mystery as to how they choose organizers and why.

In November of 2017, I was granted my TEDxLincolnSquare license and with that responsibility, I took on producing my first event with my co-producer Jamie Broderick. I’m a theater producer, so I incorporate music and Broadway singers. I hire comediennes, magicians and pop stars to perform. I call it theatrical academia. TEDx events are independently organized events about the community and for the community. And Jamie and I nurture our community from the moment tickets go on sale. As a TEDx organizer, we are not allowed to make money from the event and speakers are not paid. Many people have asked me why I produce a show that doesn’t make me a dime. This always makes me laugh because it’s nothing new to me, you rarely make a dime as a producer in theater either. The commerce of story-telling is not always dollars. It’s impact. The art of story-telling on a TEDx stage brings credibility which creates opportunity for commerce. The credibility of being the executive producer of TEDxLincolnSquare definitely gets people to call me back, but the impact I’m having on the world makes me rich.

Creative DIY Tips for Making Your Own Calendar

The current state of the world definitely affected us in many ways, it made us stay locked up in our homes away from all the social events and seemingly fun stuff. But the responsibilities didn't just vanish into thin air, they are still there, waiting to be organized and prepared. Times are super hectic and you are probably not in the mood to think about the foreseeable future, but there are ways to turn in into a fun time. Starting a journal or making a simple calendar can bring you peace, use that creative time to yourself and relax while doing it. Grab your colored pencils, stickers, scraps, and everything in between, your inner DIY queen is about to jump out!

Fill in the blank

So probably the easiest way to start when it comes to making your own calendar is by simply printing a blank template found online. This way you'll have a base, a blank canvas if you will. Take all the materials that you have in your house, like washi tapes, sticky notes, glittery colorful pens and anything you can think of that could work as a decoration on your calendar. And go at it! There are no rules when it comes to decorating, it's super personal and it can differ from person to person.

The only real advice you'll need is to leave some space while decorating, don't overdo it since it will clutter and distract you from the written parts. Finding the perfect template that will suit your aesthetic is extremely easy and fast, a simple google search could get you whatever you want and the best part is, it's free! There are many printable options out there, so don't worry about not finding something you'd like, the possibilities are endless and you'll find just the right calendar you imagined!

Start from scratch

If you don't have a printer at home or you're just determined to make the calendar yourself, there are awesome ways to make the best and most unique personalized calendar there is. This gives you the full freedom to do whatever you can think of, want to make a calendar from old newspapers, do it! Want to cut out a certain shape and disguise the calendar as an art piece in your kitchen, why not?

Nothing is stopping you when it comes to unleashing your creative side, use everything that you can get your hands on, think outside the box, don't be afraid to experiment. Making a calendar from scratch is an amazing opportunity to explore your artistic side, especially if you've been busy with work and responsibilities. This is a great excuse to do something creative, at the end of the day you are making it for the purpose of being more organized and having everything mapped out and planned. So make this time, the best time possible, be free and create!

Mix and match

Since there are absolutely no rules when making any diy project at home, what's stopping you from making the ultimate, super personal calendar! If you have basic knowledge in photoshop, you can even modify the blank calendars you got online, add pictures of your loved ones and family, maybe your pets or anything you like, and then print it out. Or you can print the blank template right away and add pictures or polaroids later on by using some washi tape.

Also, you can even paint over the printed blank calendar, this is a good option for those who aren't as skilled, so you'll have a base to start, just dip in your paintbrush in some acrylic or watercolor paints (or whatever you have around the house) and go for it. This is a great way to start doing artsy projects while still having some form of direction and help.

Have fun

Sure keeping your priorities at bay and making plans and notes for everything is important...but the heart of this project has to be your willingness to turn something as boring and blank as a calendar into something spectacular. This calendar should proudly be up on your kitchen wall, so loud and colorful it just draws your attention to it.

If the calendar is decorated, personalized, and fun to look at, maybe it will inspire you to look forward to some events or responsibilities even if you didn't feel like it in the first place. So be creative and free, there are no rules so just go at it. With everything that happened this year, try to be positive and find little joys in seemingly insignificant things like diy calendars!