The Creator Of TED Aims To Reinvent Conferences Once Again
Is it time for a new twist on the TED model? The esteemed Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference, soon to be pushing 30, has become a juggernaut--what with sellout events, the viral success of online TED Talks, and the spin-off of smaller TED-X conferences. But the conference’s original founder, Richard Saul Wurman, is working on a new creation that radically overhauls the formula used by TED--much as TED itself reinvented the standard business conference model when Wurman launched it in 1984.
Wurman, who is no longer affiliated with TED (he sold most of the rights to Chris Anderson’s Sapling Foundation back in 2002 and broke off his remaining ties with the spin-off TEDMED Conference earlier this year), recently announced plans for his new WWW.WWW conference, slated to debut in Fall of 2012.
But here are a few things the show won’t have: Speeches, slide shows, or tickets. Wurman’s plan is to stage a series of improvisational one-to-one conversations, held in front of a small invitation-only audience and then disseminated to the outside world via a high-quality, for-sale app that captures the event.
The format may or may not work -- most likely it will depend on the delicate chemistry between the pairing -- but in some ways, Wurman’s “conversation-over-presentation” approach seems in keeping with a current trend toward applying collaborative inquiry and discussion to today’s big issues and challenges. Of late, various types of innovation salons and conversational events have been popping up: Recently, Seth Goldenberg (a Bruce Mau Design alumni) launched the “IDEAS Salon,” initially in Rhode Island in April with a follow-up Silicon Valley event this fall. Instead of giving presentations, the high-level guests joined together to grapple with weighty questions; Goldenberg wanted to get away from what he dubs “the sage on stage” model used at TED and other conferences, in favor of a more conversational format. Similarly, the design firm Method has been hosting a series of salons in New York to explore big ideas in a more open and freewheeling manner.
Not that anyone believes the slick-presentation conference approach will go away, nor should: Wurman thinks TED and other shows will continue to be crowd-pleasers. But he sees it as a 20th century model. “What I’m trying to think of,” he says, “is how to do the best conference for the beginning of the 21st century.”