Review: Volunteering at TEDxEastEnd 2017

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In January of this year I wrote a blog post laying out my intentions for the year. Or, more accurately, my intention, singular: to start looking outward.

One of the small steps to which I committed (in writing) was to volunteer at TEDxEastEnd. Well, dear readers, I’m here to tell you that I kept my word. I rocked up at Hackney Empire at 9am on 25th February and threw myself headfirst into the chaos. And it was fabulous.

There’s a particular prestige that accompanies the TED brand. In the build up to the event, whenever I mentioned my volunteering plans, the mere mention of ‘TEDx’ was followed by widening eyes, a respectful nod and, more often than not, an awed ‘Oh wow!’. To those who are less familiar with the hundreds of viral fifteen minute talks that bounce around social media, TED is a non-profit organisation committed to ‘ideas worth spreading’. While TEDx sits under the TED umbrella, TEDx events are organised entirely by independently from the main TED organisation. The idea is to create local events, with local speakers, run by local volunteers.

This year’s TEDxEastEnd event was taking place at Hackney Empire for the second year in a row, with the theme ‘Society Beyond Borders’. For reasons I don’t need to spell out here, this theme felt particularly appropriate for 2017.

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I was working on the Marketing & Social Media team for the event, mostly because it was the team that matched my professional experience most closely. However, when I arrived at Hackney Empire on the morning of the event, I realised that there were definite advantages to working with that particular team. We were assigned an area at the back of the stalls where we set up our laptops, lined up a pile of snacks and signed into our social accounts. While other teams were tasked with registering and ushering the audience members, organising the catering or building and dismantling the stage, our mission was to get the event hashtag, #BeyondBorders, trending online by sharing updates on Twitter, Instagram on Facebook throughout the event. This meant that we got to sit and watch the talks themselves, pick out key phrases and insights and update social media in real time. In the breaks, attendees were invited to explore the venue, attend workshops and mingle with the speakers.

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It sounded simple enough, but in order to keep things running throughout the event our team had to become a well-oiled machine. We were either assigned a particular social platform (I was one of the designated tweeters) or sent to take photos of the talks and audience members, which would then be sent to the group WhatsApp.

I mainlined coffee, stuffed my face with cereal bars and typed faster than I ever have in my life, but the joy when I saw not only #BeyondBorders, but also #TEDxEastEnd pop up in the Twitter trending sidebar made the whole effort worth it.

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The speakers were wonderful and brilliantly varied (a testament to Maryam Pasha, the organiser of the event, and an extraordinary public speaking coach and generally ace human being). From emoji expert Jeremy Burge and climate change communicator George Marshall, to sex journalist Alix Fox and fintech entrepreneur Diana Biggs, I didn’t stop learning throughout the day.

Even more impressive were the young local speakers, Dhillan Bhardwaj, Emmanuel Opoku and Rasheeda Page Muir, all of whom blew me away with their poise and eloquence.

Unless I get struck by lightning or develop a mysterious loathing for humanity, I will definitely be volunteering again next year. And I highly recommend you join me.

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Missed TEDxEastEnd 2017? Watch the live stream here and look back over the conversation by searching #BeyondBorders.

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