Mike is the Director of Innovation Strategy at Kansas City’s digital powerhouse VML. You may also know him as the founding curator of TEDxKC. Going on it’s 7th year, the annual event is consistently one of the largest independent TED gatherings in the world.
Let’s start with the origin. How did you get involved in bringing TEDx to Kansas City?
The TEDx program was announced in 2009 at the TED Conference — there were about a 100 of us that first year from all over the world that committed to bringing TED to their respective communities. We held our first event five months later on a budget of $5,000 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. My friends and colleagues John Mulvihill and Frank Jurden (along with a number of other VML’ers) have been along for the ride from the very beginning. We could have never predicted TEDxKC’s growth any more than TED could have predicted the success of the TEDx program (x = independently organized TED events). Today there are over 2,500 events per year in 137 countries.
People are instantly eating up everything related to TEDxKC. What’s driving this hunger?
It’s pretty simple, Kansas Citians were hungry for intellectual programming and TEDxKC became one of the platforms meeting the demand. Then as the city’s arts, cultural and technology renaissance blossomed, our growth followed suit. But at the end of the day, TED is about wonder, insights and ideas — it’s pretty hard not to be excited.
Any speakers or moments from past events that stand out in your mind?
For very different reasons I’ve ended up liking something about almost every speaker and performer that has made it to the TEDxKC stage. To get a feel for the range of talks, formats and performances, I suggest sampling Wayne White, Janine Shepherd, Jared Ficklin, Chris Pureka, Ondi Timoner, Lawrence Lessig, John Gerzema and Baratunde Thurston.
You’re now hearing from companies wanting to mimic this format for knowledge sharing. How have you assisted? And how is it helping them?
A number of VML’s clients have asked for our assistance in helping to make their events more TED-like. What they mean by that is they want to break the cycle of well, “death by powerpoint.” Our counsel may sound a little new-age to some, but it begins with intentional design. We look at all of the touchpoints before, during and after the event to design something a little unexpected that engages participants on many levels. Experiences, performances, audience interaction and of course the talks (or programming) support a theme. With the mise-en-scène in place, we work to curate the speakers, help to develop their talks (punching up vulnerability and storytelling while working hard to eliminate ego and salesiness). Then we rehearse like crazy from an initial manuscript and refine right up to curtain-time.
What is your latest epiphany?
In the post Edward Snowden-era, the concept of privacy has become so diluted by notorious hacks the likes of Home Depot, Target and Sony that we are almost blase about the concept of our own identity and privacy. In the future, the companies that master the tension between convenience and privacy will be the winners. At the same time, a new sub-culture of hacktivists are emerging and engaging corporations, state and local governments in very unpredictable ways — I almost expect to see Anonymous tinkering with the next presidential election. Online security and privacy are joining the environment, food safety and terrorism, etc. as the issues of our day.