Up until about 6 months ago, I only had a few basic tatters of information about TED Talks. I knew it was an annual conference, or… something. I’d seen a few talks on the website and thought it was an interesting concept, but it was only when I was invited to help organize Thailand’s first TEDx event, TEDxBKK (the ‘x’ stands for an independently organized TED event under the main TED umbrella), did I truly get an understanding of what a powerful, important and tremendously enjoyable event they can be. The big day was February 13, 2010, and it went of superbly, thanks to a great team that really personified what TED is all about. Another reason I got a backstage view of the whole thing? I was asked to be the host.

The man with the plan was my friend Rob, a TED fan who acquired the rights to hold his TEDx event in Bangkok. Since planning began, I’ve had a lot of people ask me exactly what TED is, and it’s kind of a hard question to answer. Cutting and pasting from their website will give you this:

A suite of short, carefully prepared talks, demonstrations and performances on a wide range of subjects to foster learning, inspiration and wonder — and to provoke conversations that matter.

Essentially, it’s a bunch of people interested in a wide variety of stuff who enjoy listening to other people talk about a wide variety of stuff.

Long story short, months of planning, discussion, suggestions, counter-suggestions, scribbles, notes, and late night beers gave the team what turned out to be a pretty solid lineup of speakers and a schedule which made sense. With the help of some generous sponsors, the team managed to get brochures designed, publicity going, posters printed and the venue (at the Ruamrudee International School) ready for action.

Attendance was good, although not all who said they’d be there actually showed, but that’s to be expected with any big event I guess. I had put my notes for the show on my iPhone instead of writing them out on little notecards, which actually worked out not bad (although the Notebooks app cost me $6!). If I’d avoided writing everything down until the night before the event and given myself time to memorize it, I might not have needed to glance at it so much. But for the inaugural event of a large and complicated conference with guests flying in from around the world, it went off remarkably well. A summary of the speakers:

  • Apirak Kosayodhin, Bangkok’s former governor, opened the event with a speech on behalf of the PM, and then gave his TED talk on the foundation he runs, the Asian Knowledge Institute, talking about Asia’s emerging ‘Generation A’.
  • Apirak Kosayodhin.

    Apirak Kosayodhin.

  • Fellow Canadian Julie Lavioe talked about how Bangkok wakes up and showed some really cool photos from around the city as people set up and tore down food stalls, sold their wares to Bangkok’s salarymen and got the city ready for another day. Best part: “People don’t like pictures taken of them when they first wake up, so to empathize with them I put myself in their shoes” as a giant closeup of her just-awake face filled the screen.
  • Robyn Treyvaud gave a speech on the effect that constant internet access is having on today’s generation, noting that parents must be responsible to instilling a ‘digital moral compass’ in their child, and that we’re the first generation whose entire lineage will have access to nearly our entire lives via our digital footprint. What are you going to look like when they take a peek into your digital history?
  • Filmmaker, producer, writer, director and all-around cool dude James With gave a talk about the technology behind Avatar and how 3D movies and TV shows are just the beginning. It was an interesting dichotomy to see a guy with an unruly afro, cowboy boots, leather jacket and an “I ♥ NY” t-shirt talking so fluently about some seriously hi-tech stuff. He also admitted he had a crush on Neytiri, which made me glad because I’m not the only one.