PRSA SV is the first group to interview Simone Ross in her new role as TED’s new tech curator. “My job,” she says, “is to seek, source and find the cool, interesting, smart, wonderful and meaningful stuff that is happening in tech, as a driver of productivity and progress, both social and economic. I’m looking for individuals who can tell some of those stories and find out what could be worth bringing to the stage.” Five weeks into the job, the former Techonomy co-founder had these insights to share:
- TED is much more than its iconic TED Talks: it’s an event and media powerhouse. TED’s Conferences include TED Global, TED Women, the annual flagship event in Vancouver and others, along with salons and forums. In addition TED Institutes are done in collaboration with partners, with the same team of curators and quality standards as its regular event series. Salons, forums TED’s media reach extends far beyond the TED.com website to include the TED NPR Radio Hour with additional podcasts currently under consideration, TED’s weekly and daily newsletters, and TED’s YouTube channel — each of which has a subscriber base in the millions.
- Being TEDworthy. “This isn’t a science,” says Simone, “It’s more like an art.” Great TED talks focus on ideas that are relevant now yet live on, are specific and digestible, address or solve a huge problem, and teach us something new. Simone is particularly partial to ideas that are 3-5 years out and relatively unknown yet becoming mainstream later. “You also need to be invested in doing the work,” she notes. “The process the speaker goes through can be time consuming. It’s not one of those things where you can just pass it on to your comms person to give you the talking points and you just read it. It doesn’t mean you can’t get help, but you actually have to learn the script.” More about speaking at TED here.
- The speaker selection process and after. “If I have 3-5 people who fit the theme, my role is to pitch them to my colleagues and advocate for those people.” Each of TED’s half dozen curators (e.g. Business, Science, Culture etc.) go through the same process. “We would not pitch people whom we haven’t had some interaction and conversation with, because you need to know that people are interested, have an interesting idea, and are willing to put the work into it.” Selected speakers then develop the talk together with the curator, collaborate on a script, work with a speaker coach if needed, go through the necessary rewrites and integration of visuals, as well as fact-checking, and undergo 2-3 rehearsals. Once the talk is ready, you either give the talk at the conference — or during a pandemic, remotely — and work with directors and production teams to arrange the shoot and recording. A separate team uploads and syndicates the talks on TED’s channels afterwards.
- Where the conference experience is heading. “The conference industry has not really had to change in decades; it’s been a slight variation on the exact same thing for a very long time. But what we’re starting to see, because we have no choice, is some real new stuff. We have to be much more creative about format, about program. I think we all miss being able to meet in person, but I also think there will be some good stuff coming out of this.” Simone points to the Web Summit as an example of successful experimentation across different formats, voices and experiences that play to what people seek in an in-person experience. TED has also been hosting more interviews and conversations that live in the moment, such as Simone’s recent interview with Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Having said, the story still needs to speak for itself. “It still comes down to the quality of the content and how you pace and time everything,” she says. “People need to walk away and say, ‘That was fantastic. I learned something new about something already knew everything about.’”
Simone invites people to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas and suggestions, as well as thoughts on what the T in TED should stand for. You can watch the recording of our #FridayForum here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/yyywy3caq4u9vg8/AAD_qJvtWizG9-BNt3Z9nSqya?dl=0