TEDxColumbusWomen: The Ambassador's Challenge.
by Ruth Milligan
Within 24 hours of our initial announcement, our 2013 TEDxColumbusWomen event sold out. Albeit, the tickets were free, but we had a waiting list as long as the attendee list. The day of the event, the seats were filled. Struck by this enthusiastic response, I thought about other women-focused events that happen in town. Thinking about TEDx within this context, and certainly with no intention of criticizing these valued events, I find that they all have three things in common:
One, they are important events for THAT organization, in terms of raising money and delivering a message.
Two, they are short in nature without a lot of time to meet other people (go in, sit down, eat for 5 minutes, listen to a speaker, leave). Certainly some events have a networking period, but in my experience they are often short and that means most of us connect and “catch up” with those we already know.
And third, for table captains or members of the committee, the task is to “bring 10 friends.” Hmmm. I feel that on points 1 and 2 TEDxColumbusWomen offers something different and valued—information sharing that is not bounded by a particular cause, as well as time and opportunity to connect and make new connections. But, “bring 10 friends . . .” It’s not our policy, but it made me think about how it is we do bring people into the TEDxColumbus community, and whether or not we are inadvertently stuck inside our own inner circles. This began to bother me (more on that in a minute).
When TED announced TEDxWomen 2015 would be on May 28th, we knew we would host another local event and, this time, at a larger venue. The Columbus Foundation has been a lovely venue for the last 4 years, but it’s time to move to a theatre, so off to the Great Southern we go—where we can host more talks with a higher production value and, in turn, spread more ideas. (Note: the morning will be local talks, the afternoon a livestream from the global TEDxWomen).
But the part about diversity continued to nag at me. I decided it was time to be active about it, not passive. Here’s the thing: The purpose of our events are not to find new avenues to raise money. We raise just enough to cover costs—it’s in the TEDx bylines. And we don’t just want to spread the “message of TEDx,” nor are we interested in the “appearance” of diversity. We seek a deeper cross section of the community for more connection, sharing and engagement. Diversity of ideas and stories makes for a better event. Sharing those ideas and stories with a diverse audience makes for a better city.
So, if I asked 10 of my friends to bring 10 of their friends, how diverse would it really be? Have any one of those 100 people immigrated to America? Lived on minimum wage? Have any earned a PhD? Been a single mom (by choice)? Been to war? Are any CEOS of large-cap companies? Are any transgendered? Maybe, but unlikely.
So that’s where the Ambassador role enters the picture.
What if we invited people to help spread the word about TEDxColumbusWomen with one intent: Reach BEYOND your circles of influence. Invite acquaintances, once-met people, colleagues in other buildings, people from neighborhoods across town, churches across the street, parents you see only on drop-off at school, maybe whose names you don’t even know. As an ambassador, sure, go through your contacts and invite the 10 friends who recently invited you to a fundraiser, but the promise is to make a stretch and invite 10 that aren’t in your rolodex.
Then at the event during our picnic lunch, the hope is that these loosely connected acquaintances will meet and find deeper connection, learn something new about each other, and broaden their empathy and knowledge. Or maybe just attending the event itself and listening to the talks will achieve that goal.
The theme of TEDxColumbusWomen this year is OWN IT: The Power in Our Story. So while the curatorial team eagerly makes decisions about who will be on the stage presenting formal ideas, the Ambassadors will be eagerly working to assure those in the audience have come from every corner of our community. And the intersection of the two may produce 100 more ideas worth spreading.
To be an Ambassador, we ask that you attend one orientation session on April 17th at 9am. Facilitated by Suzanne Roberts, we’ll have a quick study in inherited privilege and how we can achieve far more as a collective, crossing boundaries and perceived barriers. To volunteer, email Morgan Howard at email@example.com. And if you are wondering, we have some sponsors offering partial and full scholarships that the Ambassadors will be able to offer to individuals, to assure that economics is not a barrier to sharing and spreading good ideas. If an Ambassador wants to sponsor an attendee, that is welcome too, but is not expected.
Here’s to sharing and spreading great ideas from Columbus on May 28th! We look forward to seeing you there as a speaker, attendee, partner or Ambassador!