By Alex Hum
There is a learning curve to hosting a TEDx event, particularly as a university student-run organization that is overflowing with excitement, passion, sometimes to the point of having too many cooks. It’s not always clear what TED expects when they ask you to emulate their style and follow their rules. There are a lot of things to consider when managing the team, choosing speakers, structuring talks, and marketing the event that always seem to fall into grey area.
Enter Michael Weitz, with his experienced confidence, welcoming attitude, and casual charm.
Michael is one of the co-founders of Virtuozo, a training and consulting firm that specializes in honing communication skills and leadership, with extended specialty experience in training TED speakers for TED Global.
I’ve been watching TED videos for long enough that I don’t remember when I started and I had watched a few university conferences in the past. But now having been part of the organizing team at TEDx for two years in a row (one year as a co-president) I can say with reasonable confidence that the “seat-of-your-pants” feeling appears to be consistent every time you host a conference in spite of how many videos you’ve watched on YouTube. Experience helps, but unless you’ve been doing it every year for a long while most organizers still won’t have enough experience to ensure that they will get everything right.
Michael conducted a 2-hour webinar with my team and our student speakers and provided sagely advice that would be difficult to replicate in any other form. It was a rare opportunity and when I first contacted Michael I was not even sure if I would get a response because I assumed that Virtuozo would be too busy for my small group. I was surprised to see that Michael had personally responded quickly, and was enthusiastic and flexible in finding a way to work together with TEDxLSE. It was immediately clear that Michael loves to help and that he loves his work.
Initially our group, young and unsure as it was, didn’t know what questions to ask or what threads to pull at. But Michael created a comfortable, open environment and encouraged people to participate more. We quickly found our stride and bombarded Michael with a huge range of topics, from TED concepts and visions to presentation techniques to operational conference logistics. Michael had seen it all and handled all of our concerns in order professionally and thoroughly.
With my team, he proposed original ideas about how to keep the conference theme running through the course of the whole day, provided examples of what he had seen succeed and fail in the past to learn from, and how to work with speakers to cultivate a meaningful relationship in preparation of the big day.
With the student speakers, he went over the foundations of a TED talk in a way that the many listicles on the internet aren’t able to communicate. His personal touch is what made the session excellent; demonstrating soft concepts with concrete examples is not a foreign idea to anyone but Michael does so to perfection because he makes sure to connect with everyone he is speaking to. Whenever something didn’t make sense, he already had a video clip or an image prepared to illustrate the point, anticipating most questions. Any others that came up he dealt with personally to make sure his message is heard – that is clarity that a Google search cannot give you.
Michael also had practical tips and tricks for the speakers to help them stay engaged on stage, even things as specific as how to use breathing and when to drink water. Michael had a fresh, original perspective on connecting with the audience and being an impactful speaker. His knowledge so effortlessly reached for aspects of the conference that had never even crossed our minds. He offered to keep in touch so that we can continue to develop the relationship between TEDxLSE and Virtuozo. There is especially high turnover in the organizing committee in universities, meaning that it can be difficult for the years of experience to build up because every team starts with only what the previous year left them. Hopefully this is no longer since we’ve worked with Michael and will continue to as a valuable resource. There is much that Virtuozo can offer every year to accelerate the team’s maturity.
There were many technical aspects covered and many questions asked, but what was universal was that confidence that Michael instilled in the team and the student speakers. The organizing team felt united and the student speakers were inspired after talking to Michael excited to regroup to implement things that we picked up. After working with Virtuozo we are in a much better position to plan and create, the cooks are calmer, and though planning is hectic, we’re better prepared.
“Michael tapped his experience with TED to give the curatorial team several ideas of which we never would have thought of: everything from how to work with speakers to how to make the audience feel a part of the event. As a member of TEDxLSE's planning committee, I would highly recommend Michael and his team, even if you are an experienced TED organizer!”
“The webinar provided many innovative ideas to improve our event, and he gave us specific guidelines which makes organizing the conference much easier.”
“As per the webinar, I thought it was very useful, especially Michael’s specific recommendations on how to perform on stage. Seek eye contact, don’t wander around too much, don’t worry if you are nervous because that shows you're looking forward to give the best you have… it is these tips that a speaker cares about and needs to know.”
- Student Speaker