The Pope gave a TED Talk, and I saw it live!

Last night one of the centerpiece events of the TED2017 Conference took place in Vancouver, and for the first time TEDsters could buy a MUCH less expensive ticket to this TED Prize session and view live with an audience at their local movie theater. This  was most properly deemed the “TED Cinema Experience.

Despite the variety of stage and speaking programs we produce here at Sequence, engaging the audience (aka, keeping them from chatting amongst themselves) is often a concern. In many cases, including audiences beyond the venue is also a part of the discussion. Does it help to expand the community? Does it mar the feeling of exclusivity? Does it deter people from making the journey to attend?

TED has built its own brand of speaking synonymous with engaging. Though the format can vary tremendously within the basic principle of “spreading ideas in 18 minutes or less” you can feel pretty confident that a TED-stamped and approved talk is going to be good (and if for some reason it’s not, don’t worry! It will be over soon).

You can read more about the content of last night’s program here but I’ll give a few of my event producer takeaways:

  • I was hoping that the Regal Union Square would feel different than a typical movie night somehow, so I was a little disappointed that there was no TED or even TEDx presence there. Looks like a number of local TEDx chapters did take advantage of the program and make it an event with pre- and post- talks and receptions. Think this would have gone really far to make it feel more engaging. Even something as simple as a smiling face in a TED T-shirt welcoming us — or better yet, handing out popcorn — could have made it feel that way. (Will have to mention to our TEDxNewYork friends for next time!)
  • There were some quiet cheers from the audience in the theater as the program began and throughout the talks. The lights were totally down in our theater, which I think may have deterred people from feeling the conference vs. movie vibe where cheering would most certainly get you some dirty looks.
  • TED Curator Chris Anderson gave a few shoutouts from stage specifically to the cinema audience, which was a great way to make us feel included. Thanks Chris!
  • Adding a few live cameras to show the other audiences watching could have made us feel more connected and aware of each other as well. TED is filmed in such as way that the audience is core to the experience so a little more effort there could go a long way to build the cinema audience following for future years.
  • There was an entertainment piece which involved a number of performers onstage simultaneously. Sadly this didn’t translate for the cinema audience very well. You could tell you were missing the big-picture stage view as they showed more close-up shots to capture the movement and costumes (very cool, but still). To film a performance like that would take a lot more cameras, and possibly a multi-paned feed. I think a different type of entertainment piece would have worked better knowing it was beaming out.
  • The most successful element of the evening was the very special surprise guest… who turned out to be Pope Francis! He was live from the Vatican direct to the TED audience. Wow! The Pope gave a TED Talk, y’all. In this case, our experience in the cinema was EXACTLY that of the TED2017 guests; we saw what they saw live onscreen, and we found out who the surprise speaker was when they did. There were audible gasps from our cinema audience when they made the reveal. That was really exciting!

This was the first time I’d been live in a event’s satellite audience, and think these tidbits will help me the next time the topic comes up for one of our clients. Glad I went!

In a video, His Holiness Pope Francis speaks at TED2017 – The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED