The Art and Commerce of Storytelling – How I Became A TEDx Producer

The Art and Commerce of Story-Telling:

How I Became a TEDx Producer

I have always been a story teller. It started back when I took my first stage. My story, although told with my body through dance, was a total expression of my soul. Story telling is something anyone can take on. And when we decide to become vulnerable, and share our ideas and purpose with the world, it’s possible to create not only magic, but also make an impact that will have a profound effect on every life. 

Story telling is an art that may take on many forms. Choreography, filmmaking, literature, and now famously, The TED Talks. TED is a not-for-profit organization standing for technology, entertainment and design, but also includes scientific, cultural and academic topics. The conference, for short form, 18 minute or less talks, started in 1984 and has continued annually since 1990, with curator Chris Anderson at the helm. TED Talks are “ideas worth spreading” and there are over 2,600 TED Talks freely available online. Wikipedia notes that by November 2012, TED Talks have been watched over one billion times worldwide.

Tricia Brouk, courtesy of of Tricia Brouk.com

In 2011, TED started what they then called, “TEDx in a Box” for people in developing countries to have events in the style of TED. These independently organized events, now called simply TEDx, have become incredibly popular, and as of October 2017, TED has archived over 100,000 TEDx talks. That is almost 15,000 ideas worth spreading per year. That’s a lot of ideas, compared to the average of just 92 TED talks per year since 1990.

TEDx events provide an opportunity that TED can’t. According to TEDx Santa Cruz, as of 2015, there have been over 1500 TEDx events scheduled all over the world, in comparison to one TED event per year. TEDx turns the dream that you too can step into the red circle and share an idea that could potentially have global impact, into a reality. And this reality is something I was thrust into a very short time ago.

Three years ago, I was minding my own business writing, directing and choreographing for film, television and theater, when my dear friend and speaker, Petra Kolber, asked me to direct her TEDxSyracuse.  I was a fan of TED and TEDx Talks, so I jumped at the chance to work with Petra and also become an expert on the art of TEDx. The first thing I did was invest in Chris Anderson’s book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. If you want to take a TED or TEDx stage. Start here. Period.

What I found so fascinating during my dive into TED, is that Keynotes and TED Talks are not the same. Chris Anderson says that a TED Talk is a gift not an ask. It’s an idea not an issue. And in the end, you want the audience to adopt your idea as their own. How sexy is that?

What is this phenomenon? Why did TEDx blow up? People love stories. People also love the brand. The TED brand is associated not only with big ideas, but also with big deal people. Past speakers include: Pope Francis, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates, Bono, and Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. People’s lives have been catapulted from obscurity to instant fame with a TEDx, like Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. This kind of credibility not only gets you booked on more stages, but it also drives the sales of your books and products.

When taking on the task of directing a TEDx, I approached it the same way I did any show I work on. I work with the writer on the script, as a dramaturg, analyzing the arc, through-line and its impact. And I direct the speaker the same way I do my actors, by teaching them intention, objective and action, and block the speaker by giving them choreography, which is knowing when and why to walk. And when and why to be still.

The one difference I became hyper-aware of, was that when I work with speakers, it’s all about the story or the idea. But with my actors, it’s all about them! I love my actors, but they lead with their needs.

In a room with a speaker, it’s all about their idea, so my job becomes about getting them to get out of their own way, so we hear this idea loud and clear and potentially “adopt it as our own”. This is how the magic happens. This is how the global impact happens.

Petra delivered a very successful TEDx and is also a best-selling author and sought- after Keynote speaker. Because she wears a TEDx crown, this credibility offered her up more paid speaking gigs. Her success also offered up my success. I began working with several other speakers who wanted to take a TEDx stage. I found myself with this handful of amazing speakers and nowhere to put them, so realized, as a theater producer, I had to put on a show. I applied to TEDx for my license.

The process was grueling. The application itself isn’t complicated, but the answers are. I don’t have the statistics of how many people apply for their license, which is free by the way, but the one person I know who’s brilliant and amazing, was turned down. I went back and forth with TEDx several times and each time, I spent hours crafting my answers, trying to read their minds as to what they needed from me and what would make me the right person to produce a TEDx. The TEDx team are amazing. They are communicative, helpful, thoughtful and totally supportive. However, it is truly a mystery as to how they choose organizers and why.

In November of 2017, I was granted my TEDxLincolnSquare license and with that responsibility, I took on producing my first event with my co-producer Jamie Broderick. I’m a theater producer, so I incorporate music and Broadway singers. I hire comediennes, magicians and pop stars to perform. I call it theatrical academia. TEDx events are independently organized events about the community and for the community. And Jamie and I nurture our community from the moment tickets go on sale.  As a TEDx organizer, we are not allowed to make money from the event and speakers are not paid. Many people have asked me why I produce a show that doesn’t make me a dime. This always makes me laugh because it’s nothing new to me, you rarely make a dime as a producer in theater either.  The commerce of story-telling is not always dollars. It’s impact. The art of story-telling on a TEDx stage brings credibility which creates opportunity for commerce. The credibility of being the executive producer of TEDxLincolnSquare definitely gets people to call me back, but the impact I’m having on the world makes me rich.

Tricia Brouk

Tricia Brouk is an award-winning director, writer for theater, film and television. In addition to her work in the entertainment industry, she applies her expertise to the art of public speaking. She’s the executive producer of TEDxLincolnSquare and has choreographed Black Box on ABC, The Affair on Showtime, Rescue Me on Fox, and John Turturro’s Romance and Cigarettes, where she was awarded a Golden Thumb Award from Roger Ebert. The series she directed, Sublets, won Best Comedy at the Vancouver Web-Festival. The documentary short she directed and produced This Dinner is Full, was official selection at The New York Women in Film and Television Short Festival, as well as the NYC Independent Film Festival. She also hosts The Big Talk a podcast on iTunes, where interviews people who talk for a living as well as curates and directs a national speaker salon. Visit her website at: https://triciabrouk.com

2 Comments
  1. Wow! Loved reading this, thank you for writing it. As an entrepuner it has to be about the money, It’s a business and if we don’t make money we can’t keep doing what we’re doing. But for most of us the business we founded didn’t start because of the money. It started to make a difference, to solve a problem, fill a need and help people.

    It becomes difficult to put money in one box and work in the other, which is what I endeavor to do every day, but some days, weeks or months it can be very hard to do that. Your article helped me to be able to do that, and every day, no matter the hurdle.Thank you.

  2. This is brilliant Tricia! Congratulations on your license for Lincoln Square! The one point that really stood out for me is that “The commerce of story-telling is not always dollars. It’s impact. “

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