July 30, 2013

A Look Behind the Scenes: How the TEDxCUP Team Visualized Ideas to Inspire Action
Category: 2013 Event, Event Themes

Doug's sketchnote

Sketch of GaryThe moment before each TEDxConcordiaUPortland (now known as TEDxMtHood) speaker walked on stage was both exciting and nerve-wracking for me. Though I knew that the focus would be on the ideas that each speaker was about to share, I couldn’t help but think about how each of the 700 attendees would react to the short videos introducing each speaker that played on two giant screens on either side of the stage. Videos of a hand sketching with a sharpie – first the TEDx logo, then a portrait of the speaker, the title of their talk and a small sketch to accompany it.

That hand was mine, but I was not the only one involved in creating those videos. It is the story of collaborative creation that resulted in those time-lapse illustrations that I want to share.

Prior to the creation of the TEDxCUP videos, the extent of my experience with time-lapse illustration involved using a simple iPhone app to create a video of me graphically recording a Brené Brown interview that I listened to online. Thankfully, we had a real photographer and videographer among the TEDxCUP planning team, George Mihaly, to set things up right.

It’s worth noting that neither of us had done anything like this before – George focuses on video work and I typically enjoy the peace of mind of NOT being recorded while sketchnoting.

The fact that we even embarked on this project was thanks to Michelle Jones, the lead organizer of TEDxCUP. Michelle and I came up with this idea over coffee the first time we met, but it was her insistence on trying new things and pushing boundaries that made it all come together.

On two different weeknights, we worked in the dining room of my house from about 7:00pm to midnight to create all 18 of the time-lapse videos that were shown on event day. George set up the lights and camera, I did the sketching, and Michelle provided moral support and an editor’s eye to everything we did (she also brought us food and wine, without which we never would have been able to complete those five-hour marathons).

Sketch of MathewThe pressure to not screw up the sketches was initially pretty daunting. It’s hard not to feel pressure with lights shining down on you and the constant click of a camera marking each second with an image that would be added to a string of others to create the videos.

But the social aspect of those evenings kept the pressures at bay and helped to create the unique and enjoyable experience of those two nights. We had just enough wine to stay loose without getting sloppy, and the right company to yield thoughtful and engaging conversations.

At the end of the second night, we laid out all of the finished sketches on the table, and I said to Michelle – “This is one of the coolest things I’ve even been a part of.”

“Why?” she asked.

Because it pushed our limits. Because it was collaborative. Because it worked. Because it was going to be seen by hundreds of people and help them to remember the ideas worth spreading that were shared that day. Because it contributed to the feel of that day. And to be involved in the generation of those feelings is something pretty special.

That’s what it’s all about for the members of the team that put on TEDx events – creating something special on the day of the event. Sure, there’s the excitement about the possibility of your talks making it up on the main TED website to be seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers from around the world. But that would just be icing on the cake.

What it’s really about is bringing together the members of your community and starting a conversation, one that doesn’t end at the end of the event. One that continues on in the days, weeks, and years that follow. One that spreads. One that leads to real, local, tangible change for the better. That’s what you shoot for when you put on a TEDx event. That’s why we do it.

It was nerve-wracking to sit in my attendee chair and watch those videos being played on event day, and even more nerve-wracking to try to sketch out in real time the ideas shared by each speaker. But I captured enough in my moleskin notebook to scan and compile them in the image you can see here. They don’t capture the ideas in their entirety, and some of them won’t even make sense unless you were there that day.

But the hope is that these rough sketches help to keep the conversations going. Sketchnotes and graphic recordings of TED talks are easy to find these days, but the emphasis can’t be on pretty pictures. It needs to be on doing something with the ideas contained within them. It needs to be not just about ideas, but about action.

That transition from ideas to action has always been an emphasis for those of us involved in putting on TEDxCUP. The talks are just the beginning. It’s what follows that really matters.

Doug's full sketch

Click to enlarge.

See all of the intro videos on YouTube.

Doug Neill

Doug Neill is an illustrator, writer, and teacher who became involved with TEDxConcordiaUPortland because of a tweet. After a last-minute contribution to the 2013 event, he decided to join the planning team for 2014. He draws things, writes stories, and helps prep speakers to give a memorable performance on event day