TEDx Speaker or TEDx Organizer — A Reflection on Leadership

Luc Lalande
7 min readNov 28, 2023

The following is a transcript of my debate with an AI conversational tool called Pi. Our “debate” focused on a form of leadership that is often overlooked. That is, people who create the conditions for others to shine and strive for collective impact.

TEDx CarletonU — 2010 — Theme: “Ideas Driving Innovation”

Luc: I would like to debate a topic with you.

Pi: Ooooh, a debate! 👊 Hit me with the topic, my friend. I’m ready to engage in some intellectual sparring. 🏇

Luc: Ok then. First, let me share a preamble for the debate.

Pi: Lay it on me, fam. I’m ready to hear your argumentative overture.

Luc: Before I start with the preamble I assume you are familiar with the TEDx series, a community version of the famous TED Talks.

Pi: You betcha! TEDx is like the little brother of TED Talks, but just as insightful and inspiring! It’s a program that allows communities to organize their own TED-style events, featuring a mix of live speakers and pre-recorded videos. It’s a platform for local innovators, thought leaders, and creatives to share their ideas with a wider audience. 💡

Luc: Interesting you say thought leaders.

Pi: Ha, yeah. I get that the term “thought leader” gets some eye rolls these days, but there’s something to be said for people who can articulate complex ideas in a way that’s accessible and thought-provoking. I think TEDx speakers are often thought leaders in the sense that they inspire new ideas and ways of thinking, which is kinda the whole point of TED in the first place!

Pre-event TEDx CarletonU 2010 — Gladstone Theatre

Luc: Ok. Now here is the preamble. As you stated yourself, TEDx is associated with thought leaders among other kinds of speakers. Audience members assume that to be selected as a TEDx speaker one must have some demonstrated leadership. Agree?

Pi: Yeah, I think that’s a fair assumption. It’s not like just anyone can waltz up to a TEDx stage and start rambling about their random thoughts. Speakers are typically carefully vetted for their expertise, relevance to the theme, and ability to engage an audience. And since TEDx talks often focus on ideas that have the potential to impact society, it makes sense that they’d want speakers who have a track record of influencing others and being a leader in their field. So yup, you’re right — a TEDx speaker is likely to be a thought leader, or at least someone with the potential to become one! 👍

Luc: Here’s my debate question. Are not TEDx organizers, in a way, exhibiting leadership qualities as they are the ones who actually create and give the platform for TEDx speakers? My argument, quite simply, is that there would be no TEDx speakers if it were not for the background efforts of TEDx organizers.

Pi: You’ve got a solid argument there, my friend. TEDx organizers absolutely deserve some love! They’re the unsung heroes of the whole TEDx game. They’re responsible for scouting out and selecting speakers, coordinating logistics, and ensuring that the event is a success. They often do it on a volunteer basis, fueled by a passion for spreading great ideas and connecting people with innovative thinkers. They may not be the ones standing on stage, but they’re just as much leaders as the speakers themselves, in my opinion. 👏

Members of TEDxCarletonU team discussing event details.

Luc: Exactly. In a sense, they are what I refer to as “background leaders”. The spotlight might not be on them as they are not the ones standing on the stage in front of a live audience but they are the ones that create the conditions for others to shine. Agreed?

Pi: Yup, you’re totally on point. Background leaders — I like that term! They’re the people pulling the strings, making sure all the pieces come together, and ensuring that the event runs smoothly. They often go unnoticed and unappreciated, but without them, TEDx just wouldn’t happen. It’s a kind of leadership that requires a different set of skills — diplomacy, organizational acumen, and attention to detail — but it’s just as important, if not more so. They’re the glue that holds the whole thing together, and without them, it would just be a bunch of smart people standing on a stage with nothing to say.

Luc: So in your wisdom, why as society don’t we recognize the critical role of these “background leaders”?

Pi: Ah, the million-dollar question! 💰 I think there are a few reasons: First, it’s easy to overlook the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making an event successful. It’s not as flashy or obvious as the person standing on stage. Second, there’s a tendency to romanticize the “lone genius” or the “visionary leader” who’s the face of an organization or initiative. Third, leadership is often equated with visibility and power, but background leaders don’t necessarily have either of those things. It’s a subtle, quiet, yet essential form of leadership, and one that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It’s time we start singing their praises and giving them the props they deserve!

Luc: Here’s a quick thought experiment. If I were to ask a group of youth if they would prefer either to be a TEDx speaker or a TEDx organizer, what do you think the youth would favor?

Pi: Ah, I’d put my money on the TEDx speaker. Let’s be honest, most young people are attracted to the spotlight, the stage, the applause, the Instagram stories. Being a TEDx speaker is like a badge of honor, a sign of success, and it’s easy to see why it’s appealing. Being an organizer, on the other hand, is less glamorous, less visible, and often seen as less exciting. But here’s the thing: TEDx speakers come and go, but the organizers are the heart and soul of the event. They’re the ones who make it all happen, and without them, there wouldn’t be any TEDx speakers to swoon over. 🎤

Luc: In your opinion, what are some leadership attributes or qualities that you would associate for aspiring TEDx organizers?

Pi: Oh man, they’re a special breed! Here are some qualities that I think are key for a top-notch TEDx organizer:

  • Vision: They need to have a clear vision for the event and be able to communicate that vision to others.
  • Organization: They need to be uber-organized and have their ducks in a row, because there are a lot of moving parts to a TEDx event.
  • People skills: They need to be able to wrangle speakers, volunteers, and sponsors and keep everyone happy.
  • Resilience: Let’s face it, things will go wrong, and organizers need to be able to roll with the punches and stay calm under pressure.
  • Creativity: They need to think outside the box and come up with new ideas to make each event unique and memorable.
TEDxCarletonU 2010, attendees take their seats

Luc: Very good. Now, in your opinion, what is it about our modern society that values being a TEDx speaker as superior or more desirable than being a TEDx organizer?

Pi: Well, let’s be real, our culture is very much into the whole “cult of personality” thing. We idolize celebrity and status, and being a TEDx speaker feeds into that. It’s seen as a sign of success, intelligence, and prestige. And let’s face it, our society also tends to value things that are tangible, visible, and measurable. Organizing a TEDx event is a huge accomplishment, but it’s not as easily quantifiable as giving a killer talk on stage. Plus, organizing is often seen as a “behind-the-scenes” role, and we all know how much we value the spotlight in our modern world. Sad but true.

Luc: In closing, what key messages (in terms of leadership) would you want to communicate to youth about the importance of TEDx organizers?

Pi: Here are my top messages for the next gen of TEDx organizers:

  • Being a leader is about service, not status. The real reward of organizing a TEDx event is not the recognition, but the impact you can make in your community.
  • Behind-the-scenes work is just as important as front-and-center work. It’s the unseen, unglamorous work that makes a difference.
  • Leadership is about empowering others and building something together, not about standing alone in the spotlight. By organizing a TEDx event, you’re giving a platform to others to share their ideas and inspire change.
  • It takes courage to be a leader, and it’s not always easy. But the rewards of making a positive impact on the world are worth it.
TEDxCarletonU 2010 — Jesse Stewart TEDx Presentation

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Luc Lalande

Cultivating innovation by connecting ideas to people, people to ideas.