Apr 23, 2020 - Technology

Annual TED conference goes virtual

Photo Illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This week was to be the annual TED conference, with thousands of business leaders, celebrities, artists and scientists gathered in Vancouver to share ideas. Instead, Wednesday became the first step in the organizers’ effort to take their entire event online.

Why it matters: While many conferences have moved online, the shift is particularly tricky for luxury events, where much of the value is around in-person networking and socializing.

Driving the news: In many ways, Wednesday’s half-day “prequel” was not unlike a typical TED session. There were a series of talks and performances by musicians, along with short interstitial videos and time in between for hobnobbing in a chat room.

  • The talks themselves were picked to be relevant in the coronavirus era, with speakers like epidemiologist Larry Brilliant and Crisis Text Line CEO Nancy Lublin (who recently appeared on Axios on HBO) talking COVID-19 response.

Between the lines: The challenge for TED, and others that do high-end events, is creating an experience that people will pay thousands of dollars for without the in-person schmoozing, gourmet food, unique expeditions and other perks. 

My thought bubble: I was somewhat skeptical — but the talks were good, and I found myself using the breaks to check in with people I regularly see at TED.

  • Yes, but: Useful doesn't mean I'd pay big money for the experience. And my sense of community was largely based on the real-world connections I'd already made attending the event the last several years in person.

What's next: Wednesday's event was a preview of this year's fully virtual TED conference, which will stretch over eight weeks beginning in May.

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