Written by Nora Austin
The following post was written by Nora Austin, a former attendee turned volunteer who was invited to blog for TEDxNaperville after seeing her review of our 2015 conference.
It’s taken me a bit of time to get my thoughts together from the journey that was the 2016 TEDxNaperville conference. Because there is so much that happens at the conference, I will be dividing this up into four posts. This first post is going to cover some general thoughts and feelings that have gone into the preparation of the conference, whereas the other three parts will be about the conference itself, and its three sessions.
So much of an event like this is about the preparation, and I was very pleased to be as much a part of helping to set up for the conference as I was attending it.
Our official TEDxNaperville Exposer, Dr. Laura Bokar, explained how “Connectedness is the number-one variable for happiness.” TEDxNaperville is not about networking in the cliched sense. It is about connecting with other people, in order to be inspired; to bring about change in our local community.
It’s difficult not to connect with people when you’re sitting at a table with three other volunteers for over four hours, laminating and assembling name tags by hand. Yes, that is something that volunteers do the day before the conference.
But as we sat in folding chairs, overworking a pair of small laminating machines and an ancient hole-punch, we connected, and shared stories about our lives. We learned about each other’s families, what we did for work, and why we were there, volunteering for TEDxNaperville.
We pondered about people’s dreams, as on every name badge, there was an answer to the question: “I’ve always wanted to…”
There were the very common answers, such as “Travel the world,” or “Write a book,” or “Learn a new language.” But it was more specific ideas that intrigued us and made us wonder what that person’s story was. And I’m sure that at some point, those people connected with other people at the conference to talk about their dreams and explain what they meant. Looking at other people’s answers also helped break up the tedium of sitting in a chair for hours on end.
As we took a break for dinner, I looked around at what else was going on. Another group of volunteers was arranging flowers into vases to be placed around the venue at various locations. It’s something again that you might not necessarily notice – but there was a volunteer carefully choosing each flower to put into that arrangement.
Elsewhere, colorful vinyl cloths poured out of empty paint cans to be hung from the railings. Large paper photographs of people were being pasted up on walls, and pumpkins were being painted. Sometimes, it was hard to tell what the purpose was until it was finished. (In the case of the pumpkins, volunteers poked holes into them to display treats for the attendees.)
Having put in a lot of work the night before, the day of mostly seemed to be last-minute preparations to get the venue in order. I found myself in the position of asking “What can I do?” since I didn’t have a specific day-of job except for reporting on the conference.
That meant jobs like hanging signs, stuffing last-minute flyers into swag bags, and greeting attendees as they came in. But for our leadership staff, who had been planning and working on the conference since March, anything we could do that day to help was a blessing to them. They had worked so hard to see everything come together on this one day, and it was up to us, as volunteers, to make sure everything came out the way they had planned.
And while there were a few minor glitches – like one of the remotes that controlled the slides going out at the beginning of someone’s talk – it was quickly fixed, thanks to our amazing tech team, and our speaker didn’t miss a beat, picking up right where he left off.
Before I knew it, the last speaker was on, and I had a pad full of notes from the day’s events. Stay tuned for the next three parts, as I cover the wonder and inspiration that was TEDxNaperville 2016.