The 30th anniversary of TED — the king of conferences, with a sought-after speaker list and global online audience 1 billion strong — is taking place in March and, for the first time, in Vancouver. (Which is far more fun than Long Beach, BTW). It is — surprise! — already sold out. Whatever, you wouldn’t have gotten the invite to the annual $7,500 per person party anyway. There is still space available for TEDActive, however, where you can ski and watch the live-hosted talks remotely in Whistler with other awesome C-listers, at half price.
Curating speakers, and listeners, has become quite an industry these days (lest you say it’s jumped the shark, let’s see what Tina Brown has in store). But it’s ubiquitous for good reason: People inspire people. People want to spread ideas. People want to change the world. And, of course, people want to network.
Luckily, with as many non-TED Talks out there these days as aspiring attendees looking for inspiration, it’s pretty easy to find a conference that’s more affordable and a little less, you know, exclusive.
Place: Northern California and Wales
Point: To inspire people to change the world. But in a very genuine, low-tech way. Think four days on a manicured farm with teepees, bonfires, three communal, local-organic, al fresco meals a day — and an “old barn with new ideas” as the T-shirts say.
Past and present speakers: Best-selling author Cheryl Strayed, James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee and Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Sioux Nation. “The kind of passionate people who don’t redirect us to their PR people, but who understand what we’re all about,” says co-organizer Anna Beuselinck.
People: 100 or so
Price tag: $2,500
When: Northern California: sorry, just missed it (September); Wales is up next, likely in April 2014.
How to get in: Be a Doer. And fill out an application — by hand — and snail mail it. “We connect better with applicants who handwrite their answers,” they say.
Only at the Do: No name cards; you doodle yourself instead. Ever-flowing estate wine, nighttime stargazing and well-appointed outdoor showers.
Place: Camden, Maine
Point: To change the world. But in a very global, cross-disciplinary, collaborative way. Innovators in everything from tech to public health, arts to urban planning, come from all over to spend three days in a little seaside town where they gather inside a beautifully restored 19th-century opera house to try to come up with real solutions to real problems. There’s not a suit in the crowd, and lunch tables are randomly assigned.
Past and present speakers: Anab Jain, filmmaker and founder of London- and India-based design studio Superflux; sex psychologist Esther Perel; and PopTech’s impressive “social innovation” fellows who each give five-minute presentations.
Price tag: $2,000
When: October 24-26, 2013
How to get in: Register online and answer mini essay questions about yourself. Three weeks out and there’s still space available.
Only at PopTech: A morning sail on a wooden schooner or a bread and New England chowder-making class. Stunning art installations in the hall and around town. (Be sure you don’t miss the opening event — we’ll say no more.)
3. The Story
Point: Not to change the world per se but simply to tell stories from it. A mix of economists and politicians, musicians, theater types, photographers — all talking about the role stories play in the work that they do. Also raises money for the Ministry of Stories, which is like the Dave Eggers 826 Valencia of east London.
Past and present speakers: Cartoonist-animator Ben Bocquelet, musician Edwyn Collins, sports media entrepreneur Alex Balfour. Mostly but not limited to Brits.
Price tag: About $88
When: February 21, 2014
How to get in: Buy a ticket. Early birds sell out in 15 minutes flat. More are released in November and typically sell out by Christmas. If you’re lucky, though, you might even — gasp — be able to score one at the door.
Only at the Story: A custom-made packet of tea or a chocolate bar with all of the speakers etched into it. And at the end of the event? A few frosty pints, of course, at the pub off Red Lion Square.
Place: Long Beach? L.A.? Ideally Vancouver, like TED, says co-founder Michael Cummings, who is still figuring out the details.
Point: To change the world, right after TED does. In a very “unconference” way, as they like to say. Call it the crazy after-party open to everyone. There are talks, yes, but it’s more about people and loose planning, all-day Twister and lots of alcohol (of the cash-bar variety).
Past and present speakers: Ric Kaner, who says he’s invented a replacement for the battery, and Ruby Ryder, an erotica writer who advocates for strap-on hetero sex. The community votes on who they ultimately want to see onstage.
People: About 700
Price tag: $25 to $100, depending on operation costs
When: The day after TED ends, BIL’s seventh annual adventure begins.
How to get in: Just show up, pretty much.
Only at BIL: Dance party.
Place: Everywhere – 57 cities around the globe at last count.
Point: To change your day, where you can wake up and wander over to a local cafe and hang out with a bunch of like-minded strangers over coffee and croissants, listen to a powerful burst of a talk on anything from happiness to urbanism to the future, and then move on to your day job feeling better than when you rolled out of bed. Bonus: Also a fun way to meet locals when you’re traveling.
Past and present speakers: From a video-game designer-slash-astronaut in Austin to the duo behind Auckland’s Lucky Taco, one of the first food trucks to hit New Zealand.
People: Varies for live events; unlimited listeners online, of course.
Price tag: Free!
When: Ongoing, everywhere.
How to get in: Just register online. If it’s booked, join the wait list.
Only at CreativeMornings: Morning people, everyone.
Why you should care
There are as many alternatives to TED Talks as there are aspiring attendees looking for inspiration.