GUEST BLOG: The (TED)X Factor by Ting Zhang

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When I stepped through the doors of the Queenstown Memorial Center on April 19th, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. It was my first TEDx event, and my first time at a large organized event in Queenstown. As an avid TED Talk viewer, I was looking forward to partaking in a day of intellectual stimulation and meeting like minded individuals. As a former New Yorker and recent Queenstown local, I was cautiously excited to see how a tight knit community puts on a big show. Thrillingly, the day did not disappoint.

Upon entering the auditorium, I was greeted by the familiar red circle centered on the stage, with a projection screen backdrop. I settled into my seat and spent the next few hours transfixed by a menagerie of speakers and their ideas, ranging from anthropology as a way to find human connection, to tales of inspiration from activists, and innovative ways to approach design and motivation.

While I found all speakers worth the price of admission, the true standouts were presenters with a natural talent for engaging with the audience and/or really utilized the tried and true TED Talk format – ideas through storytelling, with occasional visual aids for emphasis. These standouts included acclaimed photographer Trey Ratcliff (who tailored his presentation by giving the audience “Choose Your Own Adventure” votes), Jamie Fitzgerald (who gave engaging recounts of his death-defying adventures with humor and vigor), and Cam Calkoen, who wrapped the day with a high energy rally cry for self love and perseverance that elicited just as many tears as laughs.

No matter the quality of the speakers, sitting for 8 hours in an auditorium chair is a daunting prospect for anyone. Thankfully, the day was filled with a wonderful mix of live storytelling, audience engagement (stretching exercises! Moleskin decoration contests!), video formats and most lively of all, performances by looping musician Graeme James and sand painting by artist Marcus Winter.

Looping musician Graeme James wowing the crowd

Looping musician Graeme James wowing the crowd

TEDxQueenstown was jam-packed with quality content, but what truly set the event apart for me were the opportunities to network with both speakers and fellow event goers during the intermission breaks and after event happy hour. The speakers from each session made themselves available for one-on-one Q&A and happily mingled amongst the crowd during downtime. The chance to connect in this way was a huge highlight and, despite being a sell out event, offered access and approachability I could have only dreamed of in New York City (a city of 8 million).

Then, there was the food. Oh, the food. The TEDxQueenstown team did a phenomenal job partnering with local small businesses to bring the most impressive spread I’ve ever experienced at comparable events. The emphasis on engaging the local community made consuming the amazing offerings that much sweeter (pun intended). The goodies included (and definitely not limited to) classy nibbles from Wild Earth Winery (cooked onsite in wine barrel BBQ smokers), yummy sushi from Suma’s Sushi, fragrant teas from Stir Tea, home brewed iced coffee from Crocky’s Cold Brew, and local craft beer on tap from Altitude Brewing.

Eliott Menzies (the brains behind Altitude Brewing’s craft beers) pours the local flavor

Eliott Menzies (the brains behind Altitude Brewing’s craft beers) pours the local flavor

There is no question TEDxQueenstown was an event to remember. For me, it signifies something more important than just a fun day out. It proves that Queenstown is not only a place of epic natural beauty but one where arts and culture are accessible, and where one can take in the exquisite New Zealand outdoors while discovering global wonders and ideas.

Ting Zhang

This blog was originally posted on and has been reposted with permission of the author.

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