If you were one of the nearly 200 people who got a ticket to TEDxWellington this year, you didn’t exactly know where the event was going to be held. You knew that it would be in Wellington and that it would be a bit out of the ordinary, but that’s about it. The ticket was a leap of faith, or an act of “Trust,” the event’s theme.
When the day of the event finally came, attendees gathered at a secret meet-up in the city to be chauffeured to the event. There, they were met by three TED red double-decker buses, ready to take them to the venue, which had not yet been revealed to anyone outside the team. The buses’ trajectory was a secret; the speaker lineup was a secret; the performances, activities, all secret. The only thing attendees knew when signing up for the event was that they were in store for Kiwi ideas worth spreading. That was enough to make for a sold-out event.
Despite all the surprises, tickets sold out in two minutes, a record for New Zealand ticketing company, Eventfinda, which handled TEDxWellington’s ticketing. “Demand for the 2016 event has been huge,” said CEO of Eventfinda James McGlinn, “one of our fastest ever across all event categories. The TEDxWellingon team [has] a proven record [for] creating unforgettable experiences and no one wants to miss out.”
“With any event that you purchase a ticket [for], you’re putting a bit of trust in the organizers that it’s going to be awesome,” said Hannah Wignall, TEDxWellington’s Delegate Experience Officer in a documentary about the event. “I had no idea what I was getting into and just coming along not knowing was part of the excitement, part of the thrill,” said a lucky ticketholder:
TEDxWellington’s event documentary
The demand for tickets was so large that the team at TEDxWellington organized 12 free watching parties in the Wellington area to accommodate all who wanted to see the event but couldn’t get (or afford) a ticket. “We did video interviews at the livestream venues and showed it at the main event to ensure those in the theater understood they were part of a wider community effort and experience,” says TEDxWellington organizer DK in a blog post on the event.
Once the buses were filled with all of TEDxWellington attendees, they traveled to the secret event venue, which turned out to be director Peter Jackson’s post-production facility in Miramar, Wellington: Park Road. Each bus’s windows were obscured by custom shades decorated with TED and TEDx Talks quotes so attendees couldn’t see where they were going. A black curtain blocked off the path to the theater to keep with the surprise even after arrival. Every detail was carefully designed to keep the day’s secrets safe and the excitement up, so attendees could enjoy each new element of the surprise.
Having Park Road as a venue was a special treat for the TEDxWellington team. “We were one of a very select few public events to be held in the space,” says DK. “This rare offer was the catalyst for the idea of keeping things a secret and, in turn, attempting something that has never been done before with a TEDx event.”
Once everyone was in the theater at Park Road, set up in TEDx style, the TEDxWellington team (including 30 fearless volunteers), prepared everyone for the sessions ahead, all centered on the theme “Trust.” Master of Ceremonies Sarb Johal, a professor at nearby Massey University, acted as guide for the day — introducing the crowd to the secret speakers one-by-one as the sessions progressed. “The only time you knew who the next speaker/performer was would be when Sarb would introduce them,” says DK. “We had the speakers sit in other places throughout the theater so no one would know who else was a speaker.”
Activities between sessions continued the “Trust” theme, whether that was a coffee station that served up mystery drinks, a “surprise-me” lunch option, or — the ultimate surprise break activity — cuddling with kittens after an emotional session.
When the event came to a close, attendees were given a program for the event, a souvenir to remember the day’s big ideas and the secret speakers that made it possible. The event struck a chord with both attendees and speakers and — in the end — it seems all the surprises were worth it.
Said speaker Glenis Hiria Philip-Barbara of her experience, “I’ve learnt a lot today about the power of trust, in terms of it’s a kind of quiet strength. I think it really gives me hope in the power of humanity, today’s humanity, to transform our world and make it a little bit different, so I’ve decided that I’m going to trust people more. And that feels really good.”
We couldn’t say it better ourselves.