Virtual reality, drones, translation and rights for refugees: 7 takeaways from TEDxThessaloniki

Astronomy enthusiastic Constantine Emmanouilidi shares a view of Mount Athos, a site east of Thessaloniki, with a light painting of the event's hashtag (Photo: Constantine Emmanouilidi)

Speaker and astronomy enthusiast Constantine Emmanouilidi created a light painting during observations of the sky above Mount Athos, a site east of the city (Photo: Constantine Emmanouilidi)

For seven years, the team at TEDxThessaloniki — based in Greece’s second largest city — has been dedicated to exploring the relationship between their community and the wider world. Whether that’s through a Greek teacher showing how he and his colleagues get creative within under-served school systems or a Swiss doctor advocating for the use of genomics in personal medicine, the team at TEDxThessaloniki seeks to identify and amplify pressing, prescient and pioneering ideas for Greece and the globe.

With Greece in the midst of both a historic financial crisis and an extreme humanitarian crisis — with huge numbers of refugees seeking asylum on Greece’s shores -- the team organizing this year’s event faced a quandary: how does one address these heady, overwhelming, sometimes seemingly unfathomable issues? How would TEDxThessaloniki add something new, something meaningful to discussions that were already being had in the world’s biggest papers and at international political gatherings?

Design work for TEDxThessaloniki 2016 (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

Design work for TEDxThessaloniki 2016 (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

The team, lead by organizer Elena Papadopoulou, decided to go with what they do best: creating a mental toolkit for attendees to understand, address and chew at big issues. This toolkit included ideas from Zrinka Bralo, a Bosnian journalist and war refugee who leads Migrants Organise — a advocacy group for migrants; TED Fellow Andrew Bastawrous, an ophthalmologist who funds vision-restoring eye surgeries in Kenya with a bakery; physicist Michalis Agathos, who works on the collaboration that confirmed the existence of gravitational waves; economist Dimitri Zenghelis, expert on climate change economics in the EU; as well as an update from Melissa Fleming, the head of communications for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees who gave a talk on the refugee crisis at the event last year.

But the event is more than just the words said onstage, says Papadopoulou. “TEDxThessaloniki is not just an ideas platform,” she told Greek publication Voria, “[We want to be] an event that is in harmony with the audience.” The TEDxThessaloniki team made sure the event was designed for ultimate audience experience  — from a morning welcome of espresso and local, traditional breads to all-day simultaneous translation services from Greek to English and English to Greek.

With that, we share seven takeaways from TEDxThessaloniki 2016:

1. Dual-language events can be awesome. If you’re organizing an event and think two languages might be better than one, consider reaching out to your local TED Open Translation Project community for advice. Not only will they help you understand the benefits (and potential hurdles) to live translation, but they can also help you translate your talks after the event.

Speaker Zrinka Bralo listens to a talk being translated live (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)
2. Get local with your food. TEDxThessaloniki got creative with local bakery Παραδοσιακό to set up a mouth-watering display of traditional Thessaloniki treats — including city standard Koulouria, a sesame-topped bread ring — to welcome attendees to the venue and give them energy for the talks ahead. To bring local flavor (quite literally) to your event, try seeking out food partners that focus on local specialties and show off the unique food culture of your community.

Morning treats provided by a local bakery (Photos: TEDxThessaloniki)

Morning treats provided by a local bakery (Photos: TEDxThessaloniki)

3. Want tweeters? Create an electronics-friendly space. TEDxThessaloniki invited social media junkies to watch the event from the simulcast room — an area seperate from the theater fit with a live broadcast. The space was dedicated to discussion and chatter with ample room to plug-in and relax. The team also armed attendees with a hashtag: the short and catchy #TEDxThess16, which caught on quickly as the day unfolded.

TEDxThessaloniki's venue by the sea (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

TEDxThessaloniki’s venue by the sea (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

4. Don’t be afraid of tech demos. TEDxThessaloniki brought several to their event. Local virtual reality experts Virtuality brought headsets that put attendees on a roller coaster in Dubai or at the foot of an ancient Roman forum while still at the event and Thessaloniki student and drone builder George Papadimitropoulos brought quadracopters that let you see the world from their point of view.

Student George Papadimitropoulos demos a drone outside of the venue  (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

Student George Papadimitropoulos demos a drone outside of the venue (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

An attendee tries on Virtuality's VR headset at TEDxThessaloniki (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

An attendee tries on Virtuality’s VR headset at TEDxThessaloniki (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

5. Add some personality to your gift bags. Every single one of TEDxThessaloniki’s 750 gift bags was hand-painted by a team member. Each artist signed their bags in order to give attendees an idea of the creativity it takes to put on an event and to make a connection with an individual attendee. At the start of the event, Papadopoulou introduced the team and encouraged attendees to get to know the faces behind their bags (and the event).

Some of the 750 TEDxThessaloniki gift bags, signed by team members (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

Some of the 750 TEDxThessaloniki gift bags, signed by team members (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

6. Have a pet-friendly venue? Welcome four-footed friends during the breaks. TEDxThessaloniki allowed visits from pets and also paired with local dog biscuit baker KYON to provide canine-friendly treats in every gift bag. For all the non-pet-owners, they offered this advice: “If you come without a dog, you can offer some biscuits to dogs in your neighborhood and they will love the cookies and you!”

A photo from Athens-based dog treat company, KYON (Photo: Kyon)

A photo from Athens-based dog treat company, KYON (Photo: KYON)

7. Pick a theme that fits. It matters. TEDxThessaloniki’s’s 2016 theme, “A world on the move” spoke to both the tremendous changes Greece is going through as well as the world at large. It framed their talks well and gave extra gravity to their venue by the sea.

A photo of the TEDxThessaloniki venue before the big day. (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

A photo of the TEDxThessaloniki venue before the big day. (Photo: TEDxThessaloniki)

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