TEDx Leipzig International School

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

TEDx Leipzig International School: Boundaries

19th September 2020 will go down in the history of Leipzig International School as the date when the first TEDxLeipzigInternationalSchool took place at our school. As one of the organizers, I am honoured to be able to write a little bit about my experiences with such a significant, prestigious and complex event. 

As most of you may have heard, all IB students have to tackle a CAS (Creativity, activity, service) project as an essential part of the IB programme. It was important to me to choose something challenging and meaningful for my project; something that could help me gain new skills and enhance the ones I already have; something that could expand my horizons and that I could still be proud of in years to come; something fresh. Together with Roland Kohlheb, Lucas Thamm and Chau Nguyen we decided to aim high and organize a TEDx event. 

The organizing team: Roland Kohlheb, Chau Nguyen, Kacper Rzepecki and Lucas Thamm

TEDx is an individually organized local TED event, during which live speakers hold live talks to share their exceptional ideas, which inspire the audience and allow them to look at the world from a new perspective. 

We were all thrilled about organizing something that colossal. After all, we were to inspire the school, our classmates, parents, teachers, who knows, maybe even the Board! Sounds exciting, but the truth was none of us had any experience in organizing such an event and I don’t think we were aware how much had to be done. Although we came up with the idea at the beginning of the 11th grade and thought we had plenty of time to prepare everything, in fact those 12 months are probably the minimum time needed to organize such a multi-faceted event. We planned, we shared tasks, we tried to foresee every eventuality – still, the closer to the day of the event we got, the more we had unexpected tasks popping up. 

The first thing we had to do was to apply to TED for the license and explain our motivation, expectations, propose some potential speakers and our target audience. It had to be written well, formal but not stiff at the same time. While waiting for TED approval we started our “speakers hunt”. Most of the speakers had to apply, but we found it important to have some experienced, external speakers representing meaningful organizations. Identifying such speakers, inviting them, arranging their stay, organizing finances to cover the costs of their travel and accommodation – all those things were more time-consuming than we would expect and at times it was truly daunting. Your letters are ignored and you are looking forward to some replies, which never come. You get rejections. You get “maybe” answers. You are kept waiting in stand-by mode. Then, at the last moment, just when you are about to give up, you get a speaker confirmed and you are thrilled when little by little things start to finalize. However, for a good TEDx event, we also needed local speakers.  Announcing the call for speakers is just the first step, because people need encouragement and some impetus, especially when applying for something totally new for the community. Then you have to make a selection, which also is not easy as you have to reject some people you may know and like. 

In the end, we selected 11 speakers. Three of them were from LIS: 12 graders – Maximilian Hübner and Anastasia Kozlova, one LIS graduate – Samuel Hillyer. We also had two student speakers from Poland: Tymoteusz Niewiarowski (just 14 years old!) and Katarzyna Chudziak who was representing the Polish Academy of Kids. Three speakers were representing Leipzig research centers: Dustin Eirdosh and Sofie Valk – both from Max Planck Institute, and Anina Ambra Morgner from Leipzig University of Applied Sciences (HTWK).  We were delighted that two speakers from internationally renowned organizations: Marie von Manteuffel from Doctors Without Borders and Linus Steinmetz from Fridays For Future also accepted our invitation. Since we recognized the importance of entertainment and we wanted to have an interactive accent during our TEDx event, we were also very pleased to have Eliza Rudnicka from Leipzig Opera among our speakers. 

Once we closed the speakers’ list it was time to start promoting the event and recruiting the audience. We prepared the announcements, press release, designed posters, banners and graphics for social media sites we had to create first. We wanted the whole school to count down months, weeks, days to the event… but then COVID came and the school emptied… Suddenly we were not even sure if the event could take place. In such a situation, it was not easy to motivate ourselves and keep on working. However, we had to stay enthusiastic to keep the speakers focused on practicing their talks, to attract sponsors and gather volunteers. We had to prepare the venue, think about things like the sound system, lights, set up of the stage (carpet! carpet!), program, snacks and so on. I cannot even list all the million small things, which had to be done. Finally, the big day came and even though it was so stressful and we were still worrying if everything would go well, at the same time we were really satisfied with the result.  

I was proud of the speakers and amazed how they grew. Their originally interesting talk proposals evolved into truly inspiring talks. The theme of TEDxLeipzigInternationalSchool was “Boundaries”. We found it a good theme as boundaries can be interpreted in so many different ways. We could think of mental boundaries, physical boundaries, territorial boundaries, technological boundaries, boundaries which exist, don’t exist, can be crossed and should not be crossed –  Simply a perfect theme with no boundaries. As we expected, the speakers approached it from different perspectives and the spectrum of topics was broad. The talks varied from music, personal development through social studies to sciences, ecology and music. 

Overall, the event was tremendously successful and I believe all who participated: organizers, speakers, volunteers and audience learnt and gained something new. It took our team a year to organize the TEDxLeipzigInternationalSchool event and I have to say this was one of the hardest challenges I have ever completed. I had to do things I have never done before, such as finding sponsors, raising funds, planning a budget, promoting, coordinating and juggling all these tasks. At times I felt like quitting. Sometimes I would lose motivation, especially during the COVID-19 lock down when I was afraid that the event I had put so much energy into would not take place. I am sure my team members felt the same, but somehow, together, we managed to push each other and organize something remarkable. We had excellent speakers, we had generous sponsors, we sold out all available tickets and had an enthusiastic audience, we had exceptional volunteers and at the end we received so many positive comments as most of the participants who responded to the post-event survey rated the event as 10/10 with 7/10 being the lowest rating. 

After all the hard work we did, we are truly grateful to Leipzig International School, that they not only allowed us to carry on with our project and did not cancel it, but also supported us in all we asked for, also financially. Especially we want to thank Mr. Allen, who was always there for us. His offer to double each 1euro we manage to raise externally motivated us to look for sponsors even harder. I would also like to to acknowledge and thank our other sponsors: the Polish Institute; whose support enabled participation of Polish speakers, making the event international, Tokyo Cafe, Bistro Petra and TONIS; whose food powered all of the participants (please return the favour and now support them during this hard time for gastronomy), and Mr. Thomas Ziegler; who offered his help as a photographer. I also cannot let the work of our volunteers go unnoticed, and need to express my appreciation to: Sahib Singh, Manal Naumann and Mona Naumann who operated the cameras, Yannic Tim Noack who operated the lights and the sound system, Betty Sterzing and Mariam Hany Hunain who coordinated registration and distribution of snacks, Mr Paul Foulkes for giving us access to the sound system and helped us negotiate the rental of professional microphones. Without all those people and their support the event could not take place. 

The satisfaction that came when all the details came together, might be one of the greatest feelings I have experienced. If I were to recreate the event, it would be a much smaller and much easier boundary to overcome, as I gained so much experience, which will stay with me for a lifetime. But the event was not the end of work. I still had to edit all the videos so that they could be posted on TEDx youtube channel. It took me another 2 weeks, but finally our TEDx talks are available for all around the globe. 

Kacper Rzepecki

About TED

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or fewer) delivered by today’s leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED’s annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and made available, free, on TED.com. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sal Khan and Daniel Kahneman.

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