How to Host a TEDx Event at Your School (Like we did at Upper Perk!)

It’s almost here! TEDxPennsburgED is finally happening in one week, and we’ll be broadcasting it live to the world (at Upper Perkiomen High School) on May 7th from 12:30-4:30pm (EST).

The idea and planning began in the summer for this official TEDx event, but as more and more people are asking, “How did you guys get a TEDx event at Upper Perk?”, I wanted to break down our process into five steps (even though it has felt like 500 steps!).

Step 1: Event Type and Initial Brainstorm

The TEDx guidelines allows you to apply for a variety of different types of events.  You can choose between the following:

Standard event

This is the basic event type. It is subject to all of the standard rules, and applies to most events. Learn more

University event

Holding your event for your university? This event type is for those hosted at a college or university, and organized by current university administration staff, faculty or students. Learn more

Youth event

This is a TEDx event organized by, or catered toward, youth and/or kids or school communities. Learn more

Salon event

This is a small weekly or monthly event that keeps a TEDx community engaged between regularly scheduled TEDx events. In order to organize a Salon event, applicants must already have an existing standard license. Learn more

TEDxLive event

TEDxLive is centered around the simulcast of the annual TED Conference. Here, the world becomes TED’s audience. Learn more

TEDxWomen event

A TEDxWomen event is a TEDx event on the topic of women and gender which features the simulcast of TEDWomen. Learn more

Internal event

This is for corporations, organizations, government entities, non-profits or other institutions that want to organize an event under an institutional name. This event type, and the naming exception it grants, is approved only for internal, private, employees-only events. Learn more

TEDx in a Box event

Some communities may not have the resources and infrastructure to organize an event. In these cases, we deliver all the resources needed to organize a TEDx event, packaged in a portable box. Learn more

Library event

This event follows the same format as a standard event, except that it is hosted by librarians at a local library. Learn more

ED event

ED events are TEDx events where educators, students, administrators and others gather to discuss the future of education. Learn more

We ultimately decided on the “ED event” as is demonstrated in our name TEDxPennsburgED. We wanted our community, educators in our district (and surrounding districts), and students to come together to learn from experts around the world.

Next was brainstorming ideas for a date, potential speakers, and learning about the TEDx rules (there is a lot, but all for good reason). Once this was done it was time to apply.

Step 2: Fill out the Official Application

You can apply for a TEDx license here. Reading the rules and understanding the guidelines helps in filling out the application, but I did have to do one revision after filling it out. I choose the TEDx ED license to apply for, but made some mistakes in what the event could be called (we initially wanted to call it TEDxUpperPerk but that was not allowed).

As the curator (person applying for the license) you’ll also have to go into detail about your background, why you want to host a TEDx event, and give some explanation about how you plan to pull it off.

After re-submitting the application…we waited, and waited, until finally receiving the confirmation email that TEDxPennsburgED had been approved!

Then it hit us…uh oh, this is real. What’s next?!

Step 3: Build a Team

The best part about doing a TEDx event at your school or district is how many people are willing to get involved and spend their free time on creating this event! At Upper Perk we sent out a few emails letting everyone know about the event and asking for folks to join the planning committee.

I was blow away by the response. We have over 20 teachers, 9 administrators, and 50 students all playing major roles as part of our TEDxPennsburgED planning committee!

At the first planning meeting we did the following:

  1. Locked down a date and place
  2. Made an initial list of speakers to contact
  3. Decided whether it would be a full or half day event
  4. Came up with a theme for our event (An Innovative Learning Culture)
  5. Talked about the timeline
  6. Discussed what potential roles and sub-committees there would be
  7. Discussed who would be invited as part of our 100 guests

Our team has grown and multiple people have taken on roles that have brought this event together. I can’t begin to say how proud I am of our team and the work they have done so far!

Step 4: Speakers and Audience

One of the most difficult pieces of any TEDx event is inviting the right speakers and actually getting them to accept the invitation. TEDx rules are specific about not paying speakers, and also not allowing any selling from the stage.

Our planning team discussed having a variety of speakers from across the education spectrum, and we were able to create a speaker lineup of a student (a 10th grader at Upper Perk), teacher, principal, professor, college president, associate provost and researcher.

Our student Pooja Girwarr was one of 12 students in our district that applied to speak at the event, and after a few rounds of interviews, I’m so happy to have Pooja represent the student body at Upper Perk and the entire community!

Here are the rest of our speakers for TEDxPennsburgED:

John Spencer

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 11.34.09 AMJohn Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. John has written several education books, and the popular young adult novel titled “Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard.” John is also the co-founder of technology writing platform, Write About. John is a national speaker on education, creativity, and the power of story.

Principal El

thomas-elSMALL-06-1Salome Thomas-El is a Principal in Philadelphia. As a teacher a Vaux Middle School Salome led a group of inner city students to 8-international chess champion titles. He has since written the books “I Choose to Stay” and the “Immortality of Influence” while being featured on CNN and as a regular contributor to the Dr. Oz show.

Dr. Edward Clapp

EPCheadsshotDr. Edward Clapp is a Harvard University Professor and Senior Research Manager of Harvard’s “Project Zero”. Edward is a leading voice in the design and maker movement around the world, and is an international speaker, who has also written and produced an off-broadway play. Edward is an international speaker on education and design.

Dr. Karen Stout

KStout_2014 (1)Dr. Karen Stout is the President of Montgomery Community College and the incoming President of the national organization Achieving the Dream. Dr. Stout has led a national movement to raise up community colleges and fight for the achievement of all students at the post-secondary level. Karen is an international speaker on education and leadership.

Pooja Girwarr

POOJAPooja Girwarr is a 10th grade student at Upper Perkiomen High School, and has been in the school district since she was in Kindergarten. She has been involved in various organizations throughout her years of schooling at Upper Perkiomen. On her own time, she strives to fundraise money to support research to find cures for childhood cancer. Pooja is very excited to represent the school with her talk, “Becoming That Little Kid, Again”.

Dr. Alan Snyder


alanDr. Alan Snyder is Vice President and Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies at Lehigh University. Alan has worked to make the university’s research environment and its rich connections with human concerns of value to all students.

We discussed as a team what the audience could look like. In the end we settled on 50% of invites sent to folks living and working in the Upper Perk community, and 50% sent out to surrounding districts and areas. We had administrators, teachers, and our area Chamber of Commerce help distribute these invites.

Still, we wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to watch this event could be able to take part in the live experience. To that end, we worked with UPTV (our HS TV studio) and AVT to pull off a live stream for the event. You can now watch TEDxPennsburgED live on the website on May 7th!!!

Step 5: Details, Details, Details

We are still a few days away from the big event. Our teachers, students, and custodial staff have completely revitalized our Courtyard area for a reception after the event.

Our teachers and students at the HS have been busy building the set for the stage (it’s so awesome). They’ve made the TEDx letters, signs, and so much more.

We have a group of students from our Elementary school showcasing apps and games they’ve made with MIT App Creator and Scratch during the intermission time period, our local Robotics club is putting on a show during intermission, and our MS and HS students are showing the things they are building and making on a daily basis with computers, 3D printers, CNC routers and much more!

Our play director and HS English teacher (she’s fantastic) has taken the lead on fleshing out many of the details and I’m so happy to have people invested into this event like her and the many others that are putting their own time, energy, and experience into making this event one to remember!

I hope you join us on May 7th at 12:30pm EST to watch TEDxPennsburgED live on the website

I’ll be sure to write a follow-up post about this event, but I’d also love to see some other schools and districts apply for a TEDx event at their school or community. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been a lot of fun!

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