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TEDxOxford - An Introduction

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This blog begins on somewhat of an endnote as TEDxOxford 2012 (Oxford University's own independent TEDx event) is over...for this year at least. Organising a TEDx event whilst being at university has definitely presented all of the team with certain challenges. As I'm sure any TEDx organizer will tell you, it is a lot of fun and a lot of work. Essay deadlines seem to squeeze themselves into every corner of your life at Oxford, and in the absence of two extra arms and a second head, learning how to divide your time can become crucial.

TEDxOxford was founded by Chris Toumazis, in his first year at Keble College and it first took place in September 2011 in Merton College in the T.S Eliot theatre with one hundred delegates in attendance. Our speakers included people like the late Vidal Sassoon and Kelly Cutrone (now a judge on America's Next Top Model). At the start of the planning for this year's event most of the original team were now second years, slightly more time savvy and filled with ideas for 2012 which had to equal if not outdo 2011.

TEDxOxford 2012, which was held just over a month ago now, was undoubtedly my best weekend in Oxford so far, and working with this team has been a highlight of my university career. I'm now a third year (ominously termed 'finalist'), and amongst the past two years of writing for the student newspapers and helping out with college balls, TEDxOxford has been a completely different experience altogether. This is probably because 'TED' is itself something that diverges from the norm; and whilst it has cultivated a celebrity attendance at its Long Beach conferences (like Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher), its growing popularity doesn't make it any easier to quickly explain what it actually does. This is I think, a strength - in this way it manages to maintain its kookiness and still attract the kind of quirky bursting-with-ideas-at-every-seam people that make its talks so brilliant.

This year I was 'Head of Marketing' and in the TEDx spirit of thinking outside the box we wanted to figure out a way to promote the event in an unconventional and interesting way. Last year we stayed up all night blowing up red balloons with a helium canister in one of our college rooms and then planted them geographically in the shape of an 'X' all over central Oxford. The balloons had business cards tied to them with '260911' written on one side and a red 'x' on the other: they were intentionally ambiguous in the hope that interested people would Google these two things and be lead to our website. Balloons seemed appropriate for this stunt as there is something very promising, literally uplifting, about them - they also made people stop and look around in a place where the truly awesome architecture can sometimes become as commonplace as the trip to the TESCO metro.

University can dissolve into a mass of routines, and this is one of the reasons why being a part of TEDx has been so enjoyable. Every week brings something new; after all, it's not every day that you're roaming the streets of Oxford with twelve other students at 5am with hundreds of red balloons in tow looking something like Woody Allen's solution to children's party entertainers.

This year we decided to spray shoes with a red 'x' and leave them dotted about the city, tied to lampposts and left on college walls. Some of them directed you to a café where you could get a free cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream with it, and five carried a free ticket; others simply bore messages like 'I'm a free shoe enjoy!'. This stunt once again found many of the team (for a second year running) out on the streets just after midnight this time laden with shoes, shimmying up lampposts and artfully placing them in the weird and wonderful nooks and crannies of the city.

I could be quite reductive and say that what this experience has given me is C.V skills in event management and marketing: but that would probably be a lie...and more importantly would miss the point of the experience itself. As I mentioned earlier, TED seems to defy the very virtue of such labels with its ambiguous initials.

I think that what it has really taught me is that not everything is a question of boxes, pigeonholes and means to ends and that you can enjoy things for what they are rather than what they give you. This is definitely something you can forget, particularly when you're doing a degree seemingly geared towards a final result and an apparently all-defining-life-changing grade.

TED is about the power of ideas, and I think TEDxs show the ability of people to power these ideas in inspiring ways.

That said, more to come on this and on TEDxOxford, so watch this space...