Creating TEDxPSU 2013: a conversation with co-curator Sean Meadows

Creating TEDxPSU 2013: a conversation with co-curator Sean Meadows

Sean Meadows chats about his role as co-curator of TEDxPSU 2013 and the technology at this year’s event. The March 17 conference will feature topics ranging from relief structure robots to a potential female president.

TEDxPSU, an independently organized, student-run University event, will host its third-annual conference on March 17, in Schwab Auditorium.  Held in the spirit of the internationally-acclaimed nonprofit, Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED), the upcoming event brings together individuals from the Penn State community and the world to share innovative ideas through live talks and pre-recorded videos. Student organizer and co-curator for this year’s TEDxPSU conference, Sean Meadows, has witnessed the community spirit and caring atmosphere associated with the people who support and attend TEDx events. Planning and designing any event is a challenge, but Sean and his fellow organizers believe this year's conference will fully capture TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading."

Recently, we spoke with Sean about his role and the technology involved in TEDxPSU.

Could you tell us a little bit about your role in this year’s TEDxPSU?

As co-curator for TEDxPSU, I help oversee the entire event.  This encompasses everything from acquiring licensing to managing a small executive team of student organizers adept in public relations, design, and operations, as well as many event volunteers.

The goal for this year’s team was to encourage TEDxPSU as more of a community experience, rather than just the latest in a series of annual conferences. As a result, I spearheaded the inauguration of TEDxPSU as an officially recognized special interest club at Penn State. By becoming a recognized student organization, we hope to build an active and engaged group of students and community members at Penn State around TED's theme, "ideas worth spreading." To enable this, we watched recorded TED Talks during our monthly team meetings and then facilitated discussion at our larger community meetings. This encouraged new connections and offshoots of action, which we hope will continue to bring positive change in our conference planning in the future.

In what capacity have you served in TEDxPSU events of the past?

I was an attendee at the first TEDxPSU in 2010 and I had a blast at the event.  I knew then that I wanted to get involved with TEDx in any way possible. The next year, I was able to attain a volunteer position for TEDxPSU 2011—on the day after my birthday—through valuable connections made in IST. What a great birthday present, I thought to myself at the time! As a volunteer for the 2011 event, I was responsible for running all the presentations for the speakers. It was live and very stressful, but it was also exhilarating and I was hooked after that. Those experiences helped me to see first-hand the ability TEDx has to promote amazing and undiscovered ideas to the forefront of the community conversation.

What is your most memorable TEDx experience thus far?

The most memorable experience I've had so far was traveling with other members of this year’s TEDxPSU executive team to volunteer at the 2012 TEDxMidAtlantic conference in Washington D.C. We bought bus tickets and, after a long five-hour layover in Philadelphia, we arrived in D.C. for a spectacular experience. I learned so much during the three days we spent helping at this event—and I was able to incorporate some of those ideas for our own TEDxPSU conference. It is such an exceptional experience to see the community spirit and caring atmosphere in all TEDx events, as well as the people who support and attend them.

Will you be featuring any IT elements at this year’s event?

Yes, tons!

With support from the University's ITS Telecommunications and Networking Services office, we will be using Wifi signal boosters to help strengthen the wireless signal in Schwab Auditorium. These boosters are designed to help create a more connected environment for our speakers and participants. Simultaneously, an HD projector will be used to showcase our speaker’s presentations and provide the best viewing experience for our audience. And our Community Relations team will be spearheading a full twitter interaction experience to enable distant viewers to participate and feel connected—while elements of live mixing and live streaming, via fiber connections, will help create an immersive experience for those who aren't able to physically attend the event in Schwab Auditorium.

Thanks to four, crisp HD cameras, these outside participants will experience the best seat in the house, because the cameras and the speaker’s presentation material and microphone will be mixed live by Penn State Public Broadcasting to create a dynamic and seamless show. The final feed will be streamed across Penn State’s fiber connection out to the world via our Ustream channel at This service provides a platform for lifecasting and live video streaming of events online

In addition to these elements, our student executive team has been using a large number of technologies to enable us to conduct planning meetings remotely over a distance and collaborate in real-time, whenever this was needed. Our small executive organization team started planning for the event last summer, and we conducted our meetings remotely through Google+ Hangouts, since we were all located in different areas. Our meeting notes and ideas were recorded live in Google Docs which gave us the ability to edit documents simultaneously—and we could refer to them later, if needed, because everything was recorded.

We also made use of Dropbox to synch large and static files, such as images and videos, among the team. In an effort to streamline our meetings and make better use of our time we evaluated project management software such as Basecamp, Asana, and Microsoft Project. But once the school year began, we found that it was more efficient to stay up to date with each other by having in-person meetings, and using Google doc notes, and email correspondence.

In what ways does TEDxPSU facilitate the communication of technical ideas?

In preparing a talk for TEDxPSU, speakers are required to distill their many thoughts into a single direct idea. This means they must practice and hone communicating that idea with a large and varied audience. We also impose the strict TED time limit where talks must be eighteen minutes or less. These key principles enable speakers to communicate highly technical or scientific ideas, while not wasting time where it is unneeded and preventing the loss of attention.

Are there any talks or presentations that will be technically challenging to capture, in order to best preserve the spirit of the talk?

I don’t want to give any of our talks away and spoil their display! But I can say that we will have a couple out-of-the-box presentations at this year’s TEDx. We are employing four high-quality cameras and a full mixing production team courtesy of Penn State Public Broadcasting and WPSU to capture these dynamic talks. We hope that even those participating on the livestream will feel the energy in the room!

The mission of TED is to find new ways of tackling global issues by leveraging media, technology, and, most of all, ideas. Can you give us an example of this?

Check out this year’s TED Prize winner Dr. Sugata Mitra at Dr. Mitra conducted experiments that used basic computer and internet technology to engage children living in third-world environments through the web. (See his talk on the "Child Driven Education" at

How many registered attendees and speakers and/or performances are slated for the event?

This year, the free tickets for the main event in Schwab Auditorium were fully reserved in less than five days. We used an application process to ensure that only those who would be fully engaged were selected to make up the final 675 participants in Schwab. In addition to the registered participants, we will have 16 outstanding speakers and three musical performances to help keep the excitement level high during the day!

Is the event sold out? If so, do you have suggestions for those who still want to attend?

Yes, we are fully reserved at capacity in Schwab Auditorium however, we are going to provide a second viewing experience called the TEDxPSU Simulcast for free in the HUB Auditorium and the Noontime Lounge area (located near the elevators on the first floor) on the day of the event. Our goal is to give any and all interested students and community members a chance to see TEDxPSU as it is unfolding live on March 17. These spaces encourage a chance for discussion and involvement with the actual event participants.

Are there any spoiler alerts or breaking news you’d like us to dish?

Yes, two words…Viewing-Parties!  Visit for more information.

Created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading,” the TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.

TEDxPSU was brought to the Penn State community in 2010. The mission of the event is to bring together innovative and thought-provoking individuals from the Penn State community and the world to share ideas worth spreading. Using a blend of live talks and pre-recorded videos, TEDxPSU unites the University community and kicks off a dialogue about the challenges and opportunities facing our society.

Follow TEDxPSU on Twitter (@TEDxPSU) or on Facebook (TEDxPSU)