I love TED Talks. I was introduced to them five years ago, and I haven’t stopped trading them like baseball cards with my circle of friends since. “Did you see the Malcolm Gladwell one?” “Yes—loved it.” “What about the one poem by Sarah Kay?” “No, not yet—send it over!”
TED hosts four conferences that are specifically hosted by the organization: TEDWomen, TED (annual), TEDGlobal and TEDActive. While going to any of them would be amazing, I specifically wanted to go to TEDWomen because I felt that the atmosphere and talks would have the uniquely female vibe that I most desired. When I saw the talks from TEDWomen 2012, I knew in my heart this was the TED conference for me.
In order to attend a TED event—any TED event—you must apply. It is a daunting application process, because they ask you a series of questions that get to the core of who you are and only allow you 300 words in which to answer. No pressure. No pressure at all.
I worked on my application for two days, then sent it to two trusted friends to make sure it was in the best shape possible. I wrote primarily about my company, tello Films. I wrote about my passion for creating content for the lesbian community and details about the process I went through to bring our upcoming project Nikki & Nora to the web.
After I submitted my application, I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and waited. The only other time I was so nervous to see whether I’d been accepted to something was when I applied to Space Camp when I was 11 years old. I screamed and jumped for joy when I got my Space Camp acceptance; my behavior wasn’t un-similar when I received a “yes” from TED. I immediately registered and booked tickets for my San Francisco trip.
TED’s mantra is “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and they take that seriously. TED provides tools to help you connect with other attendees, including online profiles. I promptly set up mine and made sure to include not only my projects but also my passions. Interestingly, there is also an opportunity to indicate that you are “out” as gay on your profile; I proudly clicked.
Some might assume I’m easily social since I network regularly for my job and speak publicly with ease, but I secretly have Forrest Gump’s fear of hearing “Seats taken!” So when I scanned the TED profiles, I looked for a “TED Buddy,” someone I could ride the shuttle with and hang out with during the conference.
My “pre-gaming” worked and met up with Sandy Leong before the opening session. I wasn’t immediately sure what I’d have in common with a jewelry designer from New York City (I’m not known for my fashion sense), but we hit it off right away. Ted Buddy: check! Being brave and reaching out to Sandy started a domino effect; as we waited for our first shuttle, a couple of other women heard us talking and joined in. By the time I was on the shuttle, I already knew four people.
Sometimes it’s difficult to boil down what you do into the perfect elevator pitch, especially when your interests and skills vary, but I was attending TED with the purpose of representing my company proudly, so I told every new person “I am a filmmaker who makes web series for the lesbian community.” I’ve been doing this for seven years, but I bet I said made this statement more in my first 24-hours at TED than I have in the whole first five years of running my website.
I’d like to pause here to say it was a gift to be able to talk openly about my website, my work, and my passion at TEDWomen. I am very aware that not everyone is supportive of the lesbian and gay community. Although I’m proud of my accomplishments, I don’t always share what I do. I grew up in the South, and there will always be a small part of me that hesitates before I share about tello Films and the web series I’ve worked so hard to create because I want to make sure it’s a safe space. That being said, times are changing and at TEDWomen I felt very comfortable sharing my successes, my enthusiasm for what I do, and what I have planned for the future.
By the end of the opening session, I had six TED Buddies, including two who’d worked with one of the TED Prize winners. These women were powerhouses, and people I was proud to sit beside. As we chatted at tables and in hallways, others would stop and join in without missing a beat. A friendly chat between two new friends could quickly turn into a fun discussion with six or more. It was great to see that the culture of openness and sharing that I’d grown to love in the TED videos came to life in the midst of a TED event.
The kick off event of TEDWomen was a live version of “Previously on TEDWomen.” The group brought back three of the most popular talks from last year and discussed how their lives have changed because of their TEDWomen Talk. One of the people they brought back was iO Tillett Wright. They played a clip of her talk, in which she discussed her project (taking portraits of people who identify as “not straight”), how people identify and how there is a huge spectrum that is in the gray area and not just the black and white of gay or straight. It was fantastic to have an opening session highlight a talk from last year that resonated with the queer community. It was another signal to me that this was indeed a safe space that was all about ideas and generating discussion, which Tillett’s talk did for many.
The next day, the TEDWomen conference officially began. The first round of speakers was amazing and had a fantastically lesbian power to it. Out and proud swimmer Diana Nyad also spoke, and she was inspiring. She talked about her journey and about finding your personal path to achieving your dreams. When it’s posted, I highly recommend it.
Another scheduled speaker, Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, had lost her voice the night before and could not attend. Instead of replacing Dame Shirley in her absence, they honored her by showing a video presentation of her story, introduced, without only 30 minutes notice, by a woman named Megan Smith. What struck me about Megan was not only her grace under pressure, her MIT degree, or her prestigious role at a prestigious company: she listed being the CEO and COO of PlanetOut.com proudly in her bio. And just like that, I’d just watched two powerful out women on the TEDWomen stage. It was almost like this event was made for me.
The rest of the day is a blur. Cards were exchanged, connections were made, and by the end of the day I was filled with both excitement and exhaustion. Also, just for the record: I saw Helen Mirren, who was there as an attendee. If Helen Mirren is a TED Talks fangirl like me, I’m obviously headed in the right direction.
Many have asked what I learned at TEDWomen. While the ideas I encountered were exciting (and are still stewing in my brain), I’m still most blown away by the people I met. I got to be in a space with 360 incredible and powerful fellow female attendees, all with stellar resumes, a can-do attitude, and no time for ego. Everyone was on equal footing, and everyone had something to contribute. I am proud to have been a part of it, and I can’t wait for my next event.
If you would like to know more about the TEDWomen, you can follow the conversation with the hashtag #TEDWomen on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to see my dorky tweets and selfies from the event, find me on Twitter as @christintello.
Christin Mell has been playing with video producing and storytelling since she was 13, after her family got their first VHS camcorder. She started out directing music videos and SNL parodies with the neighborhood kids and moved on to start her own digital distribution company, tellofilms.com (which recently merged with OneMoreLesbian.com). tello focuses on stories for the lesbian community. Christin is passionate about providing the lesbian community with quality entertainment. She is proud to be one of the Executive Producers and the distributor of “Nikki & Nora”, the first un-aired network pilot to be re-imagined as a digital series. tello Films is the leader in creating original lesbian web content as well as creating a platform for monetizing niche entertainment (find us at OneMoreLesbian.com/tello). Christin has eight produced projects and just as many in various levels of pre-production. This hands-on producer is a storyteller at heart, brimming with timely and engrossing ideas, and is determined to bring together the right team to bring each one to life.