TED, an annual conference bringing together inspiring thinkers from around the world, has always been an event with no advertising or promotion budget. Its commitment has been to seek out amazing, interesting people and “let them communicate what they are passionate about, untainted by corporate influence.” You may know TED via its YouTube speaker videos, which are routinely passed around (among those that went viral are videos from Jill Bolte Taylor, the brain scientist who observed her own stroke; and conductor Ben Zander, teaching everyone to love classical music).

Among my favorite rules applying to TED (and to TEDx events, independently produced local gatherings) are: No podium, no paid speakers, and an 18-minute time limit for everyone who gets in front of the audience. Maybe we can’t follow this exactly, but it does send a strong message that attendees’ time is precious, and meetings are about interaction—not speaking down to attendees.

TED acts more like a live performance than a meeting. There’s a heavy focus on production, a minute-by-minute “show rundown,” and speakers are always rehearsed. We need to spend more time rehearsing executives’ speeches (and even those of paid presenters), and can’t allow anyone to drone on. Just like PowerPoint, unprepared, uninteresting speakers turn attendees right off.

Of course, TED is a different animal than an internal corporate meeting, but the fact that its audience is handpicked and that it eschews commercialism also raises some interesting questions for external or association meetings in our industry. I have heard readers say they would give anything to benchmark with other meeting managers who are facing the exact same challenges they are—without any suppliers in the room. I agree that the meetings industry needs more closed-door, planner-only roundtables and invitation-only conferences. But people need to realize that they will have to pay higher fees for such events (TED costs $6,000 to attend), since sponsors pay substantial dollars to be part of conferences and are the reason registration fees stay so low.

TED can shed new light on your meetings.

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