Lessons Learned from the Making of TEDxRanney

As the summer comes to a close, textbooks and extra curriculars creep back into everyone’s mind. Sometimes learning new things can be difficult as well as exciting. Sifting through tough learning experiences to become a better person is at the core of evolving as a human. Through CHAOS comes clarity. Learning experiences can oftentimes seem chaotic, especially when taking on projects you have never tried before. Let’s learn from CHAOS.

Exploring our 2019 theme of CHAOS and applying it to learning came naturally as many families and students are returning to school — were there any stories our audience could learn from? The TEDxAsburyPark Team reached out to Brandan Whiteman, who had a particularly motivational story to tell. Brandan, 17, is entering his Senior year at the Ranney School in Tinton Falls and spearheaded the organization of TEDxRanney in April 2018. Along the way, Brandan became closer with his family and learned valuable skills to bring with him to college and beyond.

Enjoy our first blog of the year written by Ranney School Alumnus, Brandan Whiteman.

~ The TEDxAsburyPark Team

I love TED talks and had hoped that one day I could be at one in person. That dream became a reality on April 7, 2018. I watched TED talks all the time and always learned something valuable. My family and I came up with the grand idea to create one. I am 17 years old and and had to get my parents’ approval and their involvement. We had many brainstorming dinners where we discussed where we could possibly have it, who we would ask to speak at it, what our theme would be and how we would go about doing it all. It was an exciting time for our family, and we loved taking on the upcoming event. Applying for the TEDx license came after we went to my school, Ranney School, to ask whether they would allow us to host our event in their theater. Luckily they agreed and loved the idea of spreading knowledge to the school community.

The process was definitely an educational one. Up to this point, I had never put anything together of this magnitude before. It took us about seven months to pull it off. After gathering names, we wrote emails to procure our speakers. We learned many things from so many different people. I enjoyed all of the speakers, but the presentation that was the most meaningful to me was Dr. Elena Man’s, Mental Health: The 20/20 Challenge And Solutions within Reach. Not only did it display important facts and statistics it felt as if it opened the audience’s eyes to how prevalent mental illness really is among youths. I am glad that it was presented in a school environment, because it is vital for educators to be aware of such a frequently manifested problem in kids. We were lucky enough to be contacted by Marcia Blackwell of TEDxAsburyPark, where she and her team so kindly took us under their wings and guided us and explained the procedure. She even invited us to watch how they ran auditions to cast their own speakers.

Even though we encountered a host of obstacles, we were able to quickly resolve most of them. I realize that with so many moving parts to this production, it would be impossible for it to go according to our plans. What I learned is that you have to be pliable and willing to adapt to any situation that may arise. An example of this was when we were setting up a few days ahead of the event, it was then that we realized that the cathedral windows of the auditorium did not have shade to prevent the glare while we would be filming. We came up with a simple solution to hang up black fabric for the day. Another thing I learned from this is the importance to know your own abilities. Although my father is a self-proclaimed “techie” we knew we needed to hire a professional technical crew to help us. We needed someone who had done this before. Hiring the team was a great decision, they helped us map out all of the logistics of the day, including timing, lighting and the videography.

The actual set up also proved to be challenging. We were anticipating the use of the auditorium for the week of the show, but the school was having their school play and we could not set up ahead of time as planned. The coordination of everyone’s schedule was difficult, too, including the timetable of the availability of the auditorium, the technical crew personnel, and when the speakers would arrive for a practice run. We hosted 24 speakers and organizing them was a big task, as well. We wanted to make one master presentation that included all of the speakers’ own individual presentations, that way we didn’t have to deal with 24 separate ones. Receiving the speakers’ presentations took longer than expected. Luckily, every hardship we came across, we were able to surmount.

The event went relatively well as a first time organizer. I learned many new skills that will serve me well in my future, like communication and organization skills. The school community came together nicely to support this event. Many of the audience members gave wonderful feedback like how great the production was as well as how fascinating each individual talk was. The speakers were dynamic and very informative. This process was personally very fulfilling.

Forward by: Tom Morford, TEDxAsburyPark