Sutter and TEDx: Impacting Lives

Posted on 1 December 2014

TEDx is a remarkable event that involves community members presenting extraordinary ideas that often change lives. One of our team members Sutter Schumacher is a TEDx volunteer and we asked if we could interview her and find out more about it.

Please tell our readers about yourself.

I’m a PMP-certified project manager. At work, project management is my primary role but I also do a bit of business analysis, testing, operational support and whatever else comes my way.

Outside of work, I seem to have a knack for doing more of the same for community groups on a volunteer basis.

What is TEDx?

TEDx events are community-organised events based on the immensely popular TED conferences. Common to all TEDx events is that they showcase talks, each no more than 18 minutes, about ‘ideas worth sharing’; and they’re organised by their local community.

Since the TEDx program started in 2009 there have been more than 10,000 TEDx events worldwide. Each has to be licensed by TED to ensure it follows a detailed set of rules. The rules are more do’s than do-not’s (such as they must be ‘bias-free’ and present ideas from a variety of voices and disciplines). Otherwise local organisers have free reign to plan their event to suit the local community.

Speakers might be local, come from the opposite side of the globe, or live somewhere in between. They might be a household name, or a 14-year-old teenager you’d never heard of before. But each speaker goes through a detailed vetting process just to be invited to speak. Once they’re invited they receive in-depth coaching to refine their idea and presentation to maximise the punch in a short talk. There’s a widespread notion that giving a TED or TEDx talk is a life-changing experience. Even more people say that hearing a TED or TEDx talk has been a life-changing experience. So there’s a lot riding on this.

The gold standard for any TEDx event is to have your talks posted on the TED website. (TED rules require that all TEDx talks be made available freely online soon after each event, but only the best ones make it to TEDxChristchurch has had several talks posted to, and one of them, by international economist Ernesto Sirolli in 2012, has received more than 2 million views.

What is TEDxChristchurch?

TEDxChristchurch 2014 was Christchurch’s fifth major TEDx event. Each event is entirely volunteer-run and led by TEDxChristchurch licensee and speaker curator Kaila Colbin. In 2014, she was supported by an organising team of nearly 30 people who worked actively for 6 months, and they, in turn, were supported by more than 50 additional volunteers and dozens of on-site suppliers on the day.

TEDxChristchurch has a reputation for putting on a high-caliber event across the Australia/NZ region and in the TEDx network, and the organising team is a highly motivated group. There’s no room for folks who want the glory but can’t cope with hard work.

The Aurora Centre at Burnside High School, our venue, had a 700-seat capacity in the auditorium, and this year we sold out within a few weeks of tickets going on sale. Attendees came from Christchurch, around the South and North Islands, and Australia.

In addition to seating inside, ticket-holders could watch a livestream of the proceedings from outside the auditorium in incredibly furnished chill-out zones, enjoy bottomless free espresso drinks from Hummingbird Coffee, catch tech demos from the University of Canterbury’s HitLab and MakerCrate, peruse a satellite bookstore by Scorpio Books, and eat from on-site kitchen staffed by 5 local restauranteurs who used locally-produced food to feed the crowd throughout the day. We wrapped up with a catered post-match reception featuring more locally produced nibbles, beer and wine supplied by event sponsors.

How did you come to be involved?

I volunteered at TEDxEQChch in 2011, and came back in 2012 for a more hands-on role coordinating a 20-strong catering volunteer team. In 2013 and this year, I helped create a project management role.

Officially I was the project manager and co-organiser in 2014, an executive producer of sorts who supported the organising team as needed and kept an eye on the big picture so that no detail fell through the cracks. But there were two aspects I left to the experts: the lead organiser handled licensee tasks with TED, and a rock-star team of speaker coaches worked hard with each speaker to refine their idea and ensure it delivered the most punch in 18 short minutes.

Otherwise, it was my responsibility to make sure everything ran smoothly for 800+ people who were on-site that day.

What were the highlights and takeaways of the event for you?

By far and away, the best part is working with a tremendously talented group of people — entrepreneurs, consultants, scientists, musicians, chefs and so many others who are all at the top of their respective fields. Every year I meet people who turn into life-long friends and colleagues.

There’s also satisfaction in helping create a high-quality event that people really seem to enjoy. Each year we think there’s no way we can top what we did the previous year, yet we still manage to find ways to create a new and dynamic attendee experience. But make no mistake, it takes a TON of hard work by a lot of really smart and talented people to get it all done!

How can people get more involved?

Volunteer! The 2015 event will be at the Isaac Theatre Royal, which seats 1500 people, so the pressure will be on to create a great event for twice as many people. Although active preparation won’t start until the new year, the organising committee is recruiting for the 2015 event.

If you only have a few days to help out, the volunteer team will need a lot of new faces, so put your name forward.

And if you only have one day to spare, buy a ticket and support TEDxChristchurch 2015. You’re bound to have your mind blown by at least one speaker, if not all.

Go to for contact information or to learn more.

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