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EVENT INNOVATORS 2014

Event Innovators 2014: Chris Anderson

The founder of the Sapling Foundation continues to grow and expand the influence of the TED Conference through a variety of initiatives.

Chris Anderson, founder, Sapling Foundation

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson founded the private nonprofit Sapling Foundation in 1996 to “foster the spread of great ideas.” In 2001, the foundation acquired the TED Conference, and since then, Anderson, 57, has devoted his time to growing the brand. Under Anderson’s leadership, what was initially an annual event in California focused on topics of technology, entertainment, and design, has grown into a worldwide initiative that includes three annual conferences (TED, TEDGlobal, and TEDActive), the $1 million TED Prize, online TED Talks, the TED Fellows program, and thousands of local, independently organized TEDx events in more than 150 countries.

The statistics are astounding: more than one billion views of the online TED Talks, an average of 17 new page views per second. The brand has become synonymous with innovation in event design that many have sought to copy, pioneering the concept of quality over quantity with its distinct 18-minute maximum for presentations, minimalist sets, and attendee engagement strategies.

“[TEDx events] are building a worldwide network of communities in hundreds of cities, dedicated to understanding the world a little more clearly and to helping usher in a better future, both locally and globally.”

It also has its critics, and in an essay Anderson wrote for The Guardian in January, the entrepreneur explained the short presentations of his conference aren’t focused on style over substance and should be thought of as a way “to give the ancient art of communication modern clothing so that it can get a foothold in today’s attention competition.” Additionally, the TEDx initiative doesn’t destroy the brand, but rather builds an even bigger community: “Collectively TEDx events have become a remarkable content aggregator, posting talks from people like Frans de Waal, Brene Brown, Gian Giudice, and thousands more. Longer term, they are building a worldwide network of communities in hundreds of cities, dedicated to understanding the world a little more clearly and to helping usher in a better future, both locally and globally,” Anderson wrote.

And TED continues to evolve. In June 2013 the organization debuted TED Institute, a daylong professional development program that brings TED insights and resources to corporations. For the 30th anniversary of the original TED Conference, the event moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, this year, creating a custom 1,200-seat theater inside the city’s convention center, while the TEDActive gathering took place simultaneously in Whistler, British Columbia.


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