Sunday, 28 October 2012

Baking for TEDxBrighton

TEDxBrighton cupcakes
So, I mentioned the other day that I had volunteered to bake for TEDxBrighton, if you don't already know about TED, I seriously suggest you check it out, I really could watch TED videos all day.

One of the amazing things about TED as an organisation, is that they allow local 'TEDx' conferences to be independently organised, enabling knowledge and ideas to be shared on a greater scale - the TEDx conferences are also digitised and put online, so that the talks are available free to everyone.

Last year I attended TEDxBrighton (Reasons to be cheerful) and really had the best time- the tickets were allocated as a lottery, so there were a real mix of people thrown together, who were all really excited about being there. There's something lovely about taking people out of their comfort zone, limiting the ability for delegates to attend in known groups and encouraging people to reach out and interact with each other.  

So when I saw the lovely Natalie Lloyd's tweet seeking a volunteer to bake cupcakes for TEDxBrighton 2012 (The generation gap), I was really keen to get involved. Baking 350 mini cupcakes was no easy feat, I spent a solid 13 hours baking, icing, decorating and packing cupcakes - hard work, but very satisfying to see the finished product! In addition to that I hand cut all of the icing decorations the evening before baking, which took another few hours.

I found an awesome company which prints sheets of icing with edible ink, the cost isn't too high and the minimum orders are reasonable - CakesCrazy delivered the icing logos very quickly and with good customer service.

The production line of cupcakes- waiting to be iced
The cupcakes, iced, decorated, boxed and 
ready to go
Me with some of the 350 TEDx cupcakes on the day
The event itself was brilliant, the stage was practically a piece of art and as with TEDxBrighton 2011, the speakers were exceptionally inspiring. There was also an ideas lab - with lots of interactive installations, including a working banana piano! 

Baking, decorating and delivering 350 cupcakes to TEDxBrighton as well as attending the event was exceptionally hard work. I would say I've learnt a lot from this experience - so I've put together a few pointers which are worth considering before you volunteer as an individual on this scale:

- If you're baking for free, meet the people you're baking for in advance
I think I would have felt much more part of the event if I had insisted on this - I allowed the fact that I was exceptionally busy and that I know how much goes into planning an event like this to get in the way of requesting a meeting before the conference. The TEDxBrighton guys were lovely, but when I turned up in the morning there was a lot of rushing around and I found it very difficult to meet the people I had been corresponding with- putting a face to a name goes a long way in these situations.

- Negotiate a real mention by a human being and ensure that you are visible on the day
I had assumed that the cupcake table would be positioned somewhere visible at The Dome, in reality, it was hidden away on the mezzanine level. While there was a lot of interest from the people who ventured up there, I think a lot of people didn't know anything was happening up there :(

- Make sure you're given the help you need- agree this in advance
I was told before the event that I would have someone to help me man the cake table so that I could watch the talks (I had purchased a ticket). When I arrived this seemed to be a very ad-hoc arrangement, having left the table with TEDxBrighton volunteers to keep an eye on it, I found the cake table abandoned after the second talks of the morning. Having put so much time, effort and my own money into the cakes this was disappointing.

-Negotiate a social media shout out
Lots of wonderful delegates and members of the TEDxBrighton team tweeted at me, tweeted photos of the cakes and re-tweeted messages I was sending out - but the official @TEDxBrighton twitter didn't, except for a brief mention at the end of the day - which didn't contain my twitter handle. I should have requested this in advance.

- Include your Twitter handle on your promotional materials
I'd had some cards made to promote my blog for a wedding I baked for a couple of months ago, it hadn't occurred to me to add my Twitter handle to these (this is a massively rookie mistake as I work in social). Although I don't think anyone would have been tweeting from a wedding, at an event like TEDx, social media is real time reportage - so be sure to include all of your social details alongside your blog or website for every occasion.

- Make sure the effort you put in is equal to the reward
I love TED and really enjoyed the talks again this year, I also met some really lovely people and very much appreciated the 'thank you' I received in person from many of the delegates and team - also the tweets that people sent me and seeing photos appearing of my cakes across social platforms was very rewarding. But I had to request that delegates were told a)- that there were cakes and b)- where to find the cakes. I guess I kind of assumed that having asked me to bake 350 cupcakes (which were branded for TEDx), that people would be encouraged to enjoy them. At lunchtime I packed the remaining cupcakes into boxes and did the rounds giving them out - I would have been heartbroken if I'd had to take all that hard work home with me! With 75 cakes left at the end of lunch, I requested an announcement for the afternoon break - thankfully, by the end of the break, the cakes were all eaten. 

I also received no official thank you in the final round up. While I knew promotion for me as a blogger was likely to be very limited due to TED's tight restrictions, on a human level a 'thank you' goes a long way with me- even if it was a vague 'thank you to the lady who made the cupcakes' it would have made the 13+ hours of baking and high cost of materials all the more worth while.

So c'est la vie! A bittersweet mixed bag, but an experience nonetheless! I still love TEDx and would definitely apply for a ticket again in future- there's nothing quite like attending an event with so many inspirational and inspired people. As an attendee, the event was brilliant, but as a volunteer I would definitely approach this kind of project very differently in future.

If you were at TEDxBrighton 2012 and enjoyed the cupcakes, stay tuned as I'll be posting the recipe (so that you can bake a sensible quantity for yourself!) soon. 

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