Building Stronger Communities: Jon Yeo on the evolution of TEDxMelbourne

September 12, 2017

Non-profit organisations regularly face challenges when it comes to building strong communities, sharing their vision, and expanding the breadth of their events. With resources stretched thin, it can be difficult to widen reach, access potential members, and retain momentum. As such, it’s crucial that organisations create effective strategies and partnerships to grow a passionate and engaged membership base.

TEDxMelbourne is a great example of how community events can grow from utilising existing resources and strategic partnerships. TEDx refers to independently licensed, community-organised events based around TED’s core mission of “ideas worth spreading”. In seven years, TEDxMelbourne has grown more than twentyfold and continues to expand year on year.

When Jon Yeo took over as TEDxMelbourne’s curator in 2009, he inherited a mailing list of just 53 people, most of whom he already personally knew. Today, there are around 12,000 people on that mailing list, and TEDxMelbourne is one of the largest and longest-running TEDx events in the world, bringing in audiences of over 1300.

Read More: TEDx Melbourne — powered by Eventbrite since 2009

Yeo shares his insights into what made TEDxMelbourne the success it is today and gives his 3 top tips for non-profits seeking to grow their events:

1. Embrace the power of storytelling to build community
One of the great marketing strengths for non-profits is their affinity for collecting meaningful stories. Stories of the positive work being done, the people involved, and the lives impacted. Yeo encourages organisations to utilise this — to engage people’s values and passions, growing a community.

Storytelling “helps people to connect with what they’re about, where they’re coming from and why they’re there,” Yeo says. “TEDxMelbourne tends to attract people who are naturally creative. Clever people doing amazing things, excited by life and the possibility that great things can come out of it. That’s the overwhelming tone and intent for a general TEDxMelbourne attendee. When you’re in that type of community, the energy, the excitement, the focus, and the passion really shines. People can be their authentic selves.”

2. Embrace diversity
Make effective use of the talents, skills and passions of the people you already have in your team. Get to know each person and discover what excites them. This knowledge can be used to find creative solutions to resourcing challenges and funding gaps in your organisation.

“There is a richness and talent in people that is untapped, something you don’t even know about unless you ask,” says Yeo. “I had one guy who was just helping on the side, in a relatively small role, and then I found out he was an amazing photographer and designer. We wouldn’t have discovered this unless we sat down and got to know him. We took the time to understand what he was interested in and what he was good at.”

3. Create meaningful partnerships to engage people in unique ways
Always be on the lookout for partners who are in line with your mission. Look widely and with an open mind. Collaborations with media, corporates, non-profits or independent business partners can be mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

In 2016, Yeo enabled a collaborative partnership between TEDxMelbourne, a private manufacturing lab, and a group called Robogals, which encourages and empowers girls in year 7 and 8 to get involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing). Through this partnership, TEDxMelbourne and Robogals gained visiting rights to the private lab. This also generated great press coverage for all three organisations.

“We get opportunities to create unique experiences for our community that they can’t get anywhere else,” says Yeo. “These collaborations also create value for our partners outside our main event, keeping our audience engaged year round.”

When asked how TEDxMelbourne has been able to achieve and sustain growth, Yeo reflects that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. “My honest opinion is that I’ve probably been willing to make more mistakes than anyone else. I spent literally the last fifteen years whittling it down. It was kind of the Michelangelo effect. Tapping the marble away until the masterpiece appeared. Success, to me, is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal. I’m very proud of the team that’s put this all together — we’re all voluntary. We’re doing this for the love of it.”