Nearly all events today can be followed live via webstreaming. TEDxBrussels, which took place at the Brussels Event Brewery on 14 March, was no exception to this rule.

In addition to enabling thousands of individuals to follow the talks of their choice from their desks, homes and travels in more than 50 countries around the world, the organisers also encouraged group viewings, such as those held in Brussels Airport, at the DIGITALEUROPE offices and the simulcast events at six Belgian Universities. This novelty increased the participation rate by around 800 more people. Of course, interactive, social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, allowed even more people to feel connected and to share their personal insights into a Deeper Future without even setting foot into the auditorium.

Social media team engaging with the online audience.

Social media team engaging with the online audience.

So what did these remote viewers miss?
Despite an increased demand to consume events online, TEDxBrussels did not miss out on a lively audience at the sold out event. Why? Because you can’t beat the power of shared experience and networking… especially not in Brussels. Connecting and developing personal relationships with others in the same industry, finding new potential business prospects and contacts are the most common reasons given for attending events.

Audience during breaks.

Audience during breaks.

There is also something much more intimate about being part of the audience. As those who are familiar with American politics will recall, the 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy was a defining moment for televised speeches. Whilst those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won, those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Ever since this debate, how speakers present themselves, the way they appear physically, their tone of voice and connection with the audience has become an art form, which can only truly be appreciated to the full by a direct and uninterrupted line of sight.

Personally, I came away from TEDxBrussels with four specific moments that made me particularly happy to be an active part of the audience on the 14th March:

  1.  the audible gasp when Madi Sharma stood on her head to encourage the audience to take a new perspective towards sexual parity and the electricity in the room when she finished her speech to a standing ovation
  2.  the hairs on my arm standing on end when Sarah Krüg told her powerful life story, which inspired her to help cancer patients and caregivers to partner more closely with their healthcare team
  3.  the awkward laughter when Srecko Horvat pointed out the danger of being too vane and self-obsessed when it comes to love through his description of selfie-induced deaths
  4.  the slight rise of volume, temperature and sense of optimism coming from the audience, following Alberto Alemanno and Christian Felber’s calls for cooperation and creating a common good.

The day was full of these magical moments, which I am sure are different for every member of the audience. Yes, social media plays a vital role in connecting attendees and speakers. It is also essential for encouraging meaningful interactions between those who physically present in the room and those viewing remotely, who are often dividing their attention and time to other tasks.

But, for me personally, there is an inexplicable difference to witnessing an event live that enhances your memories and adds another dimension to the experience.

What happens when the memories fade?
One of the great things about TED and TEDx events is that the recordings are uploaded and made available for many more to enjoy, in the spirit of the TED objective to create “ideas worth spreading”. So, if you missed the moments I described above, you will be able to watch - or even re-watch - the talks again via the website to see if you get the same impression. Talks from 2016 will be uploaded very soon.

Madi Sharma during her talk at TEDxBrussels 2016.

Madi Sharma during her talk at TEDxBrussels 2016.

With TED Talks reaching their billionth video view and estimates suggesting they are viewed at a rate of 1.5 million times a day, the audience for video on demand, as well as a thirst for innovation and inspiration, is clearly there. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that watching online can replace attending an event in person, but with increasingly busy schedules these catch up videos may offer an entirely different audience the chance to find their hair-on-end moments in this journey into the future.

Katie Owens | @ktowens

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