BILL Conference is the “yin to TED’s yang”

TED Talks are everywhere and discuss many different ideas. Now, two Richmonders are adding their own spin to TED Talks with BILL Conference, inspiring people to make great ideas a reality. And they need RVA’s help.

If there’s one thing the world is full of it’s TED Talks. This ever-growing series of roughly 20-minute lectures spread (sometimes radical) ideas and offer glimpses into an eclectic mix of minds, from internationally-recognized figures like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, to lesser known personalities like avant-garde professors and Nobel Prize winners. Now a pair of Richmonders are taking the concept of TED and flipping it on its head.

The two have organized BILL Conference–the name, a tongue-in-cheek play on Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But while BILL Conference alludes to iconic idiots of the 1990s, the conference–rather the unconference–is anything but stupid.

“BILL is the yin to TED’s yang,” said Sam Davies, BILL Conference co-organizer. “TED is about changing the world with big ideas. BILL is about how hard it is do something small. TED finds the biggest names to talk about a subject. BILL actively seeks out people who may not have spoken before.”

The idea for BILL sprang in June when talks of bringing an independently organized TED event (TEDx) to RVA was bantered about on Twitter. Davies, however, wanted something a bit different. “Too few of us translate it’d be cool if… into here’s this cool thing I made.” Instead of a conference that merely talked about ideas, Davies wanted one that addressed the difficulty of seeing those ideas through. Someone else intrigued by the idea was Wren Lanier. What began as a novel idea on Twitter is now a bona fide conference, funded entirely by the two organizers and ticket sales. Making something concrete from the abstract is precisely what organizers of BILL Conference want to inspire.

“This is a conference about the difficulty of making your thing or the challenge of even knowing what your thing is in the first place,” said Lanier. “Bringing something into the world is astonishingly difficult and we want to hear how the sausage is made.” Davies thinks there is strength in numbers when it comes to collective motivation. “I want to surround myself with a positive feedback loop of people who challenge each other into making better and better stuff.”

But this won’t be the typical stuffy conference. This is an unconference. “I’ve been to four unconferences in Washington, DC and I love the open, participatory style,” said Lanier.

Instead of remaining a passive component, attendees openly converse with speakers. The day-long BILL Conference will offer eight time slots, each one lasting 30 minutes. In each slot, a presenter (any one of the attendees) will speak for roughly 15 minutes. Their remaining time will be used for audience members to ask questions (some slots may be Q/A sessions exclusively). Part of the appeal of the unconference format is that, by design, it remains fluid and unpredictable.

“It’s scary for us as organizers because we don’t know exactly what kind of sessions will happen or if people will want to step up, but we’re taking a leap of faith and hoping that Richmond is ready to try something new,” said Lanier. While many other conferences and TED Talks spotlight some of the world’s most famous people, BILL Conference will instead give the public a chance to share frustrations, talk about what’s proved helpful, and inspire others.

“We want attendees to get to know one another as friends–not as potential business resources–and to learn from each other,” said Lanier. “Everybody at BILL is equal, whether you’re the CEO of a large company or an unemployed student, and everyone has something worth sharing.”

BILL Conference will take place on Saturday, November 3rd from 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Building, 300 E. Franklin Street. Tickets are $18 – $20.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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