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What to expect at TEDActive 2013? A banter-filled Q&A with hosts Kelly Stoetzel and Rives

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How does one describe TEDActive? If TED in Long Beach is like a really great book, then TEDActive is the same story told in brightly colored, pop-up form — with streamers and confetti. Centered around a simulcast of the TED Conference, TEDActive adds on new dimensions with participants hiking, creating, interacting, biking, making and, of course, dancing. The experience is hands-on and social — a cocktail of 700 movers and shakers from across the globe.

The warm, vibrant TEDActive experience is, at least in part, created by hosts Kelly Stoetzel and Rives — who make an effort to get to know each and every participant. Below, the pair chat Interview magazine-style about the changes they’re looking forward to at TEDActive 2013, themed “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.”

Rives: It is time for our end-of-year/pre-TEDActive debriefing call. I thought we would do a little Q&A. I’ll do some Q’s and I’m looking for some A’s.

Kelly: I might throw in a Q or two too!

Rives: Fair enough! Let’s do this like a nice, official, grown-up journalist. Let’s do who-what-when-where-how. Let’s start with the ‘where,’ because that’s the big news. We’re moving.

Kelly: That is the big news. We’ve moved down the road just a bit. It’s still greater Palm Springs but it’s at the La Quinta Resort, in the town of La Quinta. It’s beautiful. You might remember that last year we had a party there on one of the evenings that was outdoors with that great band, Las Cafeteras. But, you didn’t get a chance to fully explore the property then. It’s big with a lot of grass. An old California-style venue. I think it makes us really think about what we can do differently as we put the conference together.

Rives: What are you most excited about?

Kelly: Really, I’m excited about what that property enables us to do. We’re going to be able to have lots of different layers of stuff happening at once, but not all right on top of each other. If you want to sit down and have a quiet conversation with someone, there’s space for that. If you want to collaborate and work through an idea together, there’s a space for that. And if you want to swim, there’s a space for that!

Rives: I do want to swim!

Kelly: Or play music. With more space, there’s a lot more that we can layer on top of the whole event. We can give a lot of choices without it feeling cluttered.

Rives: Nice. So, let’s do the ‘who.’ Who is coming to this desert oasis?

Kelly: You are going to be so excited about all the people coming!  Lots of friends — lots of familiar faces. The mix that we like to have is about half veterans and half newbies.

Rives: This is a more or less carefully calibrated formula to get people acclimated. Anyone who is a veteran of TEDActive knows how easy it is to meet people. So when we do that half-virgin, half-veteran thing, by the end of day zero — definitely by the end of day one — nobody’s a rookie anymore.

Kelly: Oh, that’s true for sure. You know, another interesting thing that I’m eager to figure out … Two years ago, we had 30 different countries represented, and last year we had 42 or 43 countries. This year, as I’ve seen the registration coming in, it’s been heavily, heavily international. I’m really excited to see how many different countries and cultures we have represented.

Rives: Let’s do a little question for people that haven’t been to Active before. The mix of people is what makes TEDActive active. There’s no typical Active-goer, but do you want to describe the vibe?

Kelly: There are so many different cultures, so many different types of people, so many different ages, so many different fields of work and study. That creates this amazing level playing field. Everyone there, the thing that unites them, is that they are really excited to connect around ideas. That starts happening from the moment that people step on the property. There’s this warmth and openness and curiosity among everyone. It’s exciting to be a part of.

Rives: What I’ve always liked about Active is that you literally can go up and talk to anybody. That is probably the most important part of the TEDActive culture. As a newcomer, you aren’t going to be left in a corner at a party. Like it or not, the person sitting next to you — possibly in a beanbag chair — during the sessions is going to lean over and not just start talking with you, but engage you in a conversation. I can say this on the record: at every TEDActive, I have met somebody who changed my life. I’m not talking in a big grandiose kind of way — not marrying someone new who I’ve met every year. But literally, my life would be different if I hadn’t met that person. Do you get that same feeling?

Kelly: That has definitely happened to me every single year. Just going up to someone and asking what their story is — that’s how I’ve met people that have changed my life. That’s where the magic happens.

Rives: A little caveat to any TEDActive virgin: one of us — you or me or possibly both of us in tandem — will roll up on you and ask you something. We try to meet everybody by the end of the conference.

Kelly: Yeah! We always try to meet everybody. Unless they are hiding.

Rives: So we’ve got the ‘where’ and we’ve got the ‘who’ — let’s do the ‘what.’ What are we going to do at TEDActive?

Kelly: I’ll tell you, but I’m not going to tell you everything because we like surprise. We’re going to take over the property and use it like a campus. We’re creating a hub around the main theater room. Then there will be another room we’re calling “The Lab,” where there will be lots of hands-on exhibits and also more simulcast seating — some great seating pods and workshops and things happening in there. We’re also building out the parking lot and creating a TEDActive world that’s going to be the center of everything. We are taking over a bunch of houses and have special things going on in them throughout the day, too. And there are a couple of big pools, too.

Rives: These are those badass cabanas that I saw?

Kelly: Yes. They are great.

Rives: And, of course, we’re watching every session live.

Kelly: Yes. We are going to watch every session like they do in Long Beach. And we’ll also have some speakers of our own. We are even going to set up a speaker’s corner like in Hyde Park — a place where anybody who wants to prepare a talk can go and give it to anybody who’s sitting around. All the time — during breaks and stuff.

Rives: When the sessions are over — when we sign off from Long Beach, or Long Beach signs off from us — then what happens? At night?

Kelly: Before the event starts, we’ve got a party that’s going to be lots of little groups grilling around the property and then meeting up for some music after that.

Rives: We’re grilling? We’re barbecuing?

Kelly: Yeah!

Rives: Nice.

Kelly: And then we’ve got different parties happening each night, with shuttles to take us into town. There are some surprises. And then of course, we’re going to have our famous last night party that is always the extra special evening.

Rives: Let’s see. We did ‘where,’ ‘who,’ and ‘what.’ Let’s do ‘when!’ Just so that folks know what to wear. I think it’s a surprise for people coming from other places to sunny California to note that it is freaking cold at night in Palm Springs!

Kelly: Yeah, it can get cold. Last year, when we had that party, it was windy. You’ve got to be prepared for anything with weather. The key is layering, because it could be 80 Fahrenheit during the day and 45 Fahrenheit during the evening.

Rives: It’s the high desert. I’ve gone swimming every single day of TEDActive. But you could also wear the coat that you thought you didn’t need when you came here from New York or Boston or wherever. If you’re not going to wear it, someone’s going to want to wrap it around their shoulders.

Kelly: The good news is, La Quinta is right up against the mountains. Knock on wood against rain — I’m feeling pretty optimistic.

Rives: I think it’s time for ‘how.’ Let’s go over the particulars.

Kelly: People can either fly into Los Angeles or Palm Springs. We’re going to give you transportation information and make arrangements with a shuttle to keep the cost down. It’s further from the airport than the Riviera [where we were last year].

Rives: On that note, this year, you’re going to want to stay at La Quinta. Before, if you didn’t have a room at the Riviera, you could stay in downtown Palm Springs. But La Quinta is out there and you’re going to want to stay on site.

Kelly: Because we have so much going on around the property, it just makes it easier to participate in all of it if you’re also staying there.

Rives: And let’s see — ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ ‘where.’ How about just ‘why?’ Why, why why?

Kelly: Because it rocks!

Rives: I can’t hear you, Kel.

Kelly: Because it ROCKS!

Rives: So, speaking of secrets, what are you excited about when it comes to TED at Long Beach. What’s going on with The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.?

Kelly: I’m excited about so much. For one thing, I’m excited about the speaker program. We did events in 14 countries to find a good portion of the speaker program — almost half of it. It was really ambitious and I feel really excited and proud of it too. Let me just say, we found some really exciting speakers that way. The rest of the program outside of that is more of “The Wise,” though there are some “Young” and “Undiscovered” too. I’m just really excited about the program.

Also, I’ve been so excited about this TEDActive move. There are a lot of things that we have been dreaming of that we haven’t been able to do because we were limited on space. We’ve have so many new ideas that we can bring into the mix. It’s going to appeal to lots of different types of people.

Rives: Got it. So you want to wrap it up then? Should we do our closing statements? I think the Senator from Pennsylvania should go first.

Kelly: I really think — all in all — this is going to be our best year yet. It’s going to have a really nice feel because we’re all trying it in this new place for the first time together, and that’s something special. I just can’t wait for the end of February to get here. I hope that for those of you who are coming, you all feel the same way too. For those of you who are not, maybe you should join us.

Rives: Wow, well, I can’t do any better than that, so that’s it.

Kelly: Of course you can!

Rives: Well, my closing statement would be: I agree with Kelly. We’ve been slowly hitting our stride and last year we surpassed it. The welcoming vibe was so strong. I mean, just being able to hang out for those 4, 5, 6 days with this astounding tribe of people who are willing to download their passions makes it a benchmark of gratitude for me through the year. I can’t wait to get back to it.