Rhode Island Profile: Peter Haas

How did you get involved in TEDx?

I’m a TED fellow – I became one because of my work in international development. And back then, one of the requirements of being a TED fellow was that you host a TEDx event.

You’ve done that for all six years now?


What’s the most rewarding part?

For me it’s exciting to get to meet the speakers and learn about what they’ve gone through.

2017 © Cat Laine.

2017 © Cat Laine.

What’s exciting about this year?

This year we have a line-up of speakers that’s tremendous. We did, to my mind, a great job with curation. We got to work with a lot of the speakers on their early talks, and I’m very excited about the content that’s coming out. No spoilers. But I can say it’s going to be a great day.

This year for the VETS we are going to have a recording production quality we haven’t had in previous years, better lighting etc. We are really hoping to have some talks that have large appeal and mass traction.

We have people talking about things as disparate as artificial intelligence, people entertaining themselves in space and immigration. Talks that impact past, present and future. Where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going.

You rehearse with the speakers — tell us about that process.

Occasionally there’s a speaker we can’t do this with because of travel or other issues, but we try to get every speaker on stage in front of us before their presentation and we give some pretty thorough feedback. This year, most of the speakers have given their talks to us at least two or three times, and we have another rehearsal coming up.

TED talks are “ideas woth sharing.” How is the sharing going for Providence talks?

We have had a combined 1.4 million views for the TEDx Providence talks. So it’s getting out there. And there are some talks that really have not gotten as many views as they deserve. I recommend people go to the website and go through the YouTube list of talks – there are some gems in there.

One talk by Dr. Alyson McGregor got selected to be on TED.com [the primary site for the international organization that sponsors TEDx], on emergency medicine and the difference between genders in how it’s researched, and the bias that leads to the data used to make decisions.

All events have backstage disaster stories – things that went wrong but the audience never picked up on. Do you have any good ones?

We have some frontstage disaster stories. We learned early on things like not having earrings that dangle when you have mics that come across people’s cheeks. We had a speaker try to upload a new set of slides the day of the event, and then not really have the proper slides in order when they were giving their talk.

So we’ve tried to develop as many processes as we can to get it to go smoothly, which is a challenge as an all-volunteer organization. We aren’t doing this year-round, so inevitably each time something does happen and we roll with the flow.

One of your speakers is Sheldon Whitehouse. TEDx is usually a bully pulpit for people you don’t hear from all the time anyway – he stands out in that line-up.

He is talking about something non-political. Our feeling is that he has a message about climate change that could resonate nationally. We felt it was appropriate to put him on stage to talk about that issue.

What’s the VETS going to add to the event?

More seats is a big thing. In past years we’ve sold out, and we haven’t been able to give as many tickets as we wanted to community organizations … This year we have ticket drives with WPRI and BRU (until recently) and the RI Foundation and community organizations. We are not going to fill the VETS this year, but it’s the closest fit we could find for what we’re trying to do. We did fill the Columbus [last year], which was a great venue. This year we want people to be able to walk up to the door and buy a ticket if they want to.

How important are the conversations around the event?

We schedule pretty long breaks so that people can have intersections and conversations. People talking about the talks is just as important as people seeing the talks.

Any last suggestions?

If you want a seat with a great view, it’s all assigned seating so get a ticket early.

Shout outs to Michael, Caroline and Jim. They are the team. Day of, we have a cohort of volunteers who come in, and I’m extremely grateful to them for spending the day.

We are going to have some tech demos taking place – we’ll have a virtual reality space. No tech demos on stage – we focused on performances. We’re going to have some great performances.

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