The Other TED 

While TEDTalks focuses on the big idea, the Bill Conference looks to get things done.

click to enlarge Wren Lanier and Sam Davies say the name of their Bill Conference came from a joke after plans for TEDxRVA were announced. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Wren Lanier and Sam Davies say the name of their Bill Conference came from a joke after plans for TEDxRVA were announced.

If last month's TEDxRVA was a hyper-organized, glitzy showcase of local and national luminaries, organizers of the Bill Conference aspire for the opposite.

Rather than asking participants to sit tight to hear to a who's who of speakers curated to inspire, Bill is dubbed an unconference, with no agenda and a stage open to all. Uniting under the slogan, "Ideas are easy, making things is hard," organizers Wren Lanier and Sam Davies ask participants to come prepared to talk about things they've done and what it took to make it happen.

"I think our goal is to help discover and develop local speaking talent and people who are doing amazing things and they're just sort of invisible, and they're not in the pages of Style Weekly … or whatever." says Lanier, a freelance web designer. "We wanted to create this platform to speak about the amazing things that they're doing."

While their tagline may read as a dig at TED and the sometimes-corny and head-scratching inspirational tropes associated with the brand — "How do you professionalize that?" and "belief system of intentionality" were among phrases uttered at Richmond's conference — Lanier and Davies say they don't intend Bill as the anti-TED. They view the events as complementary.

"I see TED as the yen to our yang," says Davies, a director of clinical technology for a health care company. "TED is about big ideas, inspiration, about changing the world — which are all great things. Our conference is about small things. Getting stuff done."

Lanier adds: "We're not going to say, 'We'll show you the smartest, the brightest, the most talented, the leaders' — we're more like, 'Hey, we all want to be smart and talented and leaders and recognized for the work we do so let's all get together in a room together and talk about that.'"

The name is a play on the 1989 film "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," inspired by a joking exchange on Twitter after TEDxRVA launched.

A Bill conference in November drew about 30 people. About a third spoke on such topics as how podcasts are made, tips on working with the elderly and dealing with the inevitability of death.

The half-day event is April 6. Unlike TEDxRVA, for which attendees must fill out applications that includes essay questions, the only barriers to Bill are the ability to type in a web address, billconference.com, and pay about $12.50 for a ticket.

Lanier and Davies have no idea what topics will be addressed, because it depends on who comes and what they have to say. But they promise not to let it get boring and expect the audience to help direct the conversation.

"Everybody who comes is expected to listen actively, ask questions and snark about it on Twitter," Davies says.

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