Mark Sylvester, Co-Organizer, TEDxSantaBarbara, Host, Hacking The Red Circle Podcast

In Producing by Mark Sylvester

The Hack:
Stand at the front door of your event and personally welcome everyone.


In this special episode, recorded in September 2018 right after TEDxSantaBarbara, Mark Sylvester (me), the host of Hacking the Red Circle, is interviewed by TEDxLincoln's Randy Bretz and TEDxLaçador's Ana Goelzer. This podcast is the first time I've told my own TED story. I'm hoping it will give you a glimpse into how I think about our event.

Randy and Ana take a deep-dive into my motivations for producing a TEDx event here in Santa Barbara, since 2010. TEDxSantaBarbara has evolved over the years, and we've expanded into Youth, Live and in 2019, Salon and Adventure events. My involvement has become more focused on the outcomes associated with a finely curated slate of speakers each year and stunning production design.

We got into a great discussion about how to turn the theme influences everything starting with set design, graphic design, web design, communications strategy and most importantly the curation of the speakers.

This small plate influenced the entire graphic design of the show I found in Brooklyn at TEDFest 2018. Seen on the right. For the first time, I also produced a podcast to go behind the scenes of the show, from the graphic design to selecting speakers, to talking about what it means to be a volunteer. This short-series of shows, called Behind the Scenes, was designed specifically to bring the community closer to the core team and give them an inside look at the event.

I got into a discussion about our philosophy on speaker selection, and how we brought back three of our past speakers to give the audience an update on where their idea has traveled since initially presenting it in Santa Barbara. This year we focused on the impact of ideas on our community, something I learned from several of the podcast interviews I've done with other organizers. It had a profound effect on so much of what we did.

Something unique about TEDxSantaBarbara is the amount of speaker training we provide. On average, each speaker has 40+ hours of one-on-one, group and stage training from our coaching team lead by my wife and co-organizer, Kymberlee Weil. She's fine-tuned the process with her team and spends as much time as needed to be sure each speaker has everything necessary to give the talk of their lives.

Randy took me on another journey into the motivation for creating this show. I spoke at length about the show has become a Master Class for me as I work on being the best organizer I can. TEDxSantaBarbara has become a laboratory for me to implement ideas I hear from these interviews.

Ana wanted to know more about my journey to Red Circle and what it was like preparing for my TED talk at TEDxFargo. What a trek — shoutout to Greg Tehven, the organizer, for inviting me and creating one of the most respected TEDx events in the country. As much experience as I have with TED, it was not until I got the tap on the shoulder to walk onto the stage in front of 4,000 people that what we, as organizers, do and why we do it became instantly real to me.

The theme of your event is a cohesive, binding agent. The golden thread that weaves itself through the day." Mark Sylvester, TEDxSantaBarbara

The Lightning Round

  • Tell us a bit about your background and your TEDx origin story.

    I have been attending TED for over 25 years, starting in Monterey, then to Long Beach and Vancouver. I outline the story of getting to TED the first time in the show.

  • How many TEDx events have you worked with or produced?

    Since 2010 we've produced six main events, one Youth, two Live simulcasts. I've been the executive coach to TEDxCalPoly, TEDxLongBeach, TEDxYoungstown, and work with organizers helping them to build teams that can produce amazing events.

  • What makes your TEDx unique?

    Our focus on creating a premium brand event that helps give our community a sense of what attending a TED branded event is all about. We pay attention to every detail and continually challenge ourselves each year to make it better in every aspect.

  • What’s your Superpower?


  • What was the biggest surprise while working on your event?

    How much influence doing this podcast has had on the success of our event. Little things that make a big difference have been seamlessly incorporated into the show.

  • Every event has its challenges, what was the biggest dragon you had to overcome?

    Like many other organizers, it's raising money and keeping sponsors year over year.

  • What’s one piece of advice you have for veteran organizers? For first-timers?

    Honestly, go back and listen to each episode of this podcast. There is so much collective wisdom in these conversations. I learn each week - for newcomers, start at the beginning with Randy Bretz.

  • Looking forward to your next event, what excites you the most?

    As of the time of the posting of this episode, our 2018 event is done, and we received a 91 on our NPS score, which really excited all of us. So, for 2019, we're looking forward to our first series of Salons, another event at the New Vic and working with the TEDxSantaBarbaraYouth team's event in March of 2020.

  • What’s a TEDx event that you’d like to attend?

    Like others on the show, I'd love the excuse to get back to Australia and attend TEDxSydney. I'd love to go to every TEDx that's been featured on the show.

  • The show is called Hacking the Red Circle, so what's your best hack?

    Stand at the door of your event and personally welcome everyone. Thanks to TEDxAmsterdam for this hack that continues to live throughout the TEDx universe.

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