TEDxBuffalo – Alexandra Opiel Organizer

In Curating, Organizing by Mark Sylvester


The Hack:
Keep a good file system of all past press releases, speaker letters, proposals, and documents to save you reinventing them each year.

Alexandra Opiel started at TEDxBuffalo as a volunteer, eventually replacing the original license holder and has run the event for the past three years. By days she's a project manager for a local Buffalo real estate development company, which is a perfect skill set to bring to the role of a TEDx Organizer. She naturally seeks out more responsibility, and it was this attitude that led her into the leadership position. I asked her how she is on the day of the event, she says, "A chilled panic."

Alex explains that they go about selecting a theme a bit different than I've heard from other organizers. They start by finding speakers, then once they have a full slate, they determine what the theme might be. They've had Perspectives, and Ignite as themes that have come out of this process. She says that they look for a vague term that is inspiring and lends itself to a cool logo yet doesn't lock them into a corner.

The TEDXBuffalo event is under 600 people, and they've found a great venue that allows them to have a more significant event than their old location which only held 100 attendees. One of the things that they do differently is to hold the event on a weeknight instead of a whole day, then follow it with a great after party.

I love that they have food trucks at the event to feed people during the break. The event starts around dinner time, and a Buffalo favorite is Pirogi's and BBQ and Vegan offerings. The food trucks allow people to buy what they want, and how much they want, so there's no waste. And doesn't add to the TEDxBuffalo budget.

They've been able to produce the entire event for under $10K, and keep ticket prices to $20. This puts a challenge on the team to come up with a low budget way to create experiences. She says that it helps to have the event on a Thursday evening, which keeps costs down as well.

She's surprised at how big the TEDx world is. Her experience at TEDxBuffalo, which focuses exclusively on Buffalo ideas, people, and food, had her thinking that TEDx was just limited to her city. This perspective changed dramatically when she went to TEDFest in 2017 and saw how vast the world of TEDx really is and how different everyone's events are, while still falling under the umbrella of Ideas Worth Spreading. TEDFest also opened her eyes to resources like the Hub and the TEDx organizers Facebook page.

Originally recorded March, 2018

The lead organizer is like a quarterback, if it goes well, you get the glory, if not, you have to explain it to everyone." Alex Opiel, TEDxBuffalo Organizer

This shot from the 2018 Hacker Dinners was held in conjunction with TEDFest. We spoke about it during the podcast. You can see many Organizers and past guest from the show. Alex is just to my right.  Thanks for everyone who joined us that evening in Brooklyn.

The Lightning Round

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

    She started watching TED talks in College, then attended TEDxBuffalo. Eventually, she became a volunteer and took over the leadership and license from the original organizer three years ago.

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

    She's been to all the TEDxBuffalo events and ventured out to the first TEDFest in Brooklyn in 2017 and had her eyes opened to how vast the TEDx universe is.

  • What makes your TEDx unique?

    Doing an event in the middle of the week is something that the audience appreciates. They work all day and attend an evening event with 6 speakers. It doesn't overwhelm the audience and gives them a great excuse to enjoy an event that's unlike any other in Buffalo.

  • What’s your Superpower?

    Organizing and Curating

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

    How widespread the TEDx universe is.

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

    Sponsorship. Buffalo is a small city with a limited number of businesses that can support their event. They raise $5K from sponsors.

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

    Go to other TEDx events and follow other TEDx events on Facebook.

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

    They're looking to create a unique vibe in their new venue - a refurbished church. Buffalo is a rust belt city, and they see TEDx as a way to have an event focused on creativity and ideas. We've made a name for ourselves and people respect us and the event. People want to help us with our Mission.

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

    TEDxSydney or some of the other large events.

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

    Keep an excellent repository of past documents. This includes everything that you'll need for sponsors, speakers, team members. This saves a lot of time for following years.

Featured Episodes


TEDxUCLouvain – Creating an Experience in spite of COVID

Finding ways to be creative and stay connected to your TEDx Community during these challenging times of sequestering and dealing with a global pandemic can test even the most creative Organizers.

Lara Stein – Founder of TEDx

On the first day of TED2019 in Vancouver, Randy Bretz, TEDxLincoln, Emeritus, and I were honored to interview the founder of TEDx, Lara Stein.

TEDxSydney – Remo Giuffre – Organizer

Remo Giuffre, the original licensee of TEDxSydney, has the envious position of curating one of the most widely respected TEDx events in the world.