Even experienced trailblazers can have trouble cutting through the brush.
BIL has been in business for six years, producing unconference answers to TED at Long Beach, San Francisco, and now around the world.
Once the last words of TED had been spoken, at the convention centre, and at the parties that bloomed in its wake, chairs unfolded and the microphone was turned on for the participants of Vancouver's first BIL.
From 10am each morning until 6pm, speakers from all walks of life took to the stages of BIL and spoke to each other about what mattered most to them. The venue offered a fair balance of perks and tradeoffs; while there was definitely enough space for attendees to mingle and chat, the acoustics of the main hall meant that any conversation that went above an excited whisper was an impediment to the current presentation on stage. The lack of natural light lead to a timelessness that both fostered intimacy and distorted time.
Most speakers who were anticipated to attend did, in fact, follow through. More thrilling still were the attendees who got on board with relatively short notice. One of the highlights of Saturday was a visit from musicians Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley and author Neil Gaiman, who had participated at TED in the days prior. To fans of either who had attended Amanda Palmer's ninja concert on Friday night, it was a delight to see them follow through on their pledge of support. Both of them delivered their talks to a full house, and a ukulele that Palmer signed won over five hundred dollars at auction in support of next year's event.
As a host, Vancouver provided some of its best and brightest thinkers, technologists and entrepreneurs: the opening speech by Renewal Funds Chairman Joel Solomon served as a call-to-arms for ethical finance, UBC professor Marina Adshade dismantled a memetic video on the economics of sex, and both Jonathan Tippett and Alex Chuang delivered well-received speeches on their areas of expertise. Other Vancouver-based speakers included Decentralized Dance Party founder Gary Lachance and 3D printing advocate John Biehler, whose 3D printing stand was well-attended on both days.
BIL Vancouver attracted some incredible thinkers from outside the region, too. Toronto's Ariel Garten, creator of the Project Muse headband and Seattle's Michael Laine, President of LiftPort Group won loud applause, as did geneticist entrepreneur Cosmo Mielke, though he was beset by mic troubles.
Considering the event was organized (as much as unconferences are organized) primarily by three Americans with little knowledge of the city, it should be considered a great success. Bradley Shende, who was the main Vancouver coordinator, is anticipated to remain involved. BIL 2015 has been confirmed. By end of day on Sunday, both he and Michael Cummings, the founder of BIL, were as thoughtful as the speakers they had hosted.
“People come to Vancouver for a reason. I've been here for twenty years, but what was amazing to me was that among the 30 volunteers that we had, I hadn't met eighty percent of them. And there were about a dozen people among them who I can see becoming my friends for a long time. Sometimes it's hard to know that you have a community until you call on them. People are perceived to be unfriendly in Vancouver—maybe it's because the architecture is built facing away from each other, to the beauty of the sea and the mountains, and we just need to look at each other to get back to that. Maybe that's the mistake, that we're not paying attention to the people next to us.”
“Now it's over, now it's done: how do we level off and bring back the energy? I didn't know what to expect,” Michael Cummings admits. “I'm happy with what happened. Very happy with what happened. Every person thinks of BIL as something a little bit different. When we started with BIL, we said 'it means what you want it to mean', and so everyone has defined it in their own way. I want people to keep doing that. We'll see where it goes.”
The speeches from BIL will be connected to the official YouTube channel as they are edited.