Q&A with TEDxTransmedia founder Nicoletta Iacobacci

There’s a lot of great transmedia talk and I’m interested in how we can turn that into positive action.” - Nicoletta Iacobacci

Nicoletta Iacobacci is the brains behind TEDxTransmedia and her enthusiasm for creative change has been key to helping make an international success of the conference she started in 2010. At present, the Head of Multiplatform for the European Broadcasting Union, is busy planning and organising the schedule for the 2012 conference on September 28th at the MAXXI Museum, Rome. Online Community Manager for TEDxTransmedia Hannah Wood caught up with her to find out a bit about her background and what makes TEDxTransmedia a unique experience. 

Hi Nicoletta, please introduce yourself and your background. Who are you, where are you from and what do you do? How did you become interested in Transmedia?

This is a long story so I’ll give you the brief version. I’m Italian and started as a set and costume designer who went to New York for a three-week vacation aged 20 and stayed many years working in the entertainment industry. I fell in love with ‘technology married with entertainment’ from its start and I am still in love! I now live in Switzerland and work as Head of Multiplatform at the European Broadcasting Union, which is an organisation that represents public service broadcasters in Europe and around the world. I curate events on the future of public service and facilitate innovative activities amongst public service broadcasters, looking especially at multiplatform approaches and experimentation. 

I consider my self a geek, a change maker and a disruptor who’s curious and never stops learning. I’m currently a PhD candidate in the philosophy of communication, for example. My PhD is based at the European Graduate School and I’m investigating new modes of media consumption; transmedia is an important part of that exploration and consideration. I became intrigued by transmedia when I had the opportunity to meet and cooperate with the makers of The Truth about Marika, a great example of a cross-media production in Sweden that included a TV series and Alternate Reality Game and involved people across the country in a search for a missing woman. Since then I’ve become a sort of advocate for Transmedia Storytelling. I often speak on or moderate panels and sessions on non-linear, multiplatform projects and I curate TEDxTransmedia.

What is TEDxTransmedia and what inspired you to set it up?

In the US I was a fan of the TED conferences from the start. When I returned to Europe I had the opportunity to meet one of TED team and got a closer glimpse into its activities, even though still as a fan. Then I decided to participate in my first TED Long Beach [one of the three major TED conferences] and was completely addicted. TED is like a fantastic gym session for your brain. You meet people who plot to save the world and you feel this incredible energy as part of a group that is trying to make the world better, safer and more liveable - it’s creatively inebriating. The TEDtalks bombard you with fantastic ideas and then you can follow up with the speaker in a very informal setting. The togetherness of an audience so diverse - made up of actors, scientists, writers, innovators, visionaries, billionaires, tech entrepreneurs, philanthropists and change makers - is really unique. Usually at the end of TED I have a TED-down for several days… When TED started the TEDx program [designed to give communities, organisations and individuals the opportunity to create TED-like experiences] I decided to start my own adventure with TED and the event was born. 

What makes TEDxTransmedia a unique experience?

TEDxTransmedia is not another conference on Transmedia. Today we are surrounded by events on non-linear storytelling, everyone’s got something to say. As a TED-style event it can be broader than that and I can build the programme with more freedom. I try to include people from diverse fields that may not be about transmedia entertainment - musicians, comedians and scientists, for example - and see how we can use their thinking to inspire new ideas and create a programme that is ‘outside the box.’ Transmedia is the method I use to enter in a broader conversation about change in the world. There’s a lot of great transmedia talk and I’m interested in how we can turn that into positive action. 

What has been your favourite TEDxTransmedia experience in the past two years?

There have been many; but, for sure, my most memorable was when the first event was jeopardised by the Icelandic ash cloud. The conference was supposed to happen in April and three days before it Eyjafjallajökull decided to wake up and all my speakers and most of my attendees where unable to travel. I had everything ready but no speakers and no public. All the speakers where very busy professionals, coming from all over the world - Australia, the US, Europe - and I thought we’d have to cancel. The theme was ‘DAREtoDARE’ and each speaker had a DARE in his or her talk. So I sent a mail entitled DAREtoCANCEL.. They were all extraordinary and found a common date to reschedule. The event went on and was very successful.

What is special about Rome and the MAXXI museum venue in relation to the conference? 

Rome is my home town and has a very special energy to it, bringing TED home was a dream come true. Pioneers need three typically Italian trademarks: passion, courage and magic, and Rome, throughout its history, has embodied those things. A TED event is also a good way to create excitement in the city about innovative thinking and the MAXXI is an incredible building to do it in. What strikes me most about the MAXXI Museum is that it’s been conceived as a non-linear museum, allowing you to go from one exhibit to another fluidly, without changing rooms. There’s also no firm boundary between the interior and exterior. This idea of crossing boundaries appeals to transmedia thinking. The building itself a piece of art and for me having the ability to host the conference there is a fantastic advantage and gives me great pleasure. I am very proud of the fact that MAXXI accepted to host TEDxTransmedia.

What makes a TEDxTransmedia speaker and who have you had in the past? What are some of the major topics that have been discussed?

A TEDxTransmedia speaker has to be passionate, has to be a change maker, an idealist and a risk-taker. He or she has to inspire, has to have a story to tell and an idea to share. I’ve hosted more than 40 speakers so far and it wouldn’t be right to pick anyone out specifically. What I can say is: if you think you have a great story to tell, get in touch with me…

Each year you devise a vision and theme for the conference, can you describe the 2010 DAREtoDARE and 2011 WHAT IF: Socially Responsible Media.. themes? How did they work and what was their purpose?

DAREtoDARE was a great way to launch TEDxTransmedia because it was a dare to think differently, to take risks and to challenge one another. I set 16 dares in eight hours and each speaker responded. So, for example, the editor of UK Wired magazine, David Rowan, did a talk on ‘daring to inform’ about journalists refusing to be silenced in the face of political and terrorist threat and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment Jeff Gomez dared people to ‘change’ by discussing his experience of building storyworlds. 

WHAT IF was a means to imagine how transmedia techniques could be used in other fields: transmedia for architects, publishers, educators, policy makers, activists and lawyers. Its focus was on how transmedia creates proactive communities and makes connections across generations and countries. The idea was to find ways transmedia could be used as ‘media that matters’ and help make change for social good.

You’ve announced that the 2012 theme is WEkids: Dreamers, Geeks and Mindshifters. What is it about and what’s your vision for this year?

I can’t say too much at this stage but my vision is to awaken the energy of everyone’s inner child and couple that with the fresh insights of the younger generation to re-think entertainment. Speakers of all ages will share the stage to inspire transformation and consider ways to create more engaging storytelling in the challenging current climate. I’m sending out invites to speakers now, people who have those attributes of a Dreamer, a Geek and a Mindshifter. 

Who’s invited to attend the conference? Is it open to everyone? When can people start registering and how? 

This year we want to have a diverse and committed audience and the conference will be open to everyone who fills in an application. Registration will open on June 1st.  

 What can people look forward to at TEDxTransmedia 2012?

This year’s event will be dense, with a diverse range of great speakers coming together with international transmedia professionals. My aim is to make it an unforgettable event, full of optimism, gaiety, inspiration and ideas. It’s still to early to talk specifically on what it will be… stay tuned!

Interview by Hannah Wood