How Madeleine Sava Uses What She Learned At TED To Create Memorable Workshops At Dribbble
Madeleine Sava has always had an interest in human behavior. With a degree in Anthropology from Oxford, she views the world through people and relationships. A multi-hyphenate creative, she’s also been running her own illustration business since 2017, using simple black and white drawings to express very human experiences of “pain, love, embarrassment, fragility, and disappointment.”
Even though events may seem like a natural fit for someone who so evidently thrives on relationships and connections, she took a meandering path to get there. She began a career in management consulting, but quickly realized it didn’t fulfill her creatively. She pivoted to TV production, moved halfway around the world, and eventually landed a job at TED. Today, she oversees educational workshops at Dribbble.
I sat down with Madeleine to discover how her unique background influences her work, what she learned about event production working at TED, and how her perspective as an illustrator helps her curate events for other creatives.
Jena: You have a really interesting educational background, having studied Anthropology. How does your degree influence the way you think about events?
Madeleine: Studying Anthropology allowed me to approach events from a very humanistic standpoint—the people who are attending them and the stories they might bring to events. It might sound simple, but it just gave me an understanding of how big the world really is.
Even if there wasn't a direct link from my Anthropology degree to my career in events, I think there are foundational reasons why I was drawn to both. Wanting to find connections between people, to bring people together, and to share knowledge were all traits that were exercised through my degree and now through my career in events.
Anthropology gave me more understanding and empathy for people in general—people’s stories, their amazing multifaceted personalities, the way they move through the world, and the reasons why they move through the world the way they do. The way I think about events, they’re a way to connect people with different backgrounds and experiences—especially now in this virtual age, where you can have attendees from so many parts of the world. I see events as a bridge.
Jena: Some of your earliest production experience is on British TV morning shows. How does producing events differ from live TV?
Madeleine: Working on TV morning shows, it was all very instant. You were chatting to the guests maybe a week before, creating the script. There was no marketing of specific episodes because people were tuning in to the show at the same time every day. And there was no aftercare of the people who watched your show or thinking about ways to keep them engaged after the episode aired.
Jena: What did you learn about events working at TED?
Madeleine: It was really exciting to be at TED because it’s at the forefront of its industry in events. It’s such a recognizable name and it’s one that people have a personal connection to. Thousands of people attend TED’s live events and many more watch online. Our in-person attendees can be really high profile, with tickets going for a minimum of ten grand. So it needs to be a really slick, five-star experience.
Working at TED was very eye-opening, just on an operational level. We started planning our events a year in advance. A lot of it happens in spreadsheets—there’s a ton of processes to keep track of staff and what time different things should be done. With such a massive organization, there are so many different people and departments, all working together. I think the main thing I learned was how much you need to think about what happens way before the event to way after. That's the piece that was missing when I worked in TV—you don’t have that perspective because your content is changing all the time.
But with events, you've got to think about your attendee’s persona and their journey far in advance. Who's coming, what’s your messaging to them, how you’re going to reach out to them, what voice and tone you’re going to use—your communication leading up to the event needs to give them a feel of what to expect. Your event isn’t just one day or one week. It needs to filter into everything that comes before and after.
Your event isn’t just one day or one week. It needs to filter into everything that comes before and after.
You also have to think about the aftercare—the support and continued inspiration you leave an attendee with who comes to the event. How are you going to keep up the fire and inspiration around what they just learned? Especially with TED events, because the whole premise is about changing the way you think. You need to give them support, so they can take what they’ve learned and go out and change the world.
Jena: Does your time at TED influence the way you plan events now?
Madeleine: Absolutely. Being at TED, we had such high-touch relationships with everyone we were in contact with—from speakers to vendors to attendees. I think that’s something that I carry into my work now, in the way I speak to people and contact facilitators. I want to give them a great experience before and after the event.
The way I think about the attendee journey is also influenced by my time at TED. I want to give Dribbble attendees a really memorable experience that isn’t just a flash in the pan. You go to an event and it’s like, ‘okay, how am I going to implement these skills after?’ I want to give them something they can come back to and continue to put into practice.
Jena: What does a “jaw-dropping experience” mean to you? How is that embodied in your work at Dribbble?
Madeleine: I think jaw-dropping events are the ones that go way beyond just the live event and stay with you—the ones you still think about years later. And you get a feeling or you are still inspired, or you are still able to remember a quote that somebody said. The live portion of a jaw-dropping event is the smallest portion of the whole experience.
Jaw-dropping events are the ones that go way beyond just the live event and stay with you—the ones you still think about years later.
If we’re talking about Dribbble workshops, in particular, I think the jaw-dropping aspect is the fact that you get a behind-the-curtain look at world class designers’ creative processes. You get to see firsthand how they created the logos they made for Nike or how they designed the Slack web app. That kind of first-person knowledge goes so much deeper than you could get from a YouTube video or Instagram Live.
The jaw-dropping aspect comes from the interaction and closeness that you have with our facilitators. The fact that you're creating something alongside them, being able to ask your questions, and sharing your work with them to get real-time feedback. It’s that access that makes it so jaw-dropping.
Jena: Do you bring a different perspective to Dribbble’s events, being an illustrator yourself?
Madeleine: It’s funny, because I remember having my interview and saying that I would come to these events, if I wasn't working here. I think it does give me a unique perspective, being both the target audience and the person in charge of producing the events. Circling back to the anthropological piece, it just helps me have understanding and empathy for my audience. I have a lot of the same excitement around our events that our attendees do.
Dribbble is very focused on UX/UI design, product design, and stuff like that. But we do a few like freelancing and illustration workshops, which are a lot more in line with my skill set. And I get to learn alongside the attendees, which is cool.
Jena: One last question: What’s your favorite event you’ve ever attended?
It has to be the 2012 London Olympics. It was just another level of jaw-dropping. Part of that is the amazing athletes—I got to see Usain Bolt race in the 100 meters and I still remember the energy in the stadium. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. And London was so unified and vibrant and electric during that time. Everyone was really joyful.
I also remember my whole family being there, which is just such a special memory. I wasn’t living in London at the time—I came down from Oxford and was staying on my brother's sofa. And even remembering the nights that we had in his apartment, and everything we did outside. I just had the time of my life for those two weeks. And that goes to show that events aren’t just about the event—they’re everything beyond it as well.
Events aren’t just about the event—they’re everything beyond it as well.
Not only did I get to have this incredible experience but I also got to experience it with the people I love. And I know when they think about the 2012 Olympics, they're thinking about experiencing it with me as well. We were creating memories together.