What it's like to attend the TED conference, where attendees pay $10,000 to learn the next big ideas

TED talkRyan Lash/TED

  • The annual TED conference lasts for five days in Vancouver, Canada.
  • The event features a veritable who's-who of celebrities, tech moguls, and executives looking for a front-row seat to the next big idea.
  • I attended this year and got an inside look at the conference's debut technologies, luxury swag, and decadent meals.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Over the past 35 years, the TED conference has evolved from an idea-making machine to a global platform for the world's most sought-after speakers.

Recent alumni include SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, CBS News co-anchor Gayle King, tennis pro Serena Williams, former vice president Al Gore, singer John Legend, and many more.

This year's lineup is no exception, with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and comedian Hannah Gadsby making an appearance.

As the conference has grown, so too has the grandeur of the event itself. A standard ticket costs $10,000 and grants people access to indulgent meals, workshops, free gift bags, and first-time technological experiences that haven't been released to the public.

I was fortunate enough this year to attend for all five days in April. From the moment I stepped foot in the conference center in Vancouver, Canada, I was transfixed by the opulence of the venue - which has been no match for the bold ideas that the conference is bringing to life. Here's what it's like inside TED 2019.

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The TED conference is held at the Vancouver Convention Centre, a mammoth event space that hosts some 1,200 attendees.

The TED conference is held at the Vancouver Convention Centre, a mammoth event space that hosts some 1,200 attendees.

The theme of this year's conference is "Bigger Than Us," and it's focused on finding solutions to the world's greatest challenges.

Each morning at around 8:45 a.m., conference-goers file up the giant staircase.

Each morning at around 8:45 a.m., conference-goers file up the giant staircase.

Most of them head straight to the theater for the first round of talks.

This conference pass gets me anywhere I need to go.

This conference pass gets me anywhere I need to go.

The pass comes with a tracker that's connected to an app, so you can see where your fellow conference-goers are at all times. It's more helpful than creepy, since attendees can opt out of wearing it.

Most of the talks are held in the TED Theater, which feels enormous no matter where you're sitting.

Most of the talks are held in the TED Theater, which feels enormous no matter where you're sitting.

Last year, there was a line outside the door before popular sessions. This year, it wasn't hard to find a seat (though good ones filled up quickly).

Donors who shell out $25,000 for a ticket get priority seating.

Many people choose to watch from one of the various "living rooms" on the first floor.

Many people choose to watch from one of the various "living rooms" on the first floor.

One of the conference's major draws is that it provides front-row seats to prominent intellectuals and industry moguls. Some of them stick around past their talks — others don't.

One of the conference's major draws is that it provides front-row seats to prominent intellectuals and industry moguls. Some of them stick around past their talks — others don't.

Not all talks go as smoothly as the final versions released on the TED website.

Not all talks go as smoothly as the final versions released on the TED website.

Though the speakers are coached before they go on stage, there's always the inevitable hiccup or technical glitch, which is edited out before the talk is published.

Another perk is the gift bags, which are often stacked high with expensive swag.

Another perk is the gift bags, which are often stacked high with expensive swag.

This year's hot-ticket item is a pair of shoes from Vessi, which cost about $175.

This year's hot-ticket item is a pair of shoes from Vessi, which cost about $175.

Attendees lucked out last year and received a $550 piece of luggage from the luxury brand Rimowa.

The first night welcome party was packed with people, but this is what it looked like before the crowd arrived.

The first night welcome party was packed with people, but this is what it looked like before the crowd arrived.

There are multiple stations to get lattes and cappuccinos in the morning — or throughout the day.

There are multiple stations to get lattes and cappuccinos in the morning — or throughout the day.

The final round of talks doesn't end until 7 p.m., so multiple cups are a necessity.

The food is pretty delicious. The running joke this year is that TEDsters have insatiable appetites, but there's always loads left over after breakfast and lunch.

The food is pretty delicious. The running joke this year is that TEDsters have insatiable appetites, but there's always loads left over after breakfast and lunch.

What's more TED than a shot of green juice in-between talks?

What's more TED than a shot of green juice in-between talks?

I've had my fair share of free snacks. Most are pretty healthy, though.

I've had my fair share of free snacks. Most are pretty healthy, though.

There are also food trucks stationed outside, which offer selections like plant-based Buddha bowls, tacos, and macaroni and cheese.

There are also food trucks stationed outside, which offer selections like plant-based Buddha bowls, tacos, and macaroni and cheese.

As if the conference needs any more food, it's easy to find small plates scattered about.

As if the conference needs any more food, it's easy to find small plates scattered about.

The wine bar is somewhat empty, with most people preferring to grab a cocktail at one of the various hotels or restaurants in the area.

The wine bar is somewhat empty, with most people preferring to grab a cocktail at one of the various hotels or restaurants in the area.

The conference also features elaborate private dinners at various restaurants around town.

The conference also features elaborate private dinners at various restaurants around town.

On Tuesday night, every attendee was invited to choose a themed dinner. There were many options, but I selected the one on climate change.

All that eating and drinking necessitates some group fitness.

All that eating and drinking necessitates some group fitness.

Attendees can sweat it out at Thai Chi or HIIT classes — but you'll have to get up early.

There's also a yoga break after the first morning session.

There's also a yoga break after the first morning session.

The conference features a number of immersive experiences, like these pollution pods, which simulate the air quality in major cities.

The conference features a number of immersive experiences, like these pollution pods, which simulate the air quality in major cities.

Or this craft station, which is a popular gathering space.

Or this craft station, which is a popular gathering space.

These interactive devices ask TEDsters to answer big questions, like whether they trust data over intuition.

These interactive devices ask TEDsters to answer big questions, like whether they trust data over intuition.

There are three stationed throughout the conference.

The conference can feel pretty chaotic at times, but there are multiple booths and work stations to steal some much-needed quiet.

The conference can feel pretty chaotic at times, but there are multiple booths and work stations to steal some much-needed quiet.

The Under the Stars lounge plays relaxing music to make you feel like you're in a tranquil garden.

The Under the Stars lounge plays relaxing music to make you feel like you're in a tranquil garden.

TEDsters can move the constellations on the ceiling by waving a wand.

The photo station is one of the first things you see when you enter the main level.

The photo station is one of the first things you see when you enter the main level.

Attendees have been having a little too much fun taking pictures.

Some have had their portrait taken while sharing a "big idea" that's worth spreading.

Some have had their portrait taken while sharing a "big idea" that's worth spreading.

The first floor is filled with booths offering food or drink samples. One station even allows people to make their own face oil.

The first floor is filled with booths offering food or drink samples. One station even allows people to make their own face oil.

Massages are available at all times, which is a god-send for reporters hunched over our laptops all day.

Massages are available at all times, which is a god-send for reporters hunched over our laptops all day.

On Wednesday, TEDsters geeked out over a competition to create your own "sh--ty robot."

On Wednesday, TEDsters geeked out over a competition to create your own "sh--ty robot."

By far the biggest attraction this year is the Holodome, a simulation machine envisioned by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

By far the biggest attraction this year is the Holodome, a simulation machine envisioned by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The device offers three virtual experiences: a climb atop Mount Everest, a peek inside paintings by Claude Monet, and a frightening journey into the center of a black hole.

The device offers three virtual experiences: a climb atop Mount Everest, a peek inside paintings by Claude Monet, and a frightening journey into the center of a black hole.

That's me on the left, transfixed by the simulation. It's a feeling I've grown accustomed to being here at TED.

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