From Intern to Influencer: Ella Dawson on Giving Her Own TED Talk at 23

In the fall of 2014, Ella Dawson started as an intern at TED. In just two years, she’s taken over the role of Social Media Manager and she’s given her own TEDx talk. The 24-year-old is gaining fame as an outspoken advocate and social media maven. Want to flip that internship into influence? Here’s Ella’s story.

You started at TED as an intern. How did you turn that into a full-time job?

It was my first job out of college that had potential, so I made it very clear that it was my priority. I was excited to be there every day and I was very grateful. I knew that staffers had gotten hired through internships in the past, so it was a possibility, but not a promise, by any means.

I was actually commuting to the NYC offices from Connecticut, so it took a lot of effort for me to get there, but I made sure to always be on time even though I was traveling an hour (or more) each way! I never complained; I ran with whatever they gave me.

What advice do you have for other interns?

Find ways to make yourself valuable and pay attention. I never took the opportunity for granted.

What was your first day as a Social Media Manager like?

I had already been doing a lot of my tasks as my internship wrapped up and it became clear that I was staying on board. It was very nice to feel recognized, especially as I was so young when I came on full-time. It was a huge compliment to be a staffer, as opposed to an intern, and it gave me a lot of confidence to settle in and be myself. Plus, I’ve got fancy business cards and there’s nothing more validating than very cool branded business cards

Totally. How did it feel to get your first paycheck?

OMG, it felt amazing!! I had been paid pretty well as an intern but it made me feel very adult to have a proper paycheck. It puts a lot of trust in you when a company puts you on salary and allows you to work the amount of hours that makes sense for you to fulfill your responsibility. I was like, “I’ve made it!”

What’s the hardest part of your job?

I moderate a lot of Facebook comments. At TED, we take it pretty seriously. We are sharing talks and idea articles, so we see it as our responsibility to own those comments. We share content on a lot of topics that are sensitive. We have talks on Muslim culture, global issues, war, business and things that people have very strong opinions about. Especially feminism. Anything that’s about feminism is a nightmare for us to moderate. It can be really challenging to read those comments and be thoughtful about what I disagree with but still be respectful.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?

I love being in contact with such brilliant, passionate people, both with my direct coworkers and with the speakers. I am really lucky to work for a company that values individuality in its staffers and a company that is kind. It’s very much a family, and as an environment, there’s an expectation that you are a human outside of the office, so there’s a lot of support for personal projects and really amazing benefits. People take paternity leave at TED! It’s a wonderful, supportive place to work.

You gave your own TED talk. Tell us about it.

I gave a TEDx talk, which is a little different. TEDx events are individually organized events. People can apply for a license from TED to host their own small, local events. I spoke at TEDx Connecticut College, which is actually my mom’s alma mater. It made her really happy. It was fascinating to be on that side of the experience and to see what the speakers go through, since I work so much on the other side. It was scary and amazing. I was really confident giving the talk though because I had watched so many TED talks and I was like, “I know how to do this right and I am not going to waste this opportunity!”

What advice would you give to aspiring social media mavens?

Enjoy and own your social media! You don’t have to be doing social media for a company or an organization in order to practice your skills, to become really comfortable on those platforms or to know what’s happening in the industry. Just familiarize yourself with the tools. The things that you know how to do as a young person who uses social media, those are marketable to companies that aren’t as cognizant of how these platforms work. Put it on your resume! Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr. If you enjoy social media it can lead to a real career.

Ella Dawson is living her dreams!


Interview conducted by Sabrina Stone, 1,000 Dreams Fund contributor