Four Years of TEDxColumbus, Hard to Believe!

About this time every year as we begin to promote TEDxColumbus, I still get the question: What is TED?  So here’s a quick primer and a wee bit of background how I got involved (and why I still am!).

TED is a conference founded about 30 years ago.  A guy wanted to have interesting people to dinner to share their cool ideas — but he knew they wouldn’t come.  So he created the TEDconference instead.  It stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, but since its founding, has moved far beyond just those three subjects.

The conference is a very simple construct: All speakers and performers are heard by everyone in the audience (no breakouts or choices).  And anyone who takes the stage has 18 minutes or less to reveal their insight into a particular idea, innovation, discovery or trend. After a day of live talks, its a bit of a mind-warp. Or some say its a brain spa. Others call it college. Some just love it for the creative escape to hear passionate stories from people who have amazing points of view, deep mastery in their respective fields and the ability to connect with a diverse, curious audience.

In about 2006, they took the videos from the first 20 years of the conference and started posting them to a website –  That’s when most people started learning about them since the conferences (TED in California is the mothership, TEDGlobal is its sister conference in Edinburgh) themselves are expensive and fairly difficult to gain admittance.

Then in winter of 2009, they created the TEDx program (x = independently organized event).  The day after they posted the notice for TEDx on the blog was when I saw it — as I often say, on one stormy cold February night while watching a TED talk with Dave, my husband.  He fell asleep and I kept reading…and when I saw the post…I dreamed all night about how we could bring it to Columbus. I applied to be the licensee and then with the help of my awesome co-curator and collaborator Nancy Kramer, we brought it to the Wexner Center in October, 2009:Columbus: Global.

And again in 2010 at CCAD on 10-21-10:  What’s Next?

And last year at COSI on 11-11-11: A Moment in Time.

This is the first year we will repeat a venue – at COSI on October 5 for The Future Revealed.  (This year we’re also a part of idUS week, Columbus’ bicentennial celebration to innovation, design and creativity.)

Why I’m still involved? As a laboratory for my work in public speaking, presentation skills, storytelling and effective message delivery – I am blessed to have the experience year after year to work with extraordinary talent who each need to build “the talk of their lives.”  As a service to my community, I am passion about elevating our conversation.  While it is important for us all to know how to read at one end — I have higher aspirations for us to know how to debate, stay curious, erase bias, be challenged.

Each year I’m at the center of helping to choose who will take the stage – researchers, thinkers, writers, trend watchers, innovators, poets, musicians and more. I love the challenge of finding the right mix of talent that’s all from our back yard.  There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that we moved an audience of 750 (or double, with our livestream) with mainly people that left their house that morning and were at COSI within 30 minutes. All of our speakers are from Columbus or have a very close tie to us. No speaker is paid and no speaker pays to talk. It’s what makes it all work.

I’m now a part of a global community – there are over 800 organizers like myself in 130 or so countries who have staged over 2500 events — and fed over 12,000 talks (  I figured we were the 35 city to have an event, and I reckon Nancy and I part of a handful of organizers who have maintained their original license.

Likewise, there’s now an active TEDxColumbus community.  The first year all I did was explain what TED was. Now I field questions about speaker nominations, organizations wanting to partner – and many – want to do their own TEDx inside for their associates. I’m grateful to the hundreds of people who are somehow involved in making each year’s event and effort worthwhile.  Especially to the speakers who devote more hours than you can imagine.

I often tell the story that TEDx answered the question for me: What is my Kit Kat?  Kit Kat was the intellectually charged club my father belonged to for twenty years.  They gathered once a month to share papers on topics unrelated to their professions (mainly).  I got to go once a year as his date to the annual event.  I was jealous that he had such an outlet but as a woman, I would never have a chance to join.  (For the record: he did vote to admit women when the topic was debated, but it was defeated. I never held it against him for continuing his membership as I deeply appreciated his insatiable desire to learn and be challenged).

After the first year, I saw the speakers on stage and realized that helping people find their voice was a true delight of mine. I watched each of their preparation pathways and knew how some could do better, and what others did to succeed.  It was, in essence, what gave me inspiration to focus my PR practice and start

My dear dad passed away in his sleep the night I returned from the TEDActive conference (in Palm Springs) on March 3rd of this year. He came to our event in 2010 and watched the livestream in 2011.  (I don’t think I told him about our first year until it was over – I wasn’t sure how it was going to go!) During this week, the six month anniversary of his passing, I’m planning to bring his spirit with me to the stage again when I help host the 4th annual

TEDxColumbus on October 5.

Thanks, Dad, for inspiration you have brought to me. And hopefully in turn, to thousands of others. Your legacy of learning, discovery and curiosity continues.