Tamekia’s Transforming Talks. And democratization of ideas at its best.

About two years ago this week, we met a young, dynamic woman at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH). We were there to brief her and about 10 others on a journey they were about to take to deliver a new style talk at a brand-new event open to the hospital community. Everything was new. They didn’t know each other; they barely knew about this event. But they had a new idea about a new big talk they had been accepted to give. This young woman was new too, she had been in her job at the hospital just a week or two. She’d worked at some other locations for the hospital, but this was the first job on this campus.

The event was DiscoveryX, a TED-style event, that would take place in front of 250 NCH administrators, doctors, researchers, staff and friends. It was inspired by an injury researcher named Lara McKenzie who had experienced some training of ours at The Ohio State University for a similar program. She marched back to her boss at NCH and said, “We need to do this here. Everyone should go through it.”

What she was referencing was Articulation’s Transforming Talks program, a pathway to helping individuals journey to highly consequential talks. Long gone are the days of bullet points on power points, rambling messages, and nothing inspiring or engaging. If you read anything on this site, it’s easy to see it’s all we do.

Discovering Tamekia

Two months later at the rehearsal for the talks, the head of pediatric surgery, an incredibly formidable doctor, surgeon, researcher and hospital leader, leaned over to me and whispered, “You mean I have to follow her? Oh dear.” She was referring to that young woman, Tamekia Smith, determined to give the performance of her life – not just a talk.

The next day they all took the stage – a variety of executives, researchers, staff members and doctors – sharing their ideas of discovery. After years of producing TEDx events, we figured out how to bring this democratization of ideas to any community. In this case, it was the NCH community.
This young performance poet took the stage with her 10 other colleagues and indeed, was not the one you wanted to follow. She got a standing ovation in front of a room filled with people who largely had never met her before. There was no stopping her now. You can watch her DiscoveryX performance here.
Tamekia had been a poet for some time. She’s a natural performer, passionate about her work in health disparities and also connecting with humans. She’s never met a stranger. She’s contagious, she’s loud (she would say so herself), and she’s relentless. Just so happens those are some of the characteristics that make a good speaker.
On to TEDxColumbus
That was 2016. Her talk went up on the NCH intranet site and then on YouTube, but she wanted to try again. So she applied for a spot at TEDxColumbus in fall 2017. The committee (which I promise is more than me), really embraced her wanting to give a NEW talk. As I entered the lobby at NCH to attend the second DiscoveryX event, I bumped into her in the lobby. We had just made decisions about the speaker lineup. She ran into the bathroom crying as soon as she heard that she had been accepted.
Her first talk was about how “she was a health disparity” growing up – and upon working in health care, could reflect and share what health disparities felt like – and the mentors that helped her overcome them.
“On Becoming,” her talk for TEDxColumbus, was about a darker side of her upbringing, about attempting suicide and how she found her art accidentally while sitting on her bathroom floor, writing a suicide note which really was a poem.
Later that fall, on stage in front of 900 people at TEDxColumbus, she received another standing ovation. You can watch her TEDxColumbus talk here.
Stepping Up to the TED Stage
Tamekia Smith TED Talk 2018
A few weeks after TEDxColumbus, which by all accounts was a massive milestone for Tamekia, she went to a pop-up event in the Short North during Gallery Hop for an opera performance. A complete stranger, a woman, got to talking with her and suggested she apply for the big TED. TED takes place in once a year in front of 2,200 people, and the talks are posted on line, generally gaining millions of views each. None of us know who this stranger was, but she inspired Tamekia to apply, again, to give another talk.

So with moments to spare, she submitted her 1-minute video for the TED conference in New York, along with 1,000 other people. (In full disclosure, including me. That’s for another post.) Tamekia was chosen as one of 13 to attend the auditions in New York in January. She went. She performed – yet another NEW piece – and to no surprise to anyone except her, she won.

Ten days ago in Vancouver, Tamekia delivered that talk on the big TED stage. And she got ANOTHER standing ovation.

Two days after she returned home last week, she returned to the same room where it all began and shared her wisdom, enthusiasm and survival tips (!) to the next group of DiscoveryX speakers.


Say what you want about TED, TEDx, and TED-Like events. If executed properly, they do one thing remarkably differently than other conferences, meetings and gatherings. They drive with a value of democratization of ideas.

This means Tamekia, a person who barely had her security badge at the largest children’s research institute and hospital in the country, was given the same opportunity as a healthcare podcaster, a senior surgeon, audiologist, and anesthesiologist all who took the stage with her in 2016. While Tamekia came with a ridiculous set of mad skills that earned her that position, it was that first stage that gave her a trajectory for her voice, her stories and her message.

Tamekia’s TED talk video will get released in a few months. It has a few messages woven throughout. My favorite was: To be trained to work with humans, you have to have human beings train you.” Being able to work with Tamekia on her talks will remain one of my greatest privileges as a speaker trainer and coach.

Mainly because I know she’s only just begun.