As the co-host and lead curator for TEDxColumbus, I’m supposed to act as an information waitress. I help select and then introduce the talks to people who are hungry for their curiosity to be fed. My job is to present the ideas (as authored by our speakers) without judgment so the audience can come to their own conclusions.
However, as a coach to nearly all of these presenters and speakers, I can’t help have a bias in not only what feats they overcame to make it to the TEDxColumbus stage, but what lessons they leave us beyond their stimulating, provocative and challenging ideas. So I’d like to introduce The Ruthies.
The Ruthies are my personal awards from my point of view on the style and delivery, sequence and organization, preparation and planning ‘wins’ that emerged from this year’s TEDxColumbus talks, as heard originally at COSI on October 5. And like pee wee soccer, everyone wins a trophy. Because everyone put an extraordinary effort into their talk and we see a unique attribute in each from which we all can learn. Here we go.
Best Opening Hook
Priyank Shah said he wanted to mention that his talk would not be a data centric talk, boring people with social science research. So I told him, “Why don’t you start with a riff and scare them a bit? When you stop and shift gears, they will be delighted and want to hear your talk. ” And here’s to Priyank, he pulled it off. You could have seen the sweat on people’s brows as they listened to his first sentences…
Most Uncomfortable Moment
Laura Hill provided us with one of the most “enlightenly uncomfortable” moments of the whole day: she played a recording of her take on what it sounds like in a person’s head who suffers from anorexia while they are eating. When I first heard it at rehearsal, I wanted to tell her it wouldn’t work – the sound quality was too poor and disturbing. But that was the whole point.
Best Nervous Laughs
How could there not be? He told everyone that we needed to have one puff of pot a day and that cocaine is really no different than lard. The rest of his talk, discussing how food and drug are really the same thing, was peppered with insightful entertaining moments that resonated with everyone in the audience. Dr. Gary Wenk would also get the most prepared award – I heard a final version of this talk 5 weeks before 10/5.
Her own. Jessica Hagy, a soft-spoken and modest orator, blew many folks away with her powerful Venn diagrams for which she is famous.
Brian Roche, when asked what he had learned in developing his TEDxColumbus talk, said, “I never equated MY research to moving THAT needle.” He was referring to the work of finding out why chemotherapy drugs were causing cardiac disease and failure in 15% of cancer patients who survived. He was able to pull himself out of the deep dive that is his research to understand the larger implications by giving his talk. He also may get the best effort award – I saw few others transform their data into a cohesive, easy to understand talk than Brian.
Best Audience Engagement Exercise
At the end of Catherine Evans’ talk, she invited everyone to take a photo and then challenged us what choices we’d make with that image. It was a very personal way to end the talk of the journey of photography.
But of course, it goes to Dr. Gordon Aubrecht. Just see for yourself.
Most Memorable Ending
Goes to Frederick. He left one of the most captivating moments in his story until the very end. While everything he said leading up to it was mesmerizing, it was his act of forgiveness and consequently being free that hit a deep chord in the last lines of his time on stage.
Whether it was of himself shopping at Baby Gap, or the stories of Jonathan and Xavier, Terrell Strayhorn captivated us with the illustrative language that made his talk highly resonating.
Jan Allen won the spot on the TEDxColumbus stage as she beat out nearly 30 other open auditioners. Her journey from a three minute talk to a 10 minute talk was not an easy one; we applaud her for the endless hours that went into both her audition and delivering a well-crafted story.
And yes, that is a double entendre. Dan Stover told a bold and beautiful story of courage and overcoming fear at the TEDxYouth@Columbus event which earned him the one youth spot on the TEDxColumbus stage. But that was after a fairly unimpressive attempt at the TEDx Open Call Auditions; I was FLOORED by the effort he had put into his Youth talk since then. It goes to show you that hard work can pay off. And you’ll see from his talk, he had more notable and heroic recoveries that than one. Great work, Dan.
Best Open Process
Naomi Stanford took crowd sourcing and syndication to a new level in preparing her talk. She first posted this blog, and then practiced her talk on three different continents during her travels as a consultant. Not everyone has these opportunities, but she used them to her advantage to richen her talk.
There was a reason that Pecha Kucha was started for architects. The forum that engages speakers for 20 seconds for 20 slides was meant to keep their talks brief. Enter Michael Bongourino, the gregarious, lovable architect who had a “front row seat” to the concept of overlooked spaces, as informed by his 14-year old (and continuing) escapades in and with unique places. At rehearsal, Michael met the 18-minute mark with half his talk to go. Gulp. In two days, he became his own best editor for refining and massaging what became a truly delightful tour of his perspective.
When we accepted Doug Smith to speak, I thought his talk would be largely about his personal experience facing his own mortality being diagnosed with leukemia. And while it was at the core, he beautifully turned his story into one that made the audience the central character instead. Everyone saw themselves in his story by the end of the 18 minutes. After being tossed and turned by every other idea throughout the day, the audience was brought back to center and what matters most about being happy, his core idea and one that everyone loved as the close.