OK, I admit it. I am a TED junkie. I try to set some time aside each day to find content on the web that is challenging, enriching, novel and even controversial. The site that will most often suck me in — to discover I have spent an hour listening to people I do not know — is TED.
The idea of TED talks has gone way beyond the original concept of technology, education and design. And while there are fascinating and well-constructed talks on the main TED stage, I am often more taken with speakers at local TEDx events. TED superstars like Simon Sinek and Brene Brown have nothing to fear from what are often quirky, homegrown topics ranging from “How to Travel the World With No Money” to “The Mathematics of Weight Loss.”
To understand the brilliance of TEDx you have to understand what it is. TEDx is a day of TED talks, organized and produced locally. No one makes a profit or gets paid for producing or working on a TEDx conference (except contracted vendors who provide services). No one can buy his way onto the stage, and no one can be paid to speak. There are many more criteria, but suffice it to say that TED protects its brand.
So it was not a small undertaking when a small band led by someone new to Little Rock managed to produce the first TEDx conference in Little Rock: TEDx Markham Street, branded by TED as TEDxMarkhamSt. (Disclosure: I spoke at the conference last year, and I will function as emcee on the stage this year.)
So why did more than 300 people take a workday out of their lives to fill Ron Robinson Theater last year? There was no one on the stage whom they could not hear in another venue, except perhaps Minnijean Brown-Trickey, who was given a place of honor as the last speaker of the day.
I think I know why, and it has a lot to do with leadership. You may not agree with what you hear at a TEDx conference, but you will learn something new. You may not get the full picture — since speakers are given 18 minutes — but you will be escorted into territory occupied by that speaker that is likely to be new, controversial and challenging. You may not be blown away by brilliant oratory, but you will be clear about why that speaker takes the stage.
Trust me when I tell you that it takes a lot of courage to walk onto a stage in a community where you do not have the safety of anonymity and advocate for something you believe in, introduce a concept or way of viewing the world that may not be mainstream or simply bare your soul about something you believe matters — with no confidence that the rest of the room will understand or care.
In fact, the entire story of the local event is an act of leadership behind the scenes. Salil Joshi is a master of public service/master of public health student at the Clinton School of Public Service and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He moved here two years ago and knew not a soul. And yet he has pulled together a band of volunteers, sponsors, vendors and speakers who have, largely under his leadership, made the event a reality in 2015 and are ready to repeat that effort in 2016.
No one in the enterprise gets paid for his or her time, talent or energy. TEDxMarkhamSt was born of vision, engagement, coordination and no small amount of sweat.
On Sept. 30, TEDxMarkhamSt will again take the stage at the Ron Robinson Theater behind the Arkansas Studies Institute building downtown. Once again, 15 or so speakers with something to say will take the stage for 18 minutes and give it their all. None is a nationally known speaker, but having interviewed all of them in preparation for the conference, I can tell you that they all have something to say.
Stephen Covey would call TED a day for “sharpening your saw” before you go back to work and start cutting down trees. More information is at TEDxMarkhamSt.org.