In the last six weeks, hundreds of south metro residents have been introduced to TEDx events — locally organized conferences that offer audiences a chance to hear speakers talk briefly about exciting and novel ideas.
On Sept. 21, Burnsville held a TEDx event with the theme “Education Without Boundaries,” and on Oct. 28, Lakeville had its own night of speakers, organized around the theme “The Next 100 Years: The Future of Politics, Education and Technology.”
A takeoff on the popular TED Talks but organized independently, speeches at TEDx events are supposed to be personal and inspirational, and must be 18 minutes or less, said Carla Staffa, who organized the Burnsville event.
“The whole idea behind it is you have an idea worth spreading,” Staffa said. “Because it’s so short, you can’t pontificate.”
Staffa, a social studies teacher at Burnsville High School, said she wanted to organize a TEDx event because she’d seen a lot of TEDx and TED Talks online, and her brother had spoken at one.
In the education conferences world, “That’s kind of the hip new thing — to have a TEDx experience on your résumé,” Staffa said.
But for a general audience, the biggest thing was “raising awareness of what it was and the power it can have,” Staffa said, because many hadn’t heard of the events.
Lakeville’s organizer was Dylan Adelman, a Lakeville South High School senior. A competitor in high school speech, Adelman initially wanted to speak at a TEDx event. But then he became interested in bringing one to Lakeville, he said.
He and his co-organizers “saw it as a way to introduce students to the idea” of both TEDx and TED Talks, he said.
The Burnsville event filled an entire Saturday at the high school, featuring 18 speakers and several TED Talk videos. In Lakeville, the talks took place over an evening at Lakeville South, with nine speakers and two TED videos.
Formula for success
There’s somewhat of a formula to TEDx speeches: They should be edgy, personal and “not like your typical keynote speech,” Staffa said. The best talks tell how someone did something extraordinary, and then challenge the audience to take action, she said.
Mark Garrison, technology director for the White Bear Lake district, was among the local and national speakers who spoke at the Burnsville event. Knowing his talk would be available on the Internet “raises the bar,” he said.
His talk, called “Technology, Adventure and Change,” used the metaphor of a canoe trip to explain how he became interested in integrating technology into schools.
Though he often speaks at conferences, writing this speech was “a ridiculous amount of work,” he said, because he had to “distill 15 years of experience into something tangible and unique.” Now that he’s spoken at one, he’d love to participate at another, he said.
For Anthony Fleck, a college junior who spoke about the power of “Discovery Learning” in Lakeville, he said he enjoyed the experience — his first-ever speaking engagement — because it allowed him and other speakers to be creative and share their stories. “One thing … I really enjoy [about the TEDx format] is it makes it so accessible to the general public,” he said.
Since TEDx events began in 2009, about 5,000 have been held internationally, said Staffa. To hold one, you must apply to the TEDx organization. Once a license is granted, the idea is to keep it going, she said, ideally holding talks regularly in the same community to start conversations.
There are TEDx TC (Twin Cities) and UMN (University of Minnesota) events scheduled occasionally, Staffa said.
Once Staffa and Adelman received licenses, they also got 150 pages of rules, regulating everything from the venue to sponsorship, Staffa said.
Having those rules was “extremely helpful in a lot of ways,” Adelman said.
For Adelman, a challenge was obtaining the giant letters spelling out “TEDx Lakeville” that are required to sit on stage, he said. He finally found a sign maker to create them, but at $760, they were his largest expense, he said.
Staffa said she may hold another TEDx event next year. “Finances would be the only thing that would hold me back at this point,” she said.
Adelman, who’s been told he’s the youngest person to organize a TEDx event, said if he did it again he’d find more help, especially with advertising.
Both Staffa and Adelman were pleased with their events overall, they said.
Adelman, whose event was free, estimated between 500 and 650 people attended. Staffa, whose event cost $45 and was limited to 100 attendees by the organization, said it was trending on Twitter for six hours.
“People were so fired up about it,” she said.