The common denominator for speeches titled “Fifty Shades of Gay,” “Ethical Riddles in HIV Research” and “Why Libya’s Revolution Didn’t Work—And What Might” is that they make you think. Whether done comically or with a more serious tone, an inflection point always arises somewhere throughout these talks that opens the audience to a new perspective. That is the agenda of TEDTalks: “ideas worth spreading.”
On Feb. 10, TEDTalks came to Seattle University in the form TEDxSeattleU. Eight members from the Seattle community spoke in the Pigott Auditorium about the TEDxSeattleU theme “Unconventional Leadership.” The diverse list of speakers included Sharelle Klaus, founder and CEO of DRY soda and Ken Jennings, 75-game winner of Jeopardy.
A typical TEDTalk consists of a person of varying prominence in varying communities that speaks for 18 minutes about an idea they believe is worth sharing with the world. Beginning in 1984, these speakers were drawn from three different factions: technology, entertainment and design.
“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world,” the TED webpage said in their mission statement. “So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”
The TEDx program allows various institutions to coordinate TEDTalks with local speakers. Michael Mage, speaker liaison of the TEDxSeattleU committee and one of Seattle U’s Graduate Coordinators of Student Activities, explains the process for instilling this two-year-old program at Seattle U.
“The idea about bringing the program was really about our culture at Seattle U in terms of engaging students and the community,” said Mage. “And how do we use TED as a platform for not only facilitating thematic conversation within our community but also broadcasting those ideas out to a wider audience.”
The “wider audience” being anyone who visits the TED website; all talks that were given on Feb. 10 will be posted there in four weeks.
To improve on the TEDx experience, the TEDxSeattleU committee looked to narrow the spectrum from last year’s theme, “A Life of Purpose.”
“We wanted to be a bit more intentional this year in making sure that it was a thread that people understood and that it would facilitate a conversation that was larger than any of the individual talks themselves,” Mage said of this year’s theme, “Unconventional Leadership.” “Many people might not feel comfortable claiming leadership for themselves, claiming themselves as leaders. Our idea with this theme is that we like the fact that it spun the typical notion of what leadership is, so each presentation challenges our ideas of what leadership is in a way that we can realize it in ourselves and in each other. And to have that conversation of ‘Why are we afraid of taking leadership?’”
Krystle Cobian, a Seattle U alumna and higher education professional at University of Puget Sound, was especially inspired by this idea. Her TEDTalk, “How Disco Taught Me About Leadership,” drew deeply from personal experience.
“I was somebody that was once labeled as a quiet leader,” said Cobian. “And I used to feel a lot of anguish over that. I think it was the quiet piece… That’s not something you typically associate with a leader.”
In true TED fashion, Cobian utilizes a surprising yet accurate metaphor to emphasize the idea that leaders come in many, and often
“Disco is a genre that is often thought about being either very hedonistic or it’s considered very cheesy. But really it’s just an underestimated music genre, just as unconventional leaders are often underestimated,” Cobian said. “All of disco is very positive; sometimes the most crucial people to getting work done are the ones who always think positively.”
Although Cobian discussed the unconventional side of leadership as the leader itself, other speakers presented a different take on the theme.
Eric Robison, a real state agent and fashion producer, gave a talk about the unconventional journey to success. Having traveled the world multiple times, the first excursion being a solo bike ride around Europe at the age of 15, he attempted a multitude of trades before finding success in fashion and real estate.
His message: dictate your own path to success, even if it is the road less travelled.
Count yourself lucky if you were able to grab tickets for this popular event; the TEDxSeattleU committee is unsure if they are able to continue the program next year.
“It’s not because of interest by any means,” Mage said. “It’s a matter of resources, which ultimately come down to people and time. It is a year-long process to plan an event and right now we’re seeing some new priorities come up. It’s a question mark to whether next year will be a possibility, but we’re still hopeful.”
Sherilynn may be reached at [email protected]