Talking TED: TEDxCincinnati aims to connect Tri-State residents with 'ideas worth spreading'

CINCINNATI - TED Talks are known for bringing together innovators, thinkers, and doers to share "ideas worth spreading."

Now TEDxCincinnati is working to engage more people around the same ideas. Local organizers launched the "Connected" series of happy hour programs and is planning a main-stage event at Memorial Hall in October.

Through these independently organized events, TEDxCincinnati aims to enable people in the Tri-State to experience the same type of creative energy that occurs at national and international TED conferences. 

What is TED anyway?

TED is a New York-based non-profit that was originally founded to bring together innovators in Technology, Entertainment and Design. Today, TED conferences feature talks by creative thinkers from a wide range of fields, such as health, education, business, science, and global issues.

Like  the TED Talk videos you may have watched online, TEDxCincinnati presentations are short, non-political, and non-promotional. Speakers are encouraged to dream big, simplify complex ideas, make the audience laugh or cry, and share their passions, dreams, fears, successes, and failures. Speakers agree not to pitch products or services or ask for funding.

At TED Conferences, speakers must present their ideas in 18 minutes or less. TEDxCincinnati presentations typically run from six to ten minutes. 

A phenomenon: Global and local

TED launched its TEDx initiative in 2009, after millions of people around the world started watching TED Talks  online and recommending the videos to their friends. Recently, TED Talks videos surpassed 1 billion views.

Since TED started licensing community volunteers to organize local TEDx events, the movement is spreading. So far:

  • more than 7,000 TEDx events have been held in 1,890 cities in 149 countries.
  • about 1,000 universities, including Xavier University, have hosted TEDx events.
  • about 250 TEDx Talks can be viewed on TED.com

Jami Edelheit started TEDxCincinnati in the summer of 2011. She first became involved with TEDx while serving as communications coordinator for Semester at Sea, a ship-based study-abroad program for university students.

"When I got back from that experience, I wanted to bring it to Cincinnati," said Edelheit. "I wanted to connect our leaders and innovators and build a community of people who want to meet and start conversations." 

Edelheit has attended two TED Conferences and met other TEDx organizers at the first TEDx Summit in Doha, Qatar. Even though the speakers onstage at TED Conferences are fantastic, she says part of the fun at the Conferences is hanging out with people with the drive and motivation to make things happen. At a TED Conference, for example, she met a scientist who was involved in developing Google Glass and self-driving cars.

TEDx in the Tri-State

Edelheit would love to see more people in Cincinnati get involved in TEDxCincinnati. While it's possible to get a sense of what TED is all about by watching TED Talks online, there is something special about experiencing TED or TEDx live, she said.

"The live performances awaken something in you creatively. It fuels you to think outside the box. You may find yourself thinking, 'Gee, I never thought of it that way.'"

Photographer Nicholas Viltrakis has attended TEDxCincinnati and agrees that seeing the presentations live is different than watching TED Talks online.

"Everyone is friendly and eager to engage in conversation," Viltrakis said. "If you've never come to a TEDxCincinnati event, you can expect to hear some extremely diverse and enthusiastic people present meaningful information or stories in a cool setting with a little food or wine."

TEDxCincinnati is not affiliated with the TEDxCincy group that hosted events in 2010 and 2012. When contacted about its efforts, TEDxCincy organizers sent this email:

"The team has no future plans for TEDxCincy, as they are working on other impactful pursuits in Cincinnati, includin   the local startup REPP."

TEDxXavierUniversity is also an independent group, although Edelheit says she has provided some advice to that group.

Get Connected

Each TEDxCincinnati Connected happy hour event includes a 40-minute program with a speaker, a performer, and an "open-mike" session. During the open-mike sessions, anyone at the event can give a two-minute talk about an idea they care about.

"TEDxCincinnati is for everybody," emphasized Edelheit. "It's about bringing people together who want to start conversations about really interesting things they are passionate about. We cover all kinds of topics."

For many, the beauty of the TED approach lies in the brevity and diversity of the presentations. Edelheit noted that the short talks aren't lectures and they aren't boring.

"We don't even do 18 minutes. We do 6, 8, or 10-minute talks," she said. 

At a TEDxCincinnati event at Venue 222 in April, attendees watched a simulcast of TEDxChange 2013 events co-organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and TED. Live speakers included Rick Payne, who described his harrowing "Marrow Escape" from leukemia, and Clay Brizendine, who talked about how the simple act of writing a letter could be incredibly powerful.  Performer Toby Christensen demonstrated the healing power of drums, using techniques he learned in Africa. 

A main-stage TEDxCincinnati is scheduled for Thursday, October 3 at Memorial Hall. Last year's event at the Freedom Center attracted 300 people. Edelheit hopes the audience will be twice that big this year. The program is expected to include an energizing mix of live talks, streamed videos, audience participation, and lively conversations with interesting people from different backgrounds.

Get involved

Edelheit said that In addition to attending a TEDxCincinnati event, you can volunteer. Help is needed with social media, website maintenance, media relations, and event coordination. Anyone can nominate themselves or someone else to be a speaker.

Author Clay Brizendine nominated himself, proposing a topic that fit the theme of the night: Positive Disruption. 

"When Jami sent me the note asking if I would be interested in speaking, I was pumped," he said. Because Brizendine had seen TEDx and TED presentations before, he understood how to prepare his speech and ensure that his message would be clear.

"Everyone has a story of some type," Brizendine said. "Believe in yours and find a way to make it something that people can relate to."

After his presentation, he added, it was amazing to meet people from across the region in a forum where everyone has an open mind and is ready to learn something new.

"Jami and the folks at TEDxCincinnati are some of the most approachable people I know," Brizendine said. "They are looking to do something great for the city and region. Why wouldn't any of us want to be involved in some way with that?"

The next TEDx Cincinnati Happy Hour event is 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17 at Longworth's in Mt. Adams. If you plan to attend, be sure to  register : http://tedxcincinnati.eventbrite.com/

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