TEDxWilmington Give Speakers a Platform for Passions and Business

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By Christi Milligan
Senior Staff Writer

In an era when ideas are pushed through social media channels and “shares” and “retweets” are the measure of their popularity, events like TED
and Ignite talks and 1 Million Cups events offer an opportunity for featured participants to gain a live audience.

Their Delaware counterparts have successfully introduced a brand of showcasing passions and projects in forums that transcend the social circles and boardrooms of traditional idea pitching.

While the parameters of each event differ in structure, they’re similar in substance, giving participants the opportunity to share their passion and their projects, and forcing millennials to leave the comforts of their social media boundaries.

“The power of the TED talks is it really is a way to share ideas in a real social context,” explained Dr. Vicky Kelly, director of the Division of Family Services and a speaker at the August TEDx event in Wilmington.

TEDxWilmington is an independently organized event licensed by the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) project. Dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” TEDx events are licensed across the country and organizers must operate within specific parameters that meet the TED brand.

According to TEDx Wilmington’s organizer Ajit George, it’s a brand that works. “The whole idea of TEDx is to get conversation going,” said George, who has produced the Wilmington event the past three years.

“Less and less time we have social discourse,” he added. “We rush through dinner, rush through life. We don’t get exposed to topics that are new or are uncomfortable for us.”

The concept is simple: Eighteen speakers are allotted 18 minutes each to talk about their topic. Popular TED talks from other TED events are curated for the event, and sizeable breaks purposefully offer ample time for attendees to mix with speakers and other guests to further examine featured topics.

Talks range from Kelly’s “The Paradox of Trauma-Informed Care” to Eric Miller’s “The Art of Virtual Winemaking” and Chris Grundner’s “Modern Nonprofit Board Governance – Passion Is Not Enough.” Some topics are concrete projects – others are abstract ideas.

“My goal is to have diversity in conversation,” said George. “We want to encourage those who have a message, and we do it with a group of people who are passionate about learning and making changes.”

Audience matters here. Attendees pay nearly $100 a ticket, but those funds are used to offset the cost of the event. Speakers and organizers are not paid, and the event generates no money.

The value is in the discourse, and those who attend TEDx, Ignite Newark, and 1 Million Cups Delaware are about listening.

But where TEDxWilmington focuses on ideas worth sharing, 1 Million Cups is start-up specific.

Each Wednesday morning, entrepreneurs are given six minutes to present an organizational outline of their business to a panel of mentors, potential partners, and other entrepreneurs. In return, they receive 20 minutes of feedback geared toward growing, branding, marketing and even correcting, in an effort to grow their business.

Delaware Tech’s Owens Campus in Georgetown hosts the event each week. “This is truly a way for entrepreneurs to gather real time feedback and connect with the community,” explained Chris Moody, director of corporate and community programs at the campus.

Some presenters have already experienced a measure of success, and illustrate their winning business strategy while others have navigated diversification and flux. Many are just starting out.

“We’ve had everyone from start-up tech businesses to restaurants to someone starting a landscape business,” said Moody. “If you’re an entrepreneur, we want to support you and help you grow.”

Audience members are serious about advice. Moody said that a recent presenter fielded questions concerning whether the name of their new business was an accurate reflection of their offerings.

Delaware Tech also hosts the program at it’s Wilmington Campus and it will soon offer 1 Million Cups programs at its Dover campus, said Moody.

1 Million Cups events are offered in more than 23 cities across the country. It is a Key Entrepreneurship Program under the Kauffman Foundation.

Presenting and attendance is free.

Ignite Newark is a locally organized event based on the Ignite format by O’Reilly Media. Newark’s bi-annual event offers tighter parameters: Speakers get five minutes to talk against a background of 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds. The hallmark of the Ignite brand is “Enlighten Us, But Make it Quick.”

Rodney Jordan has been organizing Ignite Newark for the last few years, and says the event allows presenters to talk about their interests in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

“I just like it because it gets people out of their comfort zone,” said Jordan. “It’s the next step above a networking happy hour.”

“It’s an exhilarating format,” said Brendan Cooke, general director of OperaDelaware. Cooke was a featured speaker with Ignite Baltimore several years ago, and is slated to present at Ignite Newark in November. He was also a featured speaker at the most recent TEDxWilmington event.

“Going through the process of preparing that talk and giving it — from a selfish perspective I got more out of talking about opera than I did performing it,” said Cooke. “Realizing I could change a mind has become pretty addictive to me.”

Measuring ROI via TED and Ignite talks isn’t necessarily part of the equation. But their smaller forums (each typically has 100 attendees or less) foster discussion. According to Cooke, the stage is already set for people to listen.

At TEDx Wilmington, Cooke met fellow speaker Dr. Paul Rosen of Nemours. Together, they’re exploring the possibility of bringing opera music to Nemours patients.

“It’s easier for someone to sense your passion for something when they see you,” said Cooke.

Perhaps most poignantly, restaurateur and philanthropist Matt Haley was
a featured speaker at August’s TEDx event. In his talk, “Taste of the World: Adventurous Business” Haley said about how traveling abroad opened the door to the philanthropic work he became know for. He passed away just two weeks later.

Haley’s presentation has already received nearly 3,000 hits in the short time it’s been uploaded to YouTube. His extemporaneous style and his story were his own, but like others, it’s the story the audience craves.

“That’s the value of public speaking,” explained Dr. Tracey Quigley Holden, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Delaware. It’s live, spontaneous, flexible communication. We can learn from digital and print but we trust in and value those human interactions.”

“It’s a cross-pollination of ideas that make communities,” explained Kelly. “One of the things that I came away with from that day is you saw people’s passion, and passionate people are inspiring.”

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