The TEDx factor

By now, I suspect you’re familiar with TED — the now 20-year-old event series that has spread knowledge and ideas to tens of millions of curious souls around the world. Perhaps you even have your favorite TED talk. (I’m partial to Susan Cain’s “The power of introverts” and Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My stroke of insight.”) Or maybe you have a friend or colleague who’s shared with you a TED talk he or she found particularly inspiring.

This year's TEDxBloomington event once again features a strong IU Bloomington connection.

This year’s TEDxBloomington event once again features a strong IU Bloomington connection.

If you’re like me, you’ve watched these videos in the privacy of your own home or workplace – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s an X-factor to TED that even its most devout followers might not always recognize, one that organizers of this year’s TEDxBloomington event on April 26 — the third such event to be held in Btown in the past four years — are focusing on more than ever before: community building.

“We see the entirety of TEDxBloomington as an experience so far beyond watching individual videos on screen,” says event curator Luci McKean. “It’s about speakers interacting with attendees. It’s about attendees interacting with each other. It’s about connecting with one another.”

Naturally, McKean says, it’s also about IU. Nearly all of this year’s speakers have some sort of IU connection – they are faculty, students and alumni. The list of speakers includes, among others, Distinguished Professor of Sociology Bernice Pescosolido; T. Kelly Wilson, director of the IU Center for Art and Design in Columbus; Shahzeen Attari, assistant professor at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Professor of Photography at the IU School of Fine Arts Jeffrey Wolin.

Despite the strong cream and crimson flair, though, McKean says TEDxBloomington isn’t your typical academic symposium, where there’s a theme and the academics sit together, maybe on a panel or in a VIP section of the audience, apart from attendees. Indeed, the intermingling of speakers and attendees differentiates TEDxBloomington from other TEDx events around the country and creates what McKean calls a “magical experience.”

“TEDxBloomington is designed to generate opportunities for all of our attendees to interact with our speakers, who sit in the audience during breaks, interact with attendees before and after their talks,” McKean says. “Everyone is encouraged to come back after breaks and sit in a different seat, view the event from a different perspective and with different people. It sets us apart, very dramatically, from other conferences.”

“The first year we did this event (2011), we had Gever Tulley, who’s spoken on the big stage at TED,” McKean continues. “He was so impressed with how we dealt with our speakers and how we put the show together.”

McKean says that this year, event organizers purposely only invited a couple of speakers from outside the state. “We were always showcasing talent,” she says, “but this year we’ve found so many people right here who had ideas worth spreading and that fit our theme.”

This year’s theme is: “What Goes ‘Round,” and presenters will talk about topics that are metaphorically or literally round, spherical, global or cyclical.

Fortunately, McKean and co. didn’t have to go far to find folks who could talk knowledgeably and spark discussion on these subjects. Perhaps the biggest X factor at all in TEDxBloomington’s favor? Being based in one of the nation’s premier college towns.

“Certainly people do TEDx events all over world, not just in university towns, but I wouldn’t want to try,” McKean says. “There’s such rich diversity of intelligent thought at IU and in Bloomington that our biggest problem isn’t having enough ideas, it’s having too many to choose from.”

Check out this Inside IU Bloomington story for more on TEDxBloomington and the IU connection.

TEDxBloomington will be held on April 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Tickets are available here or at the BCT Box Office. 

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