BY MOLLIE SIMON
Ask an environmentalist how to save the world, and you will likely get an answer laced with terms such as global warming and carbon emissions. Ask a doctor, and the reply may have something to do with vaccines. Ask a teacher, and you will get a story revolving around accessible education.
Pose the same question to Kate Devlin, and you may get a much simpler solution: TED talks.
Based on the premise of promoting “ideas worth spreading,” TED talks began as part of a conference on technology, entertainment, and design in 1984. They have since spread to include an online mecca of inspirational videos and independently organized, officially licensed events such as TEDxUGA.
For many people, TED videos are an escape into optimism and help to make the work of others accessible and comprehensible. Some professors even turn to assigning the videos to introduce novel ideas.
“TED talks can take on a lot of different structures, but the main thing that differentiates them from a lecture or any other kind of event is that there is always one big central idea that the audience takes away from the talk,” said Devlin, a junior journalism major and the director of presenters for this year’s TEDxUGA event.
Devlin’s first connection to TED was watching their videos between study breaks instead of jumping on Netflix. She then went on to take the New Media and TED course within UGA’s New Media Institute. Individuals in that class help to plan the event, which is now in its third year, and work with presenters to hone their speeches.
“I have learned how to go from 48 minutes down to 12 and to take out and crystallize what is truly the essence of my speech,” employment law and legal studies professor Dawn Bennett-Alexander said.
Bennett-Alexander, who said she wants the audience not only to hear what she says but also to own it, is one of the 17 presenters for this year’s event, which will be encompassed by the theme of “Plus,” as defined by doing more and adding something great to your community and world.
Student tickets for the event, which is scheduled for March 27, sold out within an hour of them going live, according to Devlin.
The audience, which will number 500 alumni, faculty and students, is required to stay for all four hours of the event, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Outside of enticing guests with ideas and talks that have been in the works since November, the TED talks will employ techniques to keep people engaged such as musical performances, interactive games, and having people move seats in between sessions, Devlin said.
“The ideas were simple enough that you could wrap your head around them and so positive that you didn’t feel like it was a harangue. They were ideas you could get behind,” Bennett-Alexander said of being in the audience for last year’s TEDxUGA.
Stephanie Jones, an education doctoral student who earned a position in the TEDxUGA event after giving her compelling talk on young people and books at the Student Idea Competition in January, believes that TED talks are a way to revive the core of education.
“Being able to speak to people face to face is very important, and that is our first form of education when we are young. By being able to sit and talk and have someone tell you something I think we are getting back to our roots of how we have learned to communicate,” she said.
To Jones, who was nominated to give a talk by a fellow student who traveled with her on a study abroad program to Ghana, it is not about remembering the speakers, but it is instead about remembering their ideas.
Do these ideas worth spreading actually shift the world in a better direction though?
According to one speaker, the level of a talk’s influence depends on how actively you listen to and absorb the ideas as well as how open-minded you can be to new philosophies.
“Too many people listen to talks, and it becomes a feel good moment. They say, ‘if he is out there doing it, then I don’t need to.’ I want people to find a way to implement the models they hear to their day to day activities,” UGA alumnus and TED presenter Lemuel LaRoche said.
LaRoche, known in the Athens community as Life the Griot, is a spoken word performer and heads the Chess and Community Conference, an organization which helps youth in Athens learn leadership through chess.
LaRoche encourages listeners not to idolize TED speakers, but instead to see themselves and the differences they can make in the world reflected in the talks.
“Every person is a minute, semester or season away from giving a TED talk. I am no different from anyone; I am just a regular person. I want people to walk away with the idea that they can be involved and change the world the best way they know how, which is what I have been trying to do since 2003,” he said.
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