02 Nov 2015

The real return from TEDxSMU

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By Kassidy Jacqueline Greiner on November 2, 2015

Going into the TEDxSMU conference, I had the expectation to hear some great speakers, learn some new things, and overall, leave inspired. TEDxSMU did all that, and more. Interestingly enough, the speakers were not the highlight of the day. There was a range of expertise from more amateur student-presenters, to emotional personal life-stories, to more scholarly researchers and skilled policy advocates. Certainly, there were some standout speakers who presented strong research-based arguments AND engaging appeals. In all, the speakers were inspiring—if not to jump on board with their individual platforms, but at the least to promote examination and awareness of our life-shaping choices.  The real takeaways were not the speakers’ content, but the unexpected ease of engagement facilitated by the conference, the eye-opening diversity of perspectives, and the underlying charge to participants to wonder.

Over 20 speakers spoke on an array of topics. One of my favorites was Jessica Shortall’s impassioned, well-developed argument for the necessity of paid leave for new parents. Her statistics, coupled with emotional narrative examples, were hard hitting. Additionally, her highlighting the paradoxical image of “working mothers” via stock images versus reality was acute. Another favorite was Jake Minton, a kindergarten teacher/ advocate against gender gap and gender roles. His metaphor to open the doors of “all the important rooms” to his daughter was resonating. Minton also presented strong research to back his poignant and humorous appeal. From a more emotional-method, a standout presenter was Joaquin Zihuatanejo, whose poetry addressing the migrant crisis brought tears to my eyes.

The feats the student presenters had achieved were inspirational in their own right. How awesome to see young people doing such cool things, and moreover- getting up in front of a huge audience and confidently sharing those achievements! From the students who designed a living roof for their school or founded the Catalyst Art Movement, to the charismatic creativity-advocator/ musician Trevor Douglas, to the university student-duo who’s impressive research on aqua-culture will have really important effects: all the student presenters blew me away with their accomplishments, maturity, and courage.

I had anticipated the high caliber of speakers, but one return that I hadn’t expected was the opportunity to not just listen to presentations, but to engage with other attendees. Going alone, I was forced to stop hiding behind my iPhone and address my discomfort with small talk.  I found the push to interact, plus the tool of the presentations as a discussion topic, made conversations easy and enjoyable. Not only did I have good and genuine conversations with other participants, but also I found my confidence boosted from the experience. I was not alone in this development. I was super impressed when a solo high school student confidently approached me, shook my hand and introduced herself. TEDxSMU really facilitated this.

A key feature of TEDx talks was summed up by a passing comment of a man I sat next to at lunch. “TED talks are like traveling,” he said. That comparison is so: the TEDx event illuminates different perspectives, cultures, and positions than you encounter in your personal routine. It is like travelling to a whole bunch of places and meeting a whole bunch of new people, in just a day.

The real take-away was not an elevated knowledge from the expert presentations, but rather an inspiring reminder to be awake: to think about things outside your normal routine, to examine norms we accept as truths, to stimulate innovation and creativity, to explore ideas, to wonder!

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