May 24 2010 12:00 AM

TEDx Lansing communicates big concepts

Last Friday, the Passant Theater at the Wharton Center hosted the inaugural TEDxLansing conference, a daylong event featuring 17 speakers with presentations on a variety topics. TEDxLansing is a localized version of TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), an annual symposium in California that attracts some of the world’s greatest minds.

“The people I knew that were going to TED came back absolutely glowing, so I really wanted to bring some of that here to Lansing,” says event organizer Jennifer Middlin. “I don’t think it could have gone any better. These speakers spent weeks preparing, and that preparation really showed in the quality of the presentations.”

At a “TED Talk,” a speaker is given 18 minutes to communicate on anything under the  umbrella of technology, entertainment or design. The Lansing event saw presentations from MSU physicist Chip Brock, social media guru Erik Qualman and MSU alumni career services director John Hill, who gave his speech through a series of Bob Dylan-esque handwritten signs.  

“I thought it was a great event,” said attendee Tim Bay, a paralegal student at LCC. “What I got out of it was basically you either have to keep up with communication or you risk isolating yourself. You don’t want to live on an island.”

Middlin, a freelance marketing consultant, says she was able to license this event about a year ago, and spent over six intense months of planning to pull it off. TEDxLansing is officially sanctioned by TED; the “x” signifies the event was independently organized. The $35 ticket price ($25 for students) covered the cost of event, which ran between $7,000 and $8,000.

The original TED conference was held 26 years ago, and became an annual event in 1990. The speeches usually attempt to take heady subject matter—genetics, the nature of the universe, the tenets of entrepreneurship—and present it in an easily understandable fashion for audiences that typically have little or no background information on the topics. Some of the more famous TED talkers include former president Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Billy Graham.

Grand Rapids performance poet Allie Merrick’s presentation was called “Articulation,” which she summed up as essentially a “speech about speech.” She says she was contacted by one of TEDxLansing’s volunteers after they saw her perform at a poetry event.

“I break down speech into two steps: engagement and enlightenment,” she says. “My most valuable asset is my vocabulary, and I use it to help elevate other people. I want to help teach people to step out of themselves and step into their messages.” Merrick is also a freelance designer and blogger, and hosts a website with her husband dedicated to wine.

Presenter David Murray is the director of social web communications for re:group in Ann Arbor and chair of FutureMidwest, a technology and knowledge conference which was held in Metro Detroit last month.

“The goal of my presentation was to change the negative perception Michigan has right now,” he said. “I want to see Michigan reclaim its brand, and through doing so we can cultivate new business opportunities.”

Murray, a Michigan native, left the state in 1999 but returned in 2008 after “all the crap happened.”

“This was a great conference with passionate speakers, dynamic images and calls to action,” said Murray. “I know Michigan can come back, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Events like this can facilitate that. I’m just happy to be able to take part in something that reaches so many people in a positive way.”