Sunday, January 5, 2014

TEDxVailWomen: Naturally Awesome

Happy Birthday TED!

TED talks are officially 30 years old this year. TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading”. The acronym TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. The scope of topics covered in contemporary TED talks is much broader than what was originally envisioned at TED’s inception in 1984. TED conferences bring together some of the world's most creative, gifted and fascinating luminaries. These brilliant, provocative and inspiring speakers are engaged to give “the talk of their lives” in 18 minutes or less.  The mission of TED is “Spreading ideas. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.” TED talks can be viewed for free on the TED website,, or on Youtube. If you have a little time to spare, just type TED talk into your browser’s search bar. It will take you to Click on the “Playlists” button at the top of the window. Choose whatever entices you. Then, sit back and prepare to be amazed. If you are anything like me, hours can slide by and you will barely notice the time passing.

Even better than watching TED talks online is attending one live. While there is only one official TED conference each year, there are now independently organized TED events, called TEDx, which allow local communities and organizations to have a TED type of experience all their own. I’ve been regularly watching TED talks since they first become available online in 2007. Early last year, I was reading our local paper, The Vail Daily, and discovered that we had a TEDx group here in the Vail Valley. I contacted Kat Haber, the curator of this group, who offered me the chance to work on putting together the TEDxVailWomen event to be held December 5, 2013.

I had already officially designated 2013 as my “year of saying yes.” Since I had relocated to this area in the spring of 2012, making new friends, getting involved in my community, and networking were all high priorities for me.  Therefore, it didn’t require any thought at all for me to reply to Kat’s offer with an enthusiastic “Yes, I would love to!”

Creating our TEDxVailWomen event was exciting, challenging and, of course, a great deal of fun. The speakers had already been selected so I helped with logistics, financial planning, general organizing and photography. We ramped up our efforts in the weeks preceding the event and by December 5th we were a little weary but a lot of ready.

The stage at the Edwards Interfaith Chapel, where our event was held, was simply beautiful. Expansive clerestory windows framed the mountains in the distance. One of our speakers is an artist who repurposes used bottles as art. Glorious painted bottles from her “Message in a Bottle” project were suspended from the ceiling. Since our theme was “Naturally”, verdant vertical hydroponic gardens bracketed the stage. Banners printed with the name of each talk and the speaker’s photo adorned the walls. A grand piano for 10 year-old Carnegie Hall concert pianist, Ursula Hardianto, reposed gracefully in one of the room’s front corners.  We scrambled to get all the computers, lighting, cameras and a/v equipment to sync.  Finally, everything was in place.  Kat took to the stage and the magic began.

This is not the appropriate time or place to describe all the moving parts of our event with the level of detail they so richly deserve, so I will have to make do with a simple list consisting of a quote from each of our speakers along with the title of their talks:
  • ·      “Well-being is independent of circumstance.” ~ Christina Danyluk: Why I Smile at Pain.
  • ·      “Walking Like Mountains is a way to think about and act on sustainability leadership in the 21st century.” ~ Dr. Kim Langmaid: Walking Like Mountains.
  • ·      “I coined the term ‘conservation photography’ and in doing so, I started a movement.” ~ Cristine Mittermeier: Photography won’t change the world.
  • ·      “Everyone has a story…the best storytellers will create the future.” ~ Mikela Tarlow: Everybody’s Journey.
  • ·      “The simple act of riding a bicycle can change your life.” ~ Elysa Walk: The Joy of Two Wheels.
  • ·      “When you’re stuck, shift perspective.” ~ Dr. Susan Canney: Punch Above Your Weight, Mali Elephant Conservation.
  • ·      “Rain or shine, I do it with a smile.” ~ Ursula Hardianto: Jazz Piece.
  • ·      “The Fishing cat’s story is our story.” ~ Mo Heim: Fishing cats & The Foolish Girl’s Guide to Success.
  • ·      “Our inability to perceive what has been lost to us prevents us from valuing and conserving what remains.” ~ Asher Jay: Last Exhale.

In addition to these speakers and performers we arranged social spaces to encourage people to meet and chat, along with interactive art, literary and paper projects so participants could play between sessions.  We rocked out to original rap music celebrating our “Naturally” theme from MCDT. We hosted a workshop on putting ideas into action, and listened to charming kids from Stone Creek Charter School give their own TED talks sharing clever innovative ideas for solving some of the worlds most pressing problems.

We enjoyed an abundance of delicious food and snacks. Beverages were served in water bottles donated from the Giant Bike Company and we all got to keep one. After the rap music performance, a multitude of beach balls were tossed from the stage. The audience was visibly delighted by this impromptu pseudo-volleyball extravaganza. Who can keep a smile from their face while busily batting at bright red and white TEDx emblazoned beach balls careening crazily around the room? Giggles and laughter rang out as the beach balls soared and bounced.

At last, the speakers were done and the livestream from San Francisco was over. The meals were eaten. The attendees said their good-byes with bellies full of delicious healthy fare and heads awhirl with new ideas and many happy memories of a passionately exciting day.

As we picked up trash, boxed items for next year, and restored the venue to its original pristine condition, a peaceful contentment settled over the team. More than 200 people had joined together to create a vibrant and exhilarating learning experience we hope they never forget. We did our job well. And now, it is time to set our sights on next year. Just think of the possibilities ahead! I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish for 2014. Whatever it is, I am sure it will be well worth the wait.

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