By Jana Persky
Following the positive response to last year’s TEDxStanford conference, the University’s Office of Public Affairs will offer a second installation on May 11 in Cemex Auditorium.
At time of publication, 22 speaking acts and seven performers were scheduled to present at the conference, produced in partnership with the School of Earth Sciences, the Graduate School of Business and the Precourt Institute for Energy. According to event organizers, the theme of the conference is “Breakthroughs,” but topics will range from the impact of multitasking to a stand-up comedy routine to a discussion of neural prosthetics.
The current lineup for TEDxStanford 2013 includes notable figures like current Stockton, Calif., City Councilman Michael Tubbs ’12, Stanford football head coach David Shaw ’94 and Communications Professor Clifford Nass.
“TEDxStanford is a unique opportunity for us because it really gives the University the chance to showcase the great stories, research and people that make up this University,” said Melinda Sacks ’74, director of media initiatives and the conference’s producer. “What’s really terrific about this particular platform is that it’s accessible and engaging for everyone — certainly people don’t have to be an expert on any one topic to appreciate the content.”
According to the TED website, the TEDx program is intended to “stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level,” with events being planned independently by the host community.
TED itself is a non-profit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” having started as a conference to bring together people from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. It has since grown to include a website hosting thousands of online TED Talks that the organization claims have been collectively viewed more than a billion times.
Extensive planning process
TEDxStanford began last year as a collaboration between the Office of Public Affairs and interested alumni. The original event included 27 speakers and artists who presented over three sessions. The 2013 version of the conference will be similarly formatted — according to Sacks, each of the three segments will be about an hour and 45 minutes.
Speakers were selected in a process that, according to Sacks, takes “six or seven months.” Last year, the organizers pursued each performer; this year, however, the lineup is split “half and half” between performers who nominated themselves and those who were approached by event planners. All speakers have a Stanford affiliation as alumni or faculty, staff members or students.
“It’s a combination, sort of a puzzle of putting together the program,” Sacks said. “You want a really diverse group of people in terms of age and topic and ethnicity and approach.”
While there was no formal audition process, Sacks said she used YouTube videos of potential speakers to help vet candidates, who must present their topic in approximately 15 minutes or less.
“Being a good presenter is obviously really important to this program,” Sacks said. “Giving a TED talk is very different than giving a lecture or going to a three-day conference where you have an endless amount of time to talk.”
Once speakers and performers are selected, they are given freedom to develop their talks in collaboration with the conference’s speaker coach.
“In general, when we recruit someone, we expect that they are going to give a good talk no matter what, so we try not to interfere,” said Sukrit Narula ’14, who co-chairs the student organizing committee with Jay Patel ’14.
Jack Rakove, professor of history and political science, will present on the Electoral College, emphasizing that he “would like to get rid of it tomorrow.”
“It’s counterintuitive — most observers think we’re kind of stuck with it and will be indefinitely,” Rakove said. “But in the wake of a presidential election, both for general principles and because of specific calculations, this is actually a great time to think about it.”
Rakove said that although he has written and spoken extensively on the Electoral College, he has never participated in a TED event. In fact, he said he has never seen a talk besides brief online excerpts.
According to Rakove, the novelty of the event is part of what attracted him to it.
“It’s a curious event because people talk about a whole range of subjects and there’s not one connection — as far as I can tell — from one topic to the next,” Rakove said. “I’ll be curious to see how it flows and how it goes and how both the audience and the participants react.”
Tickets to this year’s event sold out in less than 30 minutes, despite the inclusion of two overflow rooms that will allow 160 extra attendees in addition to Cemex’s capacity of 583. According to Sacks, the audience consists of 30 percent students, 35 percent general public, 10 percent faculty/staff and 25 percent miscellaneous, which includes speakers and performers, invited guests and event staff.
While at the event, audience members will be able to mingle with performers and even take photos with them at an outdoor photo booth sponsored by the Stanford group mediaX.
“One of the coolest things about the event is that when you are there, you actually get to interact with the speakers,” Narula said. “They’ll come out and you can sit and eat lunch with them — that was my favorite part last year and probably will be this year as well.”
The conference will also include an outdoor gallery that will replace the product demo that was held last year. Sacks said the gallery, which will be held in Arbuckle Café, will give conference attendees “a chance to interact with all types of art projects.”
For those who couldn’t obtain a ticket, the event will be available on live stream on the TEDxStanford website. Sacks added that all material will be made available online after it undergoes post-production.
Sacks said that although she had been slightly nervous about the audience response last year, this year she is confident that attendees will enjoy the show.
“I just think the range of topics and the different kinds of people we have in this program will really delight and surprise our audience in a whole new way,” Sacks said. “It’s like an intellectual variety show of fantastic Stanford content.”