Since 1984, the TED initiative has highlighted the best and the brightest in the fields of technology, entertainment and design through its award-winning series of talks devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
On November 20 TEDxMcGill, an independent, homegrown version of the famous project, will gather 600 students, faculty, alumni and Montrealers together to explore the theme of “Relentless Curiosity.”
Executive Organizer Jan Florjanczyk recently shared his thoughts about TEDxMcGill, now in its second year, and why the initiative continues to capture imaginations around the world.
Why did you get involved in TEDx?
I originally got involved as a speaker in 2009, but I ended up on the organizing team because I saw what TEDxMcGill could mean for the McGill community. In 2009 we felt such incredible support and interest from McGill and from Montreal that we simply had to keep growing for this year. We are perpetually trying to articulate what draws people into TED and for everyone it is something different. Everyone does share one commonality though: a deep and passionate engagement for ideas. For me, TEDTalks emphasize open-mindedness hand in hand with expertise and that is a rarely replicated environment.
What gets people so excited about these lectures?
The TEDTalk format and its roaring success are completely unprecedented. Talks like Jill Bolte Taylor’s make you ache to learn about yourself, and talks like Jamie Oliver’s make you yearn to spring into action. The secret is in the fact that these speakers are completely present. They speak candidly and directly, and most importantly they do not sell, promote or prophesize. The impact of storytelling is even greater when the storyteller is speaking to you face to face. This is actually the reason TEDx events exist.
What kind of influence has TED had on you, the Internet and the world of ideas?
TED has really gotten everyone out of their seats. Amazing things have already stemmed from the annual TEDPrize and TEDFellows program. The most impressive project has been TEDx however. Last year, TED introduced this program to give communities the ability to organize local TED-like events. The response around the world has been explosive. By the end of 2010, 500+ TEDx events will have played host to over 100,000 attendees. Many of these events are happening in North America, but many more are happening all over the world: in India, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa (most notably TEDxKibera in the Kiberan slums).
What makes TEDxMcGill unique?
TEDxMcGill is one of the few TEDx events to feature student speakers. We commit to having 50 per cent of our speakers be McGill students. The other 50 per cent of our program is filled by faculty, alumni and special guests from Montreal. Non-student speakers often have very accomplished careers and have had an idea germinating in their head for a very long time. Students don’t have this luxury, and the student speaker preparation period is extremely harrowing (trust me!) but also hugely cathartic. Our program is a very diverse cross-section of the things going on at McGill and in Montreal. Talks at TEDxMcGill have ranged from a linguist discussing the emerging use of the word “like” to a biologist on the myths and safety of vaccines. From a professor on postmodern management to a student entrepreneur urging others into startups, expect more amazing talks this year.
Relative Curiosity takes place at McGill on November 20.