On April 10, 2010, the very first TEDxUofM conference was held in the Biomedical Science Research Building, inviting a crowd of 300 people to explore “ideas worth spreading.” Four years and four conferences later, we’re inviting 1,300 attendees to share the experience once more at the Power Center. In light of the media’s recent criticism of TED and the realization of our fifth anniversary we would be remiss to ask … why?

Why is TEDxUofM important?

Many would immediately look to the speakers: skilled orators, performers, thinkers, musicians, academics and so much more. Our speakers are members of the University of Michigan community who have the opportunity to inspire in 18 minutes or less. While some appear as though they were born to be on the TED stage — exuding an air of comfort in their presentation — the reality is that their presence on the stage is often unfamiliar, new and exciting. Presenting their life’s work through the lens of an overarching common theme, this is their moment to show why their idea is different. Why their idea is unsettling. Why their idea matters.

But let’s slow down. Concentrating years of research, degrees and experiences into one talk seems nearly impossible considering the wealth of knowledge necessary to even scratch the surface on an advanced idea. Professional conferences, comparatively, are presented over the course of days and require expertise as a prerequisite for attendance. How can we possibly expect to intelligibly present enough information for comprehension without divulging the didactic particulars?

The answer lies — somewhat unsuspectingly — in our attendees. Students, members of the University community, Ann Arborites and family members; our attendees are unrelenting investigators who are able to digest a talk down to its foundation. They’re hungry, not focusing in on an isolated problem, but instead placing ideas within a larger context. They’re hungry to connect with a new field of study; hungry to challenge and be challenged; hungry to move out of their comfort zone and be a part of something bigger. It’s this energy that permeates through the Power Center. It radiates from the stage when one talk comes to an end, and persists through engaging conversation that often spills out from the mirrored glass doors. Then the lights dim, a speaker steps out and another cycle begins.

Even our passionate audience, however, can’t ignore the fact that TEDxUofM is over in eight hours. Its existence feels like a strike of lightning, a haiku or perhaps a neuronal action potential. After all the effort put in by the speakers, the time taken by the attendees and the organizational work done by the team, how does the conference have a lasting influence?

The persistence of TEDxUofM talks can partially be explained through their design. The backbone of every talk isn’t about some innovation — a commonly misconceived notion — these talks are about ideas: entropy-increasing, foundation-shaking ideas with the uncanny ability to ripple through into diverse areas of thought. Suddenly, a pre-med student is thinking about the adversity overcome by Jackie Robinson and global health inequality. An artist sees a prison as a collection of untapped creativity rather than an institution of criminals. A professor is inspired by the inextinguishable, unimaginable, unexplainable will of two young men to overcome paralysis. These ideas stay with you. We dare to even suggest that they change you. Forever.

In recognition of our conference’s finite lifespan, we have diversified to accommodate conversations all year long. Gallery openings, daily blog posts and monthly salons facilitating “conversations worth having,” fill the calendars of our community. Recently, we have undertaken a new venture along with the College of Engineering entitled Campus of the Future, a series of salons focusing on what education at the University will look like in 50 years. We’re expanding our reach, rejecting complacency and evolving with the needs of our community.

Despite all this, when asked why TEDxUofM is important, members of our team don’t immediately think of our speakers, our attendees or the work they do with the community. They think of the new student walking onto the Diag and feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities a community of 40,000 has to offer. TEDxUofM is for them. It’s there to help them find a new passion or perhaps rethink an old one. It exists as a catalyst connecting thinkers, both young and old, looking to make an impact on the world. We are here for you.

We ask that you join us on Saturday, March 15th and help us continue transforming through ideas worth spreading. The application to attend is open now.

TEDxUofM can be contacted at info@tedxuofm.com.

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