Every passion begins with an introduction. It’s often hard to imagine life before you found that thing you now consider part of your DNA. For TEDsters across the world, that first exposure to a community of thinkers, explorers and challengers of the status quo, altered their path forever. People mostly know about TED via TEDTalks, which have gone viral online and are offered on in-flight entertainment by several airlines. A fortunate few have actually scored a coveted ticket to the annual event in Long Beach. Fortunately, TEDsters have now rolled out regionally independently organized events called TEDx. These gatherings bring the spirit of TED, whose motto is Ideas Worth Spreading, to the masses.
Santa Barbara’s TEDx American Riviera is celebrating its third year on Nov. 11 at Bacara Resort & Spa, thanks to co-producers Kymberlee Weil and Mark Sylvester. The couple became part of the TED family after building a software product for TED in 2003.
Through their product, which is now called introNetworks, TED attendees would fill out an interactive profile that included their knowledge base as well as skills and values. Then the program cross-matched people to facilitate introductions. A hit with attendees, Sylvester and Weil have been tapped in the years since by more than 350 companies and organizations, including Google, McCann Worldgroup, NASA and the Santa Barbara Nonprofit Resource Network to apply the platform to improve their internal communication and collaboration efforts.
Once TED began allowing TEDx events, Weil and Sylvester jumped at the chance to share the magic with the Santa Barbara community.
“TED had a dramatic affect on my life, and while I raved to friends and family, they didn’t really understand the life-changing potential until they came to our TEDx event,” said Weil, who took on the task of selecting and preparing the talented speaker lineup, while Sylvester oversees sponsors and event logistics.
Weil believes everyone has a TED Talk in them; it’s just a matter of pulling it out or “catching it” as the idea surfaces. After the theme is set (this year’s is The Unthinkable), she begins culling through hundreds of recommended speakers to find the right combination of talent and unique perspective to round out the conference. Once selected, the speakers go through a rigorous process of outlining and writing their talks, then repeated rehearsals with Weil and the others on her team. As they are not allowed to use any notes on stage, the speakers must know their 18-minute talk inside and out. They must also adhere to the original three TED Commandments: don’t sell, be vulnerable and tell a story you’ve never told before.
“One idea can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives, and I strive to cultivate that pearl in every speaker’s story,” Weil added.
Sylvester, a 20-year TED veteran, provides an explanation.
“TEDx isn’t oriented around a specific cause,” he said. “It’s purely for mental stimulation and free expression. I consider it a vacation for my brain.”
Tasked with securing sponsorship money to put on the event, as well as location, staging and IT needs, Sylvester also helps oversee the dozen core volunteers who work on committees ranging from site logistics and gift bags to media relations and production of a youth project.
“People typically do things either for money or because it makes them happy,” Sylvester said. “Since we pay no one involved in TEDx, it’s all the more important to give them a positive, enriching experience and revel in knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves.”
This year’s TEDxAmericanRiviera is hosted by platinum sponsors Lynda.com and Sientra, as well as gold sponsors Citrix and QAD and silver sponsors CompuVision and Maps.com. Speakers include doctors, musicians, philosophers, dance instructors, strategists, actresses, martial artists, near-death survivors, professors, artists, problem solvers, authors and psychologists.