Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘ted’

I’m contemplating the power of “X.” I’ve just returned from a week at TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar – an event that brought together over 600 TEDx organizers from 90 countries hosted by TED (Ideas Worth Spreading) and the Doha Film Institute.  [Event photos here.]
The theme of the week was “The Power of X.” For many of us “x” was why we were there. It signified the act of holding an independently licensed TED event in each of our communities around the world. The “x” or exponent is shown as a superscript to the right of the base.

However, throughout our week together, the meaning shifted to mean something else. Something greater. It began to signify the power of “x” to multiply great ideas. Coming together in Doha with organizers from around the world I realized (we all realized) that our local events multiplied the spreading of ideas to make change in our communities. This theme of multiplication was perfectly illustrated by a stunning video, opening TEDxSummit.

The kaleidoscope,  operating on the principle of multiple reflection, was the perfect metaphor for the event. The word “kaleidoscope” is derived from the Ancient Greek καλός (kalos), “beautiful, beauty”, εἶδος (eidos), “that which is seen: form, shape” and σκοπέω (skopeō), “to look to, to examine”, hence a kaleidoscope is an instrument to “observe beautiful forms.” 

Meeting organizers from around the world, my goals were continuously reflected back at me, my inspiration multiplied. I saw how we are all connected, like the mirrors in the kaleidoscope, working to bring people together around ideas, working to build communities where none might have existed before. I came to the event with a unique perspective on my own event, TEDxSJU, and I left, seeing how each independent event was intricately connected.

We Are Pi created this human arabesque with no computer graphics, just ingenuity and a little math.  Their “How To” video is equally inspiring.

This video got me thinking about how Islamic patterns employ geometry and mathematics to construct the foundation for designs. Six-point geometry is especially pervasive (and beautiful):

The radius of a circle can be swung through its circumference in exactly six arcs to inscribe a hexagon – six circles around one

  • It is the sum of the first three numbers, 1, 2, and 3
  • It is the multiplication of 2 and 3
  • The hexagon can tile perfectly with identical copies of itself to fill a plane
  • The Pythagorean 3-4-5 triangle has an area and a semi-perimeter of six
  • Six-point geometry is abundant in nature – flowers, quartz, snowflakes, honeycombs
  • Six around one is also a biblical theme – the cosmos were created in six days, with the seventh day for rest
  • Intriguingly, the sub-grid, part of underlying structure of the design, is always invisible, transparent. It is something that is there but not there

Understanding something (at this basic level) about Islamic patterns makes this video all the more amazing to me.



I view the world as a rhetorician. As someone who observes how modes of communication produce meaning. At TEDWomen I, with many others, reveled in the ways that material and visual modes of communication were performed. What some call a material rhetorical performance, others call fashion.

Hair, clothing, jewelry constantly communicate meaning on a variety of levels. We all read and interpret these “texts” regularly.  In this post I’ll read into a few select material performances from TEDWomen.

Let’s start with Beverly Joubert’s boots. As a National Geographic Explorer in Residence she has documented wildlife in Africa for the last 25 years.  At TEDWomen she spoke with her husband Dereck about the Big Cats Initiative – dedicated to halting the decline of big cats in the wild. Her tall, two-toned, calfskin riding boots performed her safari chic lifestyle from the stage. Like Beverly, her boots communicated a compelling juxtaposition of elegance and adventure – not an easy combination to achieve. 

Yet, the boots are not inherently elegant and adventurous in and of themselves. We bestow material objects (in this case, boots) with all kinds of meanings and associations. We may associate the boots with the expensive elegance of Ralph Lauren. Or with Karen Blixen from Out of Africa.

They may conjure images of Serengeti sunsets or British fox hunts. These associations, some personal, some collectively shared, travel with material objects. These associations give objects an aesthetic identity.

Here’s my definition of aesthetic identity – associations (both personal and shared) that travel with material objects.

At TEDWomen, we witnessed these aesthetic identities everywhere. They were evident in Toshi Reagon’s gorgeous indigo batik tunic. And Shirin Neshat’s exquisite handcrafted, silver-studded blouse.

Nigerian-American poet-singer-songwriter Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo’s shining braids and colorful ensemble worked to illustrate her border-crossing poetry. It was an important arrangement that demonstrates her place as a global citizen. Welcome everywhere. Elizabeth Lindsey, National Geographic Fellow and Polynesian explorer stunned the audience with the ancient art of storytelling. Her dress, like her story, was transportive, sensual, ancestral, vibrant.

Jessica Green, engineer, ecologist, biologist roller-derbiest, and TEDFellow, wore a sporty, edgy, eco vest.

Glacioligist and TEDIndia Fellow Michele Koppes traveled to TEDWomen by way of Lake Titicaca and was resplendent in her colorful and hand-knit textiles from Peru. 

Women at the conference creatively communicated aesthetic identities through their ensembles. Fashion at TEDWomen did important communicative work, shaping  and reshaping new identities. It reminded me of this quote:

As we voyage we are creating new stories within the tradition of the old stories, we are literally creating a new culture out of the old.
– Nainoa Thompson

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At TEDxPhilly I witnessed a beautiful thing – a community coming together to celebrate its changemakers. TEDxPhilly placed a premium on people who think and do differently. The interplay between technology and culture was fascinating. The focus on sustainable and accountable practices was both thrilling and daring.  Everyone was buzzing from the powerful ideas people were sharing.

And everything was gorgeous. Naturally, I am someone who revels in these things. The venue, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.  The speakers. The attendees. The signs. The program. Gorgeous.

Some of the talks, however, could have been better.

I say this as a rhetorician. And as someone deeply invested in the art of the TED Talk. To date, I’ve helped 130 of my students give “mini TED Talks” – the talk of their lives in 5-minutes or less.

TED prepares TEDx organizers with a toolkit, tips for presenters, aka the TED Commandments.  I know, because I am a TEDx organizer for our campus event in March.  Then, there are the TED Talks themselves to guide speakers, a powerful collection of (mostly) exciting and engaging oral presentations.  But between the TED Commandments and learning by example, I feel there is much room in terms of providing guidance to speakers who are charged with “dreaming big” and sharing ideas that can change the world.

Many of the talks I saw at TEDxPhilly were good. But they could have been excellent– with some guidance. This is tricky because too many rules leads to a cookie-cutter presentation. And that would be the end of TED. We would stop watching the talks. What makes the TED Talks such a phenomenon is their creativity, their humanity, their diversity.  Give one person a data projector and 18 minutes and see what happens. The best ones use all of their available resources to find the freedom within the form.  It’s about getting back to storytelling.

Early morning, after TEDxPhilly, I began to draft some main topics I could develop to help people give these talks.

Things speakers need to consider:

  • Audience engagement/participation
  • Story/story arc/narrative thread
  • Point/purpose
  • Examples/anecdotes/slice of life
  • Delivery/style
  • Authenticity/voice
  • Pacing/timing
  • Structure/Organization
  • Visual engagement/slides/props
  • Meaning in the data
  • Take aways/ deliverables
  • Purpose/significance/the “so what”

When speakers are faced with a presentation, it seems there are three main questions to consider. I see these as the holy trinity of a good talk.

  • What is the story you are telling?
  • Why are you telling it?
  • How are you telling it?

Sounds simple. But each of these points can be an insurmountable hurdle in the quest for the holy grail – a brilliant TED talk.  I would like to hear from students and TEDx presenters about what they found useful in preparing for their talks.