The homepage of the popular website TED.com cuts right to the chase. A mosaic of links to videos greets visitors, each shorter than 20 minutes, each focusing on a single speaker. The lecturers hold forth on topics and ideas as diverse as cutting-edge touchscreens and advanced card tricks; no topic is off limits. Currently on the main screen are a speech called "How to make work-life balance work," one called "The rise of robots," and a performance of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" played soulfully on the ukulele.
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and the organization operates as a non-profit, putting on several yearly conferences using the lecturers and posting the product online. The stated mission of TED is spreading ideas, and its done so for the past 25-plus years, so much so that admirers of the website began to wonder how they could bring the fabled conferences to their own hometowns.
Deb Gurke is one such devotee. "I just love TED," she says, speaking in her home on Madison's west side, slightly up University Avenue from Hilldale Mall. "I just think TED is fabulous." Gurke is one of two main organizers for the upcoming satellite conference on March 5, dubbed TEDx Madtown, which will follow the same structure of the larger TED events.
"In TED, the speakers stay all day," says Gurke. "They don't just come in and do their spiel and leave, like often happens. There's not a panel. There's no keynote. There's no Q&A. But, there's big blocks of time for people to talk to each other. The speakers, they do their thing and there's a block of time for people to talk to each other."
Gurke and her co-lead organizer, Adam Braus, took different paths to the creation and execution of the Madison conference. While Deb knew about TED solely from its website, Braus had previously organized a TEDx (the x stands for independently organized) in Bangkok. Thus, says Gurke, the two had vastly divergent visions for what a Madison-area TED should look like.
"He wanted to do a big one," she says. Unfortunately, to host a TEDx larger than 120 attendees, at least one of the organizers must have previously attended a central TED event in Long Beach, Oxford or a few other locations. Neither Gurke nor Braus has, so, says Deb, "we were actually kind of looking around to try to find someone who had."
When they couldn't, they decided, "Let's do the small one. We'll get some interest. There will be more than enough interest both in terms of the speakers and the people who want to come. We'll learn some stuff from doing a little one about how to maybe do a bigger one next year, if we can find someone."
Gurke moved ahead with that idea, using connections she had at Promega in Fitchburg to set up a location for the event at Promega's Biopharmecuetical technology center. It's a closed event because of the limited size, though videos from the area speakers will eventually make their way onto TED.com for the viewing pleasure of a world-wide Internet audience.
This particular TEDx will use a tri-themed organizational system just like the main TED conferences. But, instead of Technology, Education, Design, TEDx Madtown will draw on Deb's experience in the education field and revolve around the concepts Drivers of Change, Ideology, and Public Education. Just like the website, the collection of speakers will be diverse bordering on eclectic.
"We have a guy that's talking about the Generosity Project, which is a very different way to think about the world," says Gurke. "There's a third-grade teacher whose kids use iPads and they blog, and a science teacher who works at the discover center." She added that there would be 15 live speakers in all, including an iPod app developer and a social entrepreneur, as well as four carefully selected videos from TED.com's vast reserve.
In the end, said Gurke, TEDx may well benefit the Dane County community. "We want to bring people together who really get it, who are motivated and interested in moving beyond that, and are doing something with what they learned. And then they'll be bringing it out into the world and making a difference in some way."
TEDx Madtown will be held Saturday, March 5 in Fitchburg.