TEDxStanford tickets sell out in less than 10 minutes

April 19, 2015, 9:39 p.m.
Tanvi Jayarman ’16 is one speaker at this year’s TEDx event. (DERRICK LIU/The Stanford Daily)

The fourth annual TEDx Stanford event, which will take place on Sunday, May 17, sold out within 10 minutes of the tickets becoming available last Wednesday.

The CEMEX auditorium, where the event will be held, has a capacity of just under 600 people, and owing to the high demand for tickets, Executive Producer Melinda Sacks, who is also the director of media initiatives for the Stanford University Office of Public Affairs, said she will be looking at possibly moving the event to a bigger venue next year.

However, this year, two nearby classrooms will be used as overflow rooms. For 50 dollars, people can watch a livestream in these classrooms and join everyone else for the included breakfast, lunch and reception.

This year’s TEDx Stanford will be hosted by David Hornik ’90, a partner at August Capital, an investment firm, and Olivia Harewood ‘09, a professional comedian and actress. The 19-speaker lineup is mostly made up of Stanford professors, lecturers and graduate students and also includes one undergraduate.

The speakers range from Dr. Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics who Sacks said will speak about saltwater invasion of freshwater, to anthropology professor Dr. Tanya Marie Luhrmann, who will speak about spiritual practices and experiences.

Tanvi Jayaraman ’16, the undergraduate speaker, has been deeply involved in sexual assault prevention education, has done research on bystander intervention in preventing sexual assaults, and arranged to bring a theater program called “Stanford, It’s On Us: We Will Not Standby” to campus in the fall.

She’s excited to speak about her topic, most likely how to improve campus culture and how people can become more educated about sexual assault, though knowing that she is the only undergraduate speaking has made her a little nervous.

“I think hearing it from a student voice is especially powerful, and so I’m just really excited to be able to share that with everyone who attends,” Jayaraman said.

In addition to the speakers, there will be five featured performances, including comedian Frank Olivier and the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Tucker Bryant ’16, who will be performing a spoken word poem, said he’s excited to be able to perform his work for an audience that might not usually be exposed to it.

“I’m writing [my poem] right now, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’ll be about different representations of manhood in society, and how it’s manifested in my life and what it looks like elsewhere,” Bryant said.


How TEDx works

TEDx events, according to the TED website, are “planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis, under a free license from TED.” Sacks and Hornik had the idea four years ago that the TED format would work well with Stanford, so they organized a pilot event combining speakers and performances. It was a big success, and they started TEDx Stanford the following year.

Each year, Sacks contacts people in many different institutes, centers and departments across campus to encourage them to submit speaker nominations, and anyone can nominate speakers through the TEDx Stanford website. Sacks said that now that people are aware of the event, she gets “dozens and dozens” of nominations from all parts of campus.  The student organizing team for TEDx also submits recommendations.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle, to figure out what will make the most compelling program and what will fit with our theme,” Sacks said.

This year that theme is “Turning Point,” which Sacks said is fitting because this year’s event will focus on things going on in the world today.

“We are at a point in the world where so many things are in flux and are at really key and crucial moments, where what we do as a society and as a University and as a planet will influence future generations, and even us in our lifetime,” Sacks said. “That ranges from the arts to environmental sustainability to the arts to government and politics to security — you can kind of look at all of those as being at various stages of turning points, so it just seemed like a very fitting theme for this year.”

As part of the theme, there will be an on-site story booth where attendees can tell their own “turning point” stories on camera; some will be shown towards the end of the day-long program, and Sacks hopes they can be posted online and more people can participate.

“We really want to get our audience to think about their own turning points and what they can do to change the trajectory of their own lives and stories,” Sacks said.

Although TED talks are generally very popular, they have garnered some criticism. In an article in the New Statesman, researcher and science writer Martin Robbins wrote, “There are no questions here: In the cult of TED, everything is awesome and inspirational, and ideas aren’t supposed to be challenged.”

Sacks acknowledged there might be things to be improved upon in the TEDx format, but said the ideas can turn into real-life results.

“They [TED] have a lot of actual projects that have led to new nonprofit organizations and gatherings of people that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise, and really leading to action, not just ‘Isn’t that awesome,’” Sacks said. “I think you can criticize just about anything, but I think this is a terrific format and I think what we do with it is really what’s important — how we are using it to share the stories and the discoveries at Stanford.”


Engaging students

Frances Guo ’16 and Karthik Ramasubramanian ’16 served as student team co-chairs this year, and have organized ways for students to engage with TEDx outside of the actual event, especially if they’re not able to attend. There are three such opportunities, said Guo.

First, students can attend a speaking workshop with GSB lecturer J.D. Schramm this Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. Schramm will talk about public speaking skills, and students can find out about potentially auditioning for next year’s TEDx Stanford. Guo said if there is enough interest at the workshop, there may be follow up opportunities for students to receive coaching.

TEDx Stanford will be live-streamed on the Stanford homepage and TEDx website, which means those who don’t attend can watch it on their own, but the student team has two live-stream viewing parties organized. These will take place in Burbank and Serra, with snacks provided by Stern Dining.

“There’s a live stream every year, but we’d like to really have a physical gathering of students, so that people who want to discuss the ideas can come together and watch together, instead of watching individually on their laptops,” Guo explained.

The other opportunity to engage in TEDx outside the event itself is a round-table event that will take place the day after the event. It will include some of the speakers from the day before and will consist of a follow-up discussion of the event.

“We want to make sure that the ideas that are discussed at the conference don’t just stop there,” Guo said. “I know people often have questions that they’d like to ask but don’t really get to during the conference. So this is a way for people to kind of debrief, for students to get a chance to meet some of the speakers in person and have an open dialogue.”


Contact Emma Johanningsmeier at ejmeier ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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