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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

The answers are tallied and submissions (so far) are in. We can now share what TEDxCbusers think of Columbus and what Columbus (+ surrounds) thinks of TEDxColumbus. Before the 2013 event we invited attendees and live-stream viewers—at McConnell Arts, Marion Correctional (MCI), home, office, etc—to write about their Out There experience. Their posts are below (please add your own in the comments).

And during the event, sometime after the aliens, brain pacemakers, cats in code, anti-terrorist dry cleaning and lunch but before the Maillard reaction, tampons, valleys, sewage, healing and “genderbread,” each audience member was given a 3×5 card and asked to answer 3 questions:

  1. Why are you here (at TEDxCbus)?
  2. What are your talents?
  3. Has Columbus provided you the opportunity to share your talents?

543—almost 75% of attendees—responded. Here’s what they said:

Why Here?
The answer to this question typically came in pairs (“to grow and connect”) or in triplicate+ (“to be inspired, enriched, motivated, to make change”). Judging by word count alone, to learn and to be inspired were the top two reasons. And the brain, whether it would think differently, wake up, open up, or be fed or fueled or blown altogether, was the biggest beneficiary, but not the only one: a few came to “open my heart,” “feed my soul” or “to be moved to act differently.” Other reasons, from most repeated to least: Community (connecting, conversing, celebrating); To Support Someone (a speaker, mostly); Personal Growth (motivate, refuel, “clear the cobwebs”); Fun; and To Listen to Others. There was also a sprinkling of “curiosity,” “creativity,” “innovation” and “I love TEDs,” plus one or two outliers: “I am here as a spy.”

What Talents?
Interestingly, in these career-focused times, less than 5% of respondents mentioned a professional title or identity. (Who did the most? The dancers.) Instead, an absolutely overwhelming majority said their talent was helping others. “Others” was usually non-specific, but some subsets emerged, namely youth, community and animals. Parenting and advocacy (#1 environment; #2 arts) were other oft-repeated talents. Many listed personal qualities, such as “kindness,” “modesty,” “loyalty,” “being a good neighbor;” and a few were much more specific, mentioning a talent for “great pastry,” “a bad accent,” “selling a lot of jeans,” “solving puzzles,” and “soup.”

Is Columbus Supporting Our Talents?
YES—say a whopping 87.3%. For 8.7% the answer was NO, while 4% did not answer or were out-of-towners. It is interesting, too, to look at how respondents shared their Yeses and Nos. With variations in size and placement, the bulk (401) of the total yeses (474) were straightforward, unadorned and unqualified. Among the rest that were more detailed in their response (73), the emphatic, superlative, decorated YES (62)—as in, the big bubble-lettered YES, Abso-freakin-lutely Yes, Yes x 10, even Yes x 1,000—beat out the tentative YES (11)—as in, 1/2 Yes; Yes…but barely—by a ratio of nearly 6 to 1. In contrast, just under half of the total NOs (47) were clear-cut (23). Only 1 was a resounding NO! The rest stopped just short with either a “Not Yet” (13) or “Not Fully” (8)—also expressed as “ish” and “meh”—and 2 of the NOs blamed themselves (“I haven’t taken enough advantage…”; “I think the onus is on me now…”)

There you have it. And now, a sampling of what Columbus has to say about Out There:

Brian Crawford, live-stream at MCI
I felt honored to be a part of the TEDxColumbus simulcast here at Marion Correctional. The entire production was great and I got something from every TEDx talk. My favorite talk was the young man (Austin Channell) talking about grade point averages and how the system is flawed. I felt hurt because I have four children in school and this could affect them. I felt like getting up and running to my kids’ school to demand change. As a parent this issue hit me deeply. I absolutely loved the event. I felt free for a few hours.

Doug Dangler, live-stream on computer
Consider these quotations from Michelle Alexander’s talk:

  • During a 30-year period of time, our nation’s prison population quintupled.
  • We have the highest rate of prison incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of even highly repressive regimes like Russia or China or Iran.
  • As of 2004, more black men were denied the right to vote than in 1870.

It’s an overwhelming problem, with the final statistic pointing to the thesis of Alexander’s talk: institutionalized racism is evident in the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, resulting in a new caste of legally disenfranchised and dehumanized people, who are overwhelmingly poor and of color. Alexander said that nothing less than a radical revision of the criminal justice system, with attendant major upheaval and social change, will combat this problem. So she ended with a call to action, asking TEDxColumbus attendees to do the “hard work of movement building.”

I was left feeling that she was right and that changes needed to be made. But how will these changes arise? The changes she’s suggesting—decriminalizing marijuana, restoring voting rights to felons, dramatically shrinking the prison population, etc.—will be an incredibly difficult sell in a nation whose elected officials can’t even keep the government open. I hope her next TEDx talk will lay out specifics of how to accomplish her goals. Clearly, this is a hugely difficult task. But a thinker and speaker as deep and talented as Michelle Alexander may be just the person to do it.

Wayne Snitzky, live stream at MCI
Watching TEDxColumbus live from inside Marion Correctional had the same effect as watching any live event, we felt connected to the event. The difference is that inside a prison the opportunity to feel that connection is few and far between. Watching as a curator is always fun because it is an opportunity to…borrow ideas for our event, and learn from their glitches and glories. My thoughts on the overall event can be summed up in the last thought I had watching the event. When Nancy Kramer gave Decker Moss a hug after his talk I thought: (tongue firmly in cheek) “Oh great, now we’ll have to stock men’s rooms with free tampons!”

David Hooker, live at COSI

One of the most interesting talks for me was a session by Mohamed Ali, the founder of the Iftiin Foundation created to foster innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in Somalia, spurring forward an economy and putting people to work.

He shared stories about bringing a dry cleaning shop to Mogadishu, figuring out how to run cappuccino machines without electricity—in a city with no functioning electrical grid after years of war—and how solar-powered street lights allowed people to stay up after dark to socialize with neighbors, and shops to stay open late. The reemergence of nightlife, missing in Mogadishu for 20 years, speaks to the simple needs and simple solutions that can have a huge impact on a culture.

Ali’s story of terrorists trying to break these streetlamps to drive people back inside and to crush an economy where people have a chance of earning a living instead of turning to illegal work or terror to support their families, speaks volumes. My sense is, his talk, and the work he does, will have great impact in this part of the world for generations to come.


Daniel Royston, live-stream at MCI
So…she said in a paraphrased kind of way…”you can’t contemplate what you see or hear unless the signal is degraded.” And it was this, this simple phrase that totally made my TEDxColumbus day. Now I have to confess that I may have missed the next talk or two as I contemplated this metaphorically difficult yet contextually simple sentence she had just shook me with. I mean think about it, have you ever thought about something that went well? Beyond the “This is too good to be true” cliché when things do go well? Or…are you like me and always become fixated on the imperfections we see in everything we do?

I realize that it is moments like these that draw me to TED talks and TEDx events again and again, these small unexpected moments of clarity, bursts of catharsis, or epiphanies with gravity if you will. Dr. Susan Nittrouer was talking about hearing loss, cochlear implants and the deaf learning to speak without impediments. But all I could think about was all the nights I had lain awake, my mind stubbornly refusing to shutdown as I chastised myself for whatever minute mistake I had made and contemplating just how I could avoid doing the same in the future…and then I wondered, why I never find myself in that same place at that same time reliving something incredible that I had accomplished that day and how I should strive to be that good…again…tomorrow. How did I go from contemplating a degraded signal to pondering my daily failings and my obsession with them?

I was watching TEDxColumbus via livestream at our viewing party in Marion Correctional Institution in a room full of men just like myself. Men who are reminded of their own shortcomings and mistakes every morning they wake up and look out the window to see the 20’ tall razor wire fences that surround their current residence, and I find myself thinking about all the little things I have done the last 15 years to improve my own “signal” from the horribly degraded version it was all those years ago. I will always be someone who broke the law, someone that society holds to a different standard than someone who hasn’t. But maybe the work I’ve done has been successful and my signal is no longer degraded as much as it used to be. Maybe society… and by this I mean you…will contemplate my character, my signal, as it is…today.

Matt, live-stream at MCI

I really enjoyed TEDxColumbus. I thought it was very well organized and the overall flow was planned very well. I really was humbled by all of the praise offered to the Marion Correctional team. We are all hopeful of the same future with the same goals: That every man and woman regardless of race or religion will have a voice and the platform to share ideas. Thank you, TED.


Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at


On December 5th at The Columbus Foundation, we’ll be hosting the 3rd Annual TEDWomen Livestream from San Francisco along with a live / local session of TEDxColumbusWomen talks.  If you know you want to attend, here’s the registration link – tickets are free but seating is limited.

If you need more details…

TEDWomen is a one-day global TED conference co-sponsored by TED and the Paley Center for Media and hosted by Pat Mitchell. As a local TEDx licensee, we are able to stream this event to one location for free. This year’s theme is INVENTED HERE. For more details (including speakers when they are announced), you can visit their website.

TEDxColumbusWomen is a TEDx event (independently organized) featuring local talks in the traditional TED-style format. We will host this hour of local talks during the break in the livestream of TEDWomen, also around the theme INVENTED HERE. These talks will be posted online like all other TEDx talks.

The event will take place at The Columbus Foundation, 1234 East Broad Street in Davis Hall. We are grateful to the Foundation for their generosity in hosting us for the day. Parking is free.

The schedule will run:

1pm – 2pm – Doors Open, Conversation, Networking

2pm – 3:30pm – Session 1: TEDWomen (Livestream from San Francisco)

3:30pm – 4pm – Conversation, Networking with light refreshments

4pm – 5pm – TEDxColumbusWomen: An hour of provocative local speakers (TBA)

5pm – 6:30 pm – Session 2: TEDWomen (Livestream from San Francisco)

(We will not be streaming Session 3 from TEDWomen due to time zone differences.)

If you cannot stay the entire duration (2pm – 630pm), that’s perfectly fine. Please register even if you plan to come for even an hour or so.

We hope you will consider joining us for this afternoon of dynamic talks and dialogue!

Please register by visiting and let us know you are coming also on the Facebook event page!



As we close out 2013 TEDxColumbus event, it is imperative that we call out all those that helped make this event possible. Here’s our honor roll!

Allyson Kuentz – While she went inside COSI full time this summer, she was still instrumental in being our inside-COSI contact. She should be recognized for helping us in every event from 2009 and getting us to this place.

Judi Stillwell – Judi stepped up and took a huge leadership role in helping to choose speakers this year, guiding us through the curatorial process. Her passion for sharing great ideas and igniting inspiring conversation is contagious!

David Staley – we chose him in as a speaker in 2010, and he has helped co-host and as a member of the curatorial team for the last 2 years. He balances us out with really provocative questions and a steady, professional demeanor. We need both of those things always!

Jen Kerns – Jen stepped in late this summer to take over the back-office operations of ticketing, website updating, sponsor fulfillment, registration and keeping us all calm through the storm. We look forward to keeping Jen involved in the future!

We had an amazing team of day-of event volunteers that included (and we hope we haven’t missed anyone!) Steve Post (who also was a huge help writing our speaker profiles- thank you Steve!), Amy Sharp (our tweeter!), Jenny Hooie, Susie Fabro, Sheeba Samuel, Morgan Howard, Chet Ridenour, Cari Scott, Karen Jones, Mandy Sadowski, Alan Jazak and more! We can’t forget Cleve Ricksecker, who stepped in for a sick Michael Wilkos to conduct the community conversation (more on that to come!).

Then there were the awesome TEDxOhioStateUniversity team who helped Morgan and Chet manage the activities in the upstairs galleries. We are blessed to count them as friends and partners!

Lauren Edmond stepped up with a week left to host the livestream of at the McConnell Arts Center. What a gift that was to us to have such a welcoming second host for those that couldn’t come to COSI.

Then… there’s our creative team. Truly impeccable this year, again. We truly were honored to have this talent by our side.

Joey Zornes and his team from BonFire Red truly kept us in business as our web site went through some up and downs this year.

Drue Dixon and Terry Rohrbach from Base Art Co. did their amazing magic with our brand, AGAIN. It is thanks to them we have an amazing design platform on which to build our entire image.

Mike Beaumont and his genius team at SpaceJunk Media crushed it again with their remarkable animations for both our promo video and speaker introductions.

Bill Liftin, now at Engague, continued to shepard the mobile site even though he’s been through two major changes since his team built it two years ago!

And the uber talented photographers at Time Tank Labs who, for the third year, offered the best documentation of our event at COSI.  And Megan Leigh Barnard stepped in to flawlessly photograph our speaker reception.

We hope we haven’t missed anyone. Please know we are grateful for this community-wide collaboration that makes it all possible.  Thank you!