by Kendra Hovey
If one event is a happening, two events are a coincidence, and three hints of a trend, what is five? Because five is the number of organizations in Columbus that have recently hosted an internal TEDx or TEDx-like event.
- Glimcher held a TED-like session inside their annual meeting.
- Alliance Data tapped into the TED format for a summit of their top 350 leaders, and then again at an internal conference for their Human Resources division.
- The BRUTx event at OSU’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science was everything TEDx except the name (and even that came close).
- Both Battelle and Cardinal Health are official TED license holders. Battelle has hosted two internal TEDx events. Cardinal Health, one. Both expect to host more in the future.
Four companies. One medical center. Plus TED now issues a specific license for inside events at corporations and institutions. It seems TEDxCorporate has become “a thing.”
From curation and coaching to licensing and volunteer coordination, TEDx is no small undertaking, and because of restrictions specific to the corporate TEDx license, talks cannot be shared publicly or used for marketing purposes. The benefits are strictly internal. Yet, more and more companies are adopting the platform. The motivation is the same as at any TED event: to share ideas. But the people at Battelle and Cardinal Health also talk about skill-building, creative outlets, fostering connections, inspiring collaboration, and energizing the workplace.
Plus, there’s something to the TED brand.
It connotes fun, fascination, and innovation—“distinguishing it from other types of events,” says Eileen Lehmann, director of internal communications at Cardinal Health. Lehmann co-organized her company’s event with Shelley Bird, executive vice president in the office of the CEO. Bird was inspired to pilot a TEDx for employees after attending TEDxColumbus. “Storytelling is critical to communicating ideas,” she says, “and the TEDx experience helped us to hone that skill internally.”
With 14 talks and performances and an audience of about 100, TEDxCardinalHealth was organized around the theme Plunge Pivot Pounce. Topics included brain surgery, data mining, and leadership, among others. Some talks shared personal journeys and crises; others highlighted employee talents. LaChandra Baker wowed her colleagues with a rap performance. A few months later, Baker took the stage again at TEDxColumbusWomen. Not the only way the event has legs, a video of one of the talks—on decision making—has become a staple in leadership meetings and, says Lehmann, “our CEO is now getting into the act.” George Barrett will be one of the speakers at Disruption: TEDxColumbus 2105 on November 20th.
Overall, reactions ranged from impressed to “life changing,” says Lehmann who herself was moved by the emotional impact it had, and also impressed, as she says, “by how smart and talented our employees are.” Some practical advice from Lehmann: Good video production and a great editor are key; rehearsal day is just as important as the event; and because it takes time for those unfamiliar with TEDx to catch on, an energetic group of volunteers will make all the difference.
At Battelle, TEDx has definitely caught on. Between their first event, Be Inspired, and their second, Breaking Through, attendance tripled, says Alexa Konstantinos, curator of both events. A scientist by training and now marketing director for medical business, Konstantinos, over her 20-year tenure, has seen the variety of “magic-making” at Battelle. “That may sound ridiculous,” she explains, “but the science and technology of the future is pretty magical.”
Looking for an outlet to share that magic within the Battelle community, TEDx was a perfect fit. Their talks tend towards the technological, she says, but what they all share is passion, and it’s not always a professional passion. At the most recent TEDxBattelle, one employee talked about his off-the-clock involvement in a science program for children, where kids as young as five are examining fossils and, those that find something new, get named on a scientific paper about the finding.
Other talks have focused on design in everyday life and predictive analytics in health care, meaning, in critical care situations, using data to predict what will happen to a person from a health standpoint in the next 12 to 24 hours.
Konstantinos says, “Curating TEDxBattelle has been an immensely rewarding experience personally.” As far as the value to Battelle, she echoes what others have said about TED’s unique format for idea-sharing and communication, but what really sets it apart, she says, is its democratic and grassroots character. These are two words not commonly associated with corporate culture or TED, which is often seen as elitist. Explains Konstantinos, “it is a group project, nothing is done in isolation, it is an interactive, collaborative, connecting kind of event.” A mixture of invited talks and open-call, it’s “inclusive,” she says, and, with an innovative bent, the content is “fresh.”
“If you do it right it’s grassroots,” she says, “and when it’s grassroots, it will be what people need it to be at that time—that’s the magic of TEDx.”