TEDx seeks to engage Georgetown community on risk taking through new format

October 24, 2015

TEDx Georgetown

On Oct. 24, the fifth annual installment of TEDxGeorgetown will be held in Gaston Hall, consisting of talks by Georgetown students, faculty, and experts in a variety of fields about the challenge of being “Risk Takers,” as part of the TED’s initiative to bring their forum for ideas to independent organizers in local communities.

According to Tim Yim (SFS ’17), TEDxGeorgetown chief of staff, the event has been significantly revamped as compared to previous years, and now includes new breakout sessions where audience members can have more intimate follow-up discussions with the speakers beyond just post-talk question-and-answer session.

The student speakers have been working with professors in the department of Art and Art History who specialize in giving public talks to help polish their speech and work through the challenges of preparing and giving presentations on such a large scale.

“Some of the principal difficulties in writing a talk like this stem from the personal nature of the topic. However, more difficult was crafting a message that would be simultaneously inspiring, but also reveal the truth about what’s been happening on Georgetown’s campus, and campuses across the U.S.,” said Scott Dennis (COL ’17), who is giving his talk about opening up about mental health.

“I got interested in speaking at TED after working with Active Minds Georgetown for the past year and a half,” said Dennis. “The stories I heard – and my own personal experiences with mental health – left me feeling compelled to seek out a platform where I could speak openly about mental illness … I wanted to express to people that taking a risk, and opening up about their mental health is a vital part to the recovery process for the entire Georgetown Community.”

The central theme of Saturday’s event is “Risk Takers,” which is divided into three separate sub-themes: “Inspiring the Uninspired,” “High-Risk, High-Reward,” and “Fail Forward” – one for each of the speaking sessions throughout the day. These themes, according to Lauren Stricker (SFS ’16), TEDxGeorgetown deputy director of marketing, were chosen to allow the content of the talks to remain in the realm of the uplifting and inspiring subjects that TED is known for, without being at risk of falling into vague or cliché TED stereotypes.

“We thought that ‘Risk Takers’ was more exciting, dramatic, and wide-reaching than a traditional ‘feel good’ theme per se, but that the idea of risk and all its implications are still incredibly relevant to people from and around Georgetown. TEDxGeorgetown wants students to break ‘the Georgetown Bubble’ by doing more than taking a GUTS bus to a Smithsonian, by thinking about themselves and their lives beyond the front gates through the lens of what risk-aversion is keeping them from doing all that they are capable of doing,” Stricker said.

Caroline James (COL ’16), GUSA secretary of sustainability and member of GU Fossil Free, will give a talk about her arrest at an environmental protest. She noted that breakout sessions featured at this year’s event could allow smaller groups of audience members to have substantial conversations with the speakers about taking risks in their own lives and also allow speakers to introduce on-campus resources and groups that audience members may benefit from.

“The Georgetown culture is politically active, but not activist. … [Breakout sessions] will bridge the divide between caring about an issue and participating in a grassroots movement.”

Tomas Alvarez Belon (SFS ’18), a TEDxGeorgetown planning board member, believes that the speakers are not the only ones innovating. The breakout sessions have been completely reformatted by the board in an effort to allow audience members to make specific plans for taking risks in their own life with the help of the speakers following their talks.

“We know that talks are powerful because they manage to touch the finest fibers in our soul, but sometimes it can be a lot to take on. Breakout sessions will allow the audience to digest what they hear, and plan (yes, actually plan) how they will take a risk. If we succeed, people will realize that TED isn’t just about the speakers, it’s about them. The power of TED resides in the community – and that’s what the breakout sessions are all about.”

Kevin Carter (COL ‘16), TEDxGeorgetown co-chair, also acknowledged that “Risk Taking,” the event’s central theme, is something that is done by individual decision, which this new format of breakout session fosters.  

“I hope people will realize that taking a risk is a personal endeavor. Each risk, and every person that takes one, is impacted differently by the circumstances that led up to that point. Our TEDxGeorgetown speakers will be sharing their personal stories to provide some context and inspiration, but nobody can make the decision to take a risk for us. That’s on ourselves.”

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