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TEDxMcGill gathers unique and colourful perspectives for their annual conference

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On February 4, TEDxMcGill is returning with their annual conference showcasing nine carefully selected speakers and two performers. The event, to be held at Le National Theater, has been in the works for months, TEDxMcGill chair Chelsea Wang told the Daily. The team is excited to present the culmination of their work alongside the speakers and performers who will present a variety of interesting and innovative ideas with the public. This year, TEDxMcGill is featuring Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Elaine Xiao, Brad Crocker, Nithya Lakshmi Mahasenan, Nick Cholmsky, Linnea Nguyen, Ramiro Almeida and Dr. Ryan Chin, Jiordana Saade, and Oran Magal – a lineup ranging from McGill professors, to business owners, to students. 

After months of brainstorming, organizing, and arranging the details for this event, Wang said, “We’re just really excited to put it out to the world. Not only are we following this TED tradition of platforming interesting, compelling, innovating ideas to foster a community hub of free exchange, but it is also just a moment to bring the community together.” 

TEDxMcGill, founded in 2009, organizes a yearly showcase to continue the TEDx legacy of “ideas worth spreading.” This year, they are presenting the theme “Kaleidoscope,” based on the instrument designed to display varying patterns through refractions of light, shifting in colour and design. The TEDx program was initiated to promote and encourage people from all across the world to speak on experiences, new ideas, or contrasting perspectives to shift our understanding of reality. Most often, speakers provide a space for breakthroughs or new innovations in research, but their talks are meant to spark productive conversation across global communities. Thus, the theme “Kaleidoscope” is meant to express everything that TEDx stands for: the exploration of beauty and diversity among the societies we live in. Nanami Haruyama, VP Memberships for the organization, commented on her brainstorming process for this theme. 

“Originally I thought of ‘Kaleidoscope’ to try to think of a simile or an analogy to what TEDx represents,” she explained, which she found to be “a combination and a platform for so many different ideas [and] people from different backgrounds and walks of life.” Rather than settling on a distinct idea, TEDxMcGill sought to reimagine what it feels like to engage in such bustling academic discourse, where anything and everything is possible. This theme also gives audiences a hint as to what they can expect to feel coming out of the event. Haruyama believes “that if you shift the Kaleidoscope, you have an entirely new perspective, and we wanted TEDx to represent that Kaleidoscope – a shift in perspective. That if you come to our event on February 4, you will leave having a new idea, a new perspective that you haven’t thought about.” 

This year’s application and recruitment cycle for TEDxMcGill was especially difficult due to the sheer number of people who applied or reached out to participate. Haruyama reflected on the process of looking through each applicant’s video and blurb about their speech topic to decide on who would be chosen. In total, there were 90 applicants – a large pool to select from. In addition to those who applied, many interested parties contacted TEDxMcGill themselves. She said, “It was so exciting just to hear the different possible talks that it was really hard to narrow it down to the final nine that we ultimately chose.” Despite the wide variety of options and topics that the team was presented with, they still tried to reach out to people who they felt would bring something unique and special to the TEDx stage. Wang in particular discussed their selection of McGill professor Oran Magal, who she was influenced by after taking two of his courses. She felt that his ideas were extremely compelling and worth sharing with the public. This once again relates to the goals of the TEDx organization: to find people who have voices that need to be shared, who would greatly contribute to the sphere of academic discourse. 

“We look through all of these videos, look at all their talks, and then we start to narrow it down in terms of the quality, the potential that we see, and the topic that they’re talking about,” said Haruyama in discussion of what the team has to do in choosing their final lineup. Wang described how ambitious the team was this year to seek out people who perhaps did not apply but who the team felt would bring so much to the table.

“Recruitment through application is great and all, but what we find a lot of the time when it comes to opening the doors and letting anybody come in and give us their ideas is that people try to exploit the name of TED, seeing it as a pedestal to boost their own careers or their personal agendas,” Wang stated. “That’s why curation and the membership team is just so important in terms of closing those floodgates and really actively crafting a speaker list that is not just ideologically oriented or politically driven, but actually idea-based – or talks that are action-oriented, that seek active solutions, and you’ll find that in all of our speakers this year.” The organization wants to be a space where true productive conversation can ignite; instead of simply platforming theory or new research, they want to highlight personal experience and real struggles – stories which can inspire change.

TEDxMcGill is also committed to delivering one-of-a-kind thoughts that not only pertain to the world but are special to the McGill and greater Montreal communities. They seek to provide a space for young people, who are often bypassed in favour of adults or those with more life experience, to voice their ideas. 

“This year we’re really emphasizing undergrad. We feel that undergrads feel like they should not – or cannot – talk for some reason,” said Wang,, speaking about what she believes to be one of the most important things to come out of this year’s conference. Of their nine speakers, four are McGill undergraduate students, each with their own perspectives to share. The program finds itself unique in its ability to offer such an important stage to these students who are passionate and well-versed in their area of study. 

Hanna Eik, one of the team’s Speaker Coordinators, also said, “I think it’s nice to see a lot of younger voices on our stage. When you see people who look like you on stage, it makes you think ‘Oh! I can do the same.’” The team believes that, in order to foster curiosity and learning, it is imperative to have this sort of diversity presented at their conference. Over the years, students have become inspired by the TEDxMcGill event to apply and get a chance to present their own ideas, Eik added, which she finds is one of the most important things this organization can offer to aspiring students at McGill. Ultimately, she believes that “one of the big beauties with TED is the circular nature of being an active viewer and wanting to be a TEDx speaker.” 

The TEDx program’s goals are to highlight the importance of seeking knowledge within various communities across the world. Different localities may present a diverse array of ideas special to that particular location, and hearing from the voices that occupy our communities is so critical to giving TEDxMcGill its own unique sparkle. The upcoming presentations offer perspectives not only on their particular research areas but also on their personal experience and culture. Thus, TEDxMcGill becomes a focal point for the cumulation of research, self-exploration, and representation of the Montreal community. When discussing with a few of the executive team members, speaker coordinator Roberto Concepcion expressed excitement to hear from Elaine Xiao. 

“Her talk focuses on overcommitment and burnout, and it’s something that I feel like a lot of us recognize,” he said. Although geared towards students, the all-too-familiar loss of motivation or exhaustion from overwork is something that everyone can resonate with. Concepcion added that Xiao “is able to bring in a lot of research and her own personal experiences.” The ability to tell individual stories is what makes each TEDx speech unique.

The TEDxMcGill team also believes that having these spaces for public speaking, active listening, and academic discussion are so important to preserve the flow of imagination and creativity in our everyday lives. It is not often that one can engage in conversations pertaining to the common struggle or to new innovations that are designed to create an impact on the listener. For this reason, TEDxMcGill succeeds at preserving the integrity of what TEDx stands for. 

“It goes back to that old adage of ‘think global, act local’ in terms of whether that’s building relationships or exploring how certain thoughts can be made into actions,” Wang concluded. “Being in an environment where that is not just encouraged but is the point of that environment is really empowering. That feeling you get when you’re there is unlike anything else.”