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TEDx returns to the Rogue Valley

A core group of innovators are bringing the TED brand to the Rogue Valley at TEDxAshland, and they want you to be a part of it.

The conference will be from 1 to 5 p.m. May 20 at the Camelot Theatre in Talent, and you could add your name to the list of speakers. Proposals for 10 vibrant and compelling presentations that delve deep into the ideas of “Life and Death” are invited through Feb. 14.

TED, an acronym for Technology, Education, Design, began in 1984 with a conference organized by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks to demonstrate the convergence of the three fields at a very high level.

A local TED event, known as TEDx, requires a TED license and is limited to 100 audience members. The process to apply and be approved is rigorous, according to TEDxAshland organizer and Ashland resident Jane Ballback. TEDx requires that a theme be broad enough to frame multiple disciplines and that the event represent diverse points of view. TEDx talks last no longer than 18 minutes and are videotaped.

Ballback chose the theme “Life and Death” for TEDxAshland, because it allowed her to go in so many directions, then she brainstormed ideas related to the theme. She identified 17 questions drawn from political science, fire science, social science, human science, psychology and other areas to spark the creativity of potential presenters.

“You can answer one of these questions,” said Ballback, “or come up with another that meets the theme.”

Not all topics are permitted under TED guidelines. While the TEDxAshland website is not explicit, official TEDx talk content guidelines prohibit pseudoscience, inflammatory or divisive political or religious agendas, sales or product promotion or talks that include note of alcohol, cigarettes, weapons, sex, political endorsements or online gambling.

Two of the organizers for TEDxAshland have produced TEDx events in the past and know both the value of the TEDx initiative and the work involved. Torri Allen, who is now director of development at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Tiffany Cooper-Allen held leadership positions in TEDxAnchorage for the 2013-2015 events.

“TEDx gave the community different voices and different perspectives on a wide range of topics on one platform,” noted Allen. “It was great for the fire department to hear from the arts, for people in the art world to hear from parks and rec, people from education to hear from the health and wellness community. It increased citizen awareness, and in some cases, it impacted policy decisions and conversations with elected officials.”

Acceptance of proposals for TEDxAshland will be sent out in February, and an orientation for participants is scheduled toward the end of the month. Then Tiffany Cooper-Allen’s work as a speech coach kicks into high gear. She’ll spend six to 10 hours with each presenter to polish and shine the delivery.

“We work on facial expression, body language — you have to be engaged,” Cooper-Allen explained. “We treat it like a production, like a show. No one wants to bomb. No one wants to drop the ball. We [and TEDx] have high standards for professionalism.”

Various brand extensions followed, including TED Talks in 2006, where carefully curated TED presentations were videotaped and published to YouTube. TEDx followed in 2009, opening up the TED brand to local, independently organized events that embody the TED mantra, “ideas worth spreading,” and follow well established TED criteria and protocols.

TEDx is not new to Ashland. In 2014, Ashlanders Jordan Pease and Vitaly Geyman saw the value of TEDx events to the community and worked on the license application together. Neither Pease nor Geyman are involved in the new TEDxAshland initiative.

“We put a lot of energy into applying for a license, exploring the options and looking for collaborators,” said Pease, who is founder and director of the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library. “We stopped short of identifying speakers and instead organized a live simulcast of the TED conference in Rio de Janeiro. It was cool.”

Vitaly Geyman, a Rogue Valley business consultant, put the TED concept of “ideas worth spreading” into action between 2014 and 2017. He and former Ashland library Manager Amy Blossom held monthly TED Library events under license through the Jackson County Library System.

“There were 40 to 50 people of all ages at each TED Library and phenomenal conversations,” Geyman recalled. “We explored topics like spirituality and science — how the two were intertwined, how the mind works. We explored justice, poverty, how education works in society.”

Tickets to TEDxAshland cost $25 and will go on sale in March 2019.

For more information about TEDxAshland and to submit a proposal, see TEDxAshland.com or email event coordinator Jane Ballback at jane@tedxashland.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

Camelot Theatre