I am excited to share with our readers this week about a topic I am passionate about — TED. No, not a person — I am talking about the global phenomenon known as TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. This week, I asked David Pharr, one of the coordinators of the first TEDx event in Mississippi, to share about this excited opportunity for the state.

MW: Tell the readers more about TED for those who may not be familiar.

DP: TED is a non-profit organization that was started in 1984 by an architect, Richard Saul Wurman. He believed there was a convergence of the fields of technology, entertainment and design (TED). The first conference featured demos of the Apple Macintosh computer and included talks by digital pioneers Nicholas Negroponte and Stewart Brand.  The second conference did not happen until 1990, but it took off as a community gathered annuallyTEDx_logo_sydney_022309 in Monterey, Calif., to hear talks by leading thinkers from around the world. In 2000, new media entrepreneur Chris Anderson took over the organization and has developed it into an organization having global impact.

MW: I first learned about TED by watching videos online of interesting people giving talks. Tell us about those.

DP: Anderson’s motto for TED was “Ideas Worth Spreading.” At each TED event, speakers are askers to give the best speech of their life in 18 minutes or less on innovative ideas. In 2005, TED started posting their highest rated talks on www.ted.com and shared them for free.  There are well over 1500 talks on the website, and they have been viewed by millions of viewers.  The talks are now in over 100 languages and viewed by people all over the world.

MW: My understanding is that in addition to the annual conferences, there are now TEDx events. What are those?

DP: To expand the TED concept and to bring innovation to local communities, TED in 2009 began to allow people to organize TED-like events in their local communities. The goal is to foster innovation and collaboration. Over the last five years, there have been thousands of TEDx events around the world and over 30,000 talks have been recorded.

MW: Tell us plans for TEDx Jackson, which to my understanding will be the first TEDx event in the state of Mississippi.

DP: You are correct. On Nov. 6 this year, the first TEDx event in the state will be hosted in Jackson. While it will be hosted in Jackson, this will truly be a statewide event.  I have been hoping for several years that we could bring this program to the state, and I was excited to get a call earlier this year that a group had decided to take the initiative to make this event happen. The focus will be on innovative healthcare, education, and the creative economy.

MW: Who is helping to organize the event?

DP: At this point, Maris West & Baker, C Spire Wireless and Jim and Donna Barksdale are the lead sponsors and the Mississippi Development Authority. Innovate Mississippi, the State Institutions of Higher Learning, and UMMC, are actively involved. To host a TEDx event, you are required to have an individual as licensee so I was honored when the group asked me to serve in that role. I was particularly excited because one the requirements is to attend the annual TED conference, which I was able to do in March in Vancouver — it was an incredible opportunity.

MW: How are the plans coming along for the event and how can people learn more?

DP: We are finalizing the venue for the event now as well as lining up the speakers.  The theme for the event is “Fertile Ground,” which is intended as a reference to the many opportunities that exist in Mississippi. There will be a mix of local and national speakers focusing on both local and global ideas. Seating will be limited so we will be accepting applications soon.  To keep people informed, we have set up a Twitter account (@TEDxJackson); a Facebook page (TEDxJackson), and we are launching a website (TEDxJackson.com).

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, May 9, 2014.]
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