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USU Professor Takes On TEDxUSU

Melissa Allison
Sound and lighting crew set up for Friday's TEDxUSU event.

Ted Talks got their start in 1984 with a lineup that included Lucasfilm and talks about 3-D graphics. Even with an amazing list of speakers that first event lost money. It wasn’t until six years later that Ted Talks took hold of the world and sold out to an invitation only crowd.

Since that time, Ted Talks have evolved and are taking place all over the world. They can be heard on public radio stations like UPR, as well as other broadcast mediums.

Part of that evolution includes TEDx events that are held in smaller communities like Logan on the Utah State University campus. USU is holding their fourth annual TEDx event on Friday to a sold out audience.

Anna McEntire is the director of project and communications in the office of Research and Graduate Studies at USU and said a lot goes into the planning. Eighteen hundred people wanted tickets for the 400-seat event that requires approximately nine months of preparation.

“We split it mostly by what it takes to put on an event and then what it takes to help put on the program itself," McEntire said. "And so Brandon Crouch, he is the co-director for the event, and he’s in charge of most of the logistics of getting the event set up and making it look like a TED type of event.” 

She said they’re adding different components to this year’s affair.

“We have a pretty elaborate second session where we have interactive exhibits and catering and music," McEntire said. "So all of that are parts we put together.” 

McEntire said the other key aspect to a successful event is the speakers.

“We spend a huge amount of the year having this as our main external communications initiative that we do in the office," McEntire said. "So in May we auditioned faculty members and students, and from June through, right now, we work with them consistently to help them build their talk and make sure that they have the best one that’s possible.”

Much of the prep work requires speakers to write and re-write their presentation.  Memorizing scripts, incorporating audio and visual components, and attending rehearsals are all part of  what makes for a successful Ted Talk.

“What we found that is different from their academic talks versus these Ted Talks that make them so compelling and get thousands of views on YouTube, is the fact that they put themselves into the talk," McEntire said. "So almost every single person that we have speaking, they bring the ‘why they do their research' into the talk. It gets the main ideas of what their studying across. It makes us care, it makes us feel something.” 

Johan du Toit is a professor of ecology at USU and responded to an invitation to talk to the TEDx organizers and originally wasn’t enthused about the idea.

“Being a scientist I normally communicate my research in the scientific media," du Toit said. "But then I thought, 'well this is a challenge to communicate to people who are not scientists, outside of the scientific meilleur. And to rise to the challenge of being able to say something that might actually register with people who I don’t normally interact with on a professional level'.” 

Though du Toit and others in academia have been trained from the onset of their education to use their professional jargon when speaking about their research, he said the whole point of what he does is to benefit the general population.

“I find it really quite difficult," du Toit said. "It’s not just what you’re going to say, it’s how are you going to say it? How are you going to relate those to visual aids, and first off get a hook into the audience, and secondly, to then leave the audience with an idea that they can actually work with.” 

This year’s theme for the event is Duality. When asked if du Toit had any surprises up his sleeve, he simply replied…

“Come to the TED talk or watch the stream.”