SFU alumni and students organize fourth TEDxSFU conference

From wearable technology to making meaningful connections with strangers, talks on varied subjects resonated from the Granville Island Stage on November 1. TEDxSFU, an independently organized TED conference, brought together a diverse group of speakers to share their observations on art, people, life, and everything in between.

The TED conferences started out as invitation-only events in 1984, and were meant as a way to share powerful ideas. After the popularity and prestige of the conferences exploded, the talks were put online in 2006 for free. Currently, the TED Youtube network has posted over 49,000 videos and has attracted over 5.5 million subscribers.

The topics are so incredibly diverse, it’s difficult to describe the experience. In one talk, a speaker demonstrated a water bottle with an incredibly powerful built in filter. In another, the audience learned how to minimize the amount of paper towel needed to dry their hands. The common theme between all each talk? Connecting the audience to ‘ideas worth spreading.’

TEDxSFU is part of the TEDx program of local, self-organized events, independent from the main conference series. This year’s TEDxSFU was the university’s fourth, and was organized entirely by SFU students and alumni. After the event, The Peak had an opportunity to speak with Fran Huang and Jessica Wang, the project leads for TEDxSFU.

They explained that there was something special about attending a TEDx event. “It’s more of a community when you actually attend,” Huang said. Several of the speakers encouraged members of the audience to interact with each other in slightly unconventional ways. In one example, people paired off and told the story of their morning while simultaneously listening to their partner’s story.

Wang explained that when people aren’t actually in the room, “[they] miss out on that energy, and the ability to turn to the person next to them.” The audience was also encouraged to tweet about the event using the tag #RedefineTheNorm, which was this year’s theme.

Wang offered an explanation of what the theme meant to her. “I think what redefine the norm means is that there is no normal. [. . .] and I think it’s really important to make sure that you bring an open mind to everything.”

One of the speakers at the event, Colin Easton, talked about a series of interviews he had been conducting with total strangers. Gathered together as The Stranger Project 2014, he described the life stories of several people he met, and described asking one more question of them than he was comfortable with. By the end, the audience had been introduced to a vibrant cast of people that they never would have otherwise met.

Many of the other talks were in this same vein, revealing a personal story behind the ideas. Wang shared her own perspective on the talks, saying that the cliche ‘never judge a book by its cover’ was well represented. “You never truly know a person until you sit down and you listen.”