TEDxUGA challenges millennials to innovate

For the TEDxUGA experience to work, Scott Shamp, the University of Georgia’s Director of the New Media Institute, challenged a cross-generational group to disconnect from the world outside Tate Grand Hall at UGA.

“You have surrendered yourself from pacificity,” Shamp, the master of ceremonies, told an audience of more than 600.

For four hours Friday, people from ages 8 to 80 listened to 15 presenters — faculty, students and alumni — share their ideas on technical literacy, everyday economic decisions and practical diversity.

In a TED talk, a presenter speaks for 18 minutes or less about one idea and, in some cases, asks the audience to participate. The TEDx program allows other organizations to host their own events independently but still use the style and guidelines of a TED event.

The phenomenon began in 1984 as a conference focusing on Technology, Entertainment and Design. Now, the program has grown to share ideas globally in more than 100 languages. It welcomes all topics — from opposing Western philosophies to the science of love.

The UGA event was important, given the reputation millennials have for egocentrism. But Kate Devlin, the TEDxUGA director of presenters, said the support UGA students show for this event belies that stereotype. Since TEDxUGA’s first event in 2013, the number of attendees has grown from 240 to 675.

“We really want to encourage people to start thinking about, ‘If you had to do this right now, what would you want to say?” Devlin said. “What is it that you would want to tell people that would change the world?’”

For millennials like Ryan Kessler, a high school senior, TEDxUGA served as a place for inspiration.

“I like hearing other people’s ideas and forming my ideas off of what other people think,” said Kessler, who took the day off from school to be a part of the TED experience for the first time. “Everybody has a different story, and it’s nice to hear about what other people have to say. It’s a learning experience.”

That’s how innovation starts, said Michelle Blue, who presented about her business Bené. Her fashion collection of scarves started off as an idea to raise money for Ghanaian girls’ who needed help paying for their secondary education.

“Even with businesses, we’re all constantly learning from one another,” said Blue, a 2013 UGA graduate. “That’s how my business exists is from other people sharing it and telling other people about the work that we’re doing and the impact that we can continue to have.”

Devlin said that is the point of a TED talk.

“There’s one idea, one idea that drives your entire talk,” she said, “and the audience will take that idea away.”

With many people in his generation closed off, Kessler said those four hours of uninterrupted thought and discussion is a time for him and other millennials to ponder that question.

“TED is a great way to open yourself up to that, especially for people from this generation who are so glued to their devices and the Internet,” Kessler said. “This a great way to see past all of that and see what you should really care about in the world.”

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