Like new ideas? Get to know TED in person, online

October 17, 2011

Kent Lewis loves hearing new ideas from inspiring speakers, and he thinks many other Kentuckians do, too.

He might be right, judging from the more than 200 people who filled Buster’s Billiards & Backroom in April 2010 for his first TEDxLex event. Lewis hopes for an even bigger crowd for the second event, Friday at the Kentucky Theatre.

Lewis, 34, earns his living as a software product manager for Hewlett-Packard, but his hobby is learning. “I’m an ideas guy, period,” he said.

Two years ago, he organized a Lexington group for monthly sessions of Pecha Kucha, a Japanese style of idea presentation in which speakers must make their point with 20 slides that appear on a screen for only 20 seconds each.

Lewis has helped with the Idea Festival in Louisville and the Creative Cities Summit when it was in Lexington last year.

But what really captured his imagination was TED, the non-profit organization that holds national and global conferences to promote “ideas worth spreading” about technology, entertainment and design.

TED conferences cost several thousand dollars to attend, and Lewis said he has paid his way to two. But most people know TED through the popular videos of conference presentations on and YouTube. (As he and I talked at a Starbucks last week, the young barista volunteered that she, too, loves TED videos.)

When TED began awarding free licenses for local conferences two years ago, Lewis got the one for this region and put on the half-day event in April 2010. Speakers included Kentucky technology entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and a gardener.

Friday’s TEDxLex event will show two TED videos and have 15 live speakers, who will talk from six to 18 minutes each. Most are from Kentucky, and they represent a diversity of backgrounds and topics. Among them:

■ Charlotte Fixler, a former elementary school teacher who now works for ThinkFun, a company that makes brain-challenging games. She will talk about the importance of play.

■ Warren Rogers, whose Lexington construction company specializes in water and sewer projects, will talk about how he went to Haiti after last year’s earthquake to find the 11-year-old boy that he and his wife, Carol, had sponsored since infancy.

■ Entrepreneur Eric Thomas, who owns Automatic Rain Irrigation, will talk about how he melds his Lexington business activities with work to support relief and development in Haiti.

■ Ash Donaldson, a former commercial aircraft pilot from Australia, will talk about his work researching human behavior — and how our minds deceive us every day.

■ Dorothy Edwards, an author and founding director of the University of Kentucky’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, will talk about her work trying to reduce violence in society.

■ Artists making presentations include “Affrilachian” poet Bianca Spriggs, DJ and music producer Jaysyn Wyche, sand artist and storyteller Joe Castillo, and Michelle Hollis & The Moves Crew, a group of musicians and dancers.

■ Rounding out the program will be researchers in pharmacy and veterinary science and several video game developers.

As with the Idea Festival, the fascinating thing about a TED event is the exposure to inspirational speakers and ideas from fields you know little about — or might never have heard of. And if you don’t like one speaker, the next one is only a few minutes away.

Because many attendees last year wanted more time for networking, Lewis lengthened this year’s event to a full day. Sunrise Bakery is providing breakfast, and lunch comes from Natasha’s, which also will host a reception afterward.

Because TED is non-profit, Lewis said, nobody makes money on the event, including him. Mayor Jim Gray donated use of the city-owned Kentucky Theatre. Speakers receive no fees, only travel expenses. Money is being handled through the non-profit regional planning group Bluegrass Tomorrow.

The local Internet company iHigh is live-streaming the event, and all presentations are videotaped for possible inclusion on TED’s YouTube channel. But Lewis hopes to fill the theater Friday.

“You get a fast-paced day of networking and listening to speakers who are doing some fascinating things,” he said. “If you like ideas, if you like to learn, you’ll like it.”

If you go


About: A gathering to discuss “ideas worth spreading” about technology, entertainment and design.

When: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 21, reception afterward.

Where: Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St.

Cost: $55, or $25 for students with ID.

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