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Speaker Orientation Blast!

This week, we had another fantastic meeting of speakers, catalysts, and TEDx leadership at the MIT Media Lab. Our Speaker Orientations aren’t just planning meetings, to discuss details of what we expect from and provide for our speakers. We do talk about those things, but more than that, we get everybody fired up for what promises to be a mind-blowing event in November.

We expect a lot from our speakers: to put it bluntly, we expect them to give the talk of their lives. The speaker might be a MacArthur fellow, a graduate student, or the produce guy from Whole Foods, but they all have something important to say and they are all working hard to figure out the best way to say it. They are people who want to seize this opportunity to speak to hundreds of thousands of people and make some amazing connections. This opportunity isn’t just a 12-minute presentation, this is an Internet legacy.

That legacy is important and poignant for several of the speakers who attended Wednesday’s Orientation. We heard from Kevin Gosnell, the “King of Asphalt”, a leader and entrepreneur who was diagnosed with ALS in May. Kevin is determined to use his time productively, helping ALS research efforts improve through partnership. This talk, and the drive to create effective research networks for this disease, will be his legacy. We heard from Kenneth Sebesta, who showed us some fascinating research about bat movement and navigation, and explained to us that we as a society are asking the wrong questions about drones. Benjamin de Bivort told us that deciphering the human genome isn’t enough; he wants to understand what motivates decisions, and is using fruit flies to isolate variables that might help him understand this. We heard from Ellen Bartlett, who makes “the best wedding cakes in Boston”. We heard from Jonathan Ortheden, a teenager who will be joining us from Sweden in November to talk about the app he’s developed that got him in trouble with Snapchat. We heard from Margaret Bourdeaux, who revealed to us that in regions where there is war and conflict, civilian mortality increases at the end of the conflict period, and stays up, because war destroys indigenous health networks. Americans are problem-solvers, she told us: here is a problem to solve. Scott Kirsner, the Innovation columnist from the Boston Globe, also talked about how Bostonians, are problem-solvers, inventors, and thinkers; he came to the Orientation with his son to tell us some of the extraordinary things that have happened here in our own city. (Lots of them are being highlighted during Hubweek – read more about that here!) We heard from Kitty Pechet, whose life changed when she stepped on a surfboard in her 50s, and who at 78 is still a pro surfer. We heard from Terri Lyne Carrington, who played drums with Dizzy Gallespie as a child and won multiple GRAMMY® awards as an adult.

All these speakers and more not only shared their amazing ideas, they helped each other improve their messages and delivery. People asked questions, got excited, and shared what part of a talk was most powerful and personal for them. Collecting all these people in the room is a lot like lighting a closed box of firecrackers; there are sparks and lights and all kinds of great things. We can’t wait to see what happens in November, and we look forward to hearing how the talks develop on the way.