Attorney, developer and Jackson Chamber of Commerce board member David Pharr says his mind is still reeling from attending TED2014 in March in Vancouver. Their bi-annual conferences, famous for their catalog of YouTube videos of inspiring speeches, have been described by attendees as “the ultimate brain spa” and “a journey into the future, in the company of those creating it.” TED is dubbed “ideas worth spreading.”
Now, Pharr has been tasked with organizing TEDx Jackson, an independently organized TED event, to be held in Fondren, in November.
Find It In Fondren™ sat down with Pharr in his law office in the lobby of the Pix Capri Theater (of which he is a partner in redeveloping) and is first to bring you the details of this exciting upcoming event.
First, give the uninitiated some background on TED:
TED started in 1984, but TED Talks have taken on a different brand name and people refer to TED Talks as a stand alone thing. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design and was a think tank started by Richard Saul Wurman in 1984. He was an architect who loved dinner parties, and invited all his friends like the first director of MIT media labs, Nicholas Negroponte, and Bill Gates to come give and hear talks from people who had ideas, ideas worth spreading.
They started with an annual conference schedule around 1990. WIRED Magazine was founded at a TED conference! A journalist, Chris Anderson, ultimately purchased TED from Wurman and expanded it.
The basic format is eighteen minute or less talks on the subjects of technology, entertainment and design, broadly interpreted. They say ‘give the talk of your life.’ TED puts a lot of energy into making sure the speakers give a compelling talk after they curate them and their subjects and know that it’s going to be of interest and add something to the conversation.
It was still sort of less well known until 2007 when they started posting the talks on their website. They’re committed to posting every talk that takes place at a TED conference.
So you just got back from a TED conference, right?
I went out of the blue, invited by this group that wanted to organize a TEDx event in Jackson. TED has been granting licenses to local groups for about five years. I’ve known about that for a few years and I’ve been trying to inspire someone to sponsor it and take ownership of it and do it. This group that started without my involvement…I don’t know if they heard I had talked about it or just thought I would be a decent addition to the group. But, conversation developed as such that I got to be the delegate that went to the conference.
My mission in going there was to learn about organizing a TEDx event because I had not done much to prepare other than be interested in it. I had to read the rules on the plane on the way out there! But I got to meet 100 plus TEDx organizers and grill them about best practices and tips. They had workshops between sessions and there was a big emphasis on helping people organize TEDx events.
Who is the “group” you refer to that sent you?
It’s C Spire Wireless; Maris, West & Baker; Innovate Mississippi; Mississippi Development Authority; and the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
Now that you know how to put a TEDx event on, how did you all get it to come here?
We applied for a license (to organize the Jackson conference) and got it in much less time than we expected. They say it can take up to eight weeks and I think it took us a week. We are the first license application in Mississippi and Mississippi is the last state in U.S. to apply. There are probably 100 or more countries represented in TEDx as well and I met people from all over the world (in Vancouver). In big cities, they have neighborhood TEDx’s, so I expect there will be more here. I’ve already heard from some people trying to do a TEDx Mississippi State.
How does a TEDx conference work?
The emphasis is on building a community around innovation. Right now, we’re trying to focus on technology, education, healthcare and, particularly innovative health care, community development, communications and industries that have been significant to Mississippi. The idea is to find local ideas that haven’t had a big platform but also to bring in innovative thinking and great ideas from other places. Part of the content for the conference is pre-recorded TED Talks that have been released on their website and then have locally presented speeches that are 18 minutes or less.
Our thought is to shoot for a half day event, with eight or nine speakers max, along with the recorded content. There are lots of ways it can be done. There will be opportunities for networking and opportunities for the group to interact and get to know each other. The whole idea is to build that community around great ideas.
We’ll soon post an application for speakers online. We have a Twitter, Facebook and soon, a website. We’ll make sure those are outlets for speaker applications.
I know you’re still in the early stages, but how do people get to attend?
As soon as we nail down logistics, we’ll post applications for invitations. We’re shooting for a group of about 200. We’re going to try to curate the audience, in addition to the speakers, to make sure we have people with a vested interest trying to come. It’s not to make it exclusive, and not to make it hard to get in to, but to have someone who really wants to come apply for an invite. That’s the way it works. There won’t be any barriers to getting in other than timing. It’ll be first come, first served. We’re also looking into streaming the conference as a teaching tool for other groups looking to put on TEDx events.
One of our big interests is that we hear it will be in Fondren?
We’re not completely ready to confirm, but we know it will be in Fondren; we’re just not sure exactly where yet. We’re pushing for The Pix Capri, but if it’s 200 people, it could be in this other space down The Strip (the former Castle House Antiques and most recently, home of Josh Hailey’s Photamerica Pop Up Studio and Gallery). And there are some other spaces. There have been a lot of interesting TEDx events in unfinished spaces so that’s why we want the Capri.
And you have an interest in it being here, too, right?
Sure, I’m excited about that, but that priority was not established by me. The group came to me because I’m in Fondren. This group really preferred to have the event here. This is the hub of creativity in Jackson and this is an innovative, creative event that celebrates and tries to facilitate more creative enterprises. Fondren is the perfect place for that.
What date is this?
November 6, which just happens to coincide with Fondren After 5 that month. Hopefully, we’ll have 200 plus people who are not typically in the neighborhood who will leave this event and go out into the neighborhood. There may be some opportunities to organize meals or build partnerships with businesses for some of the non-talk related activities during the conference.
It’s also being held in November to coincide with Mississippi Innovation Month. We’re pushing hard for 2014 because it’s also the “Year of the Creative Economy,” and we’re trying to inform the meaning of that.
The theme we’re working with is ‘Fertile Ground.’ That’s been vetted by TED as a really appropriate theme because it’s subject to lots of interpretation. To us, it’s just a reference to the great opportunities that exist in Mississippi. We’re hoping TED will be the catalyst for innovation and creativity that will improve quality of life for everyone. That’s the hope of any community project like this.
You say you were chosen by this group and it’s obvious you have a passion for this. What is TED for you?
I spend most of my volunteer time in community building and economic development projects. TED has such brand awareness and functions as such a rallying point for innovative ideas and people who are doing interesting forward-looking things, that it has been an interest of mine for a long time. I’m excited and fortunate this group found me, but I think it would be happening with or without me! It was fortunate they thought I would be a good licensee. It’s not my project and not something I would have taken on by myself.
There are lots of jobs that have to be done and we’ll have to build a much bigger group to make it happen. So much of this is just now coming together. I have a very clear vision of what it would mean to have a successful TEDx event, but it’s a community effort and we’re just at the very beginning of it.