TEDxSMU upends conventional wisdom

Innovative thought leaders tell SMU crowd to consider 'What Will Change Everything.'

audience at TEDxSMU
See slide shows and a video

By Cheryl Hall
Business Columnist

I'm pretty sure I was in Dallas on Saturday.

After all, TEDxSMU was held in the Caruth Auditorium of my alma mater.

But the eclectic audience, the extraordinary array of speakers and the fast-paced, sensory-overloaded event were unlike anything else I've experienced in 40 years as a Dallasite.

Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University, was thrilled as he surveyed the diverse congregation waiting for the doors to open.

"There are people from around the country who've obviously never been here," he said. "But there are even some Dallasites who may have only driven by or attended a Tate [Lecture Series event]. This shows the unique niche we're trying to create, which is to address worldwide issues through engineering."

I got one of the 475 seats without going through the application process because I'd written an advance column about SMU bringing TED to Big D. But I had no idea what I was getting into when I showed up Saturday morning.

TED is a small, New York-based nonprofit group that puts on annual convocations in Long Beach, Calif., and Oxford, England, with speakers such as Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point.

The SMU event was TED-sanctioned but put on by the school with help from sponsors.

We were promised a daylong odyssey of the mind involving technology, entertainment and design – hence the acronym TED – that would make us contemplate ways we could change the world.

Yeah, sure, I thought, figuring I'd make my escape at lunchtime.

But by the time we broke for food, I'd been TEDexed to another realm with no desire to leave. So had everyone else, from the response I got.

Why should you care?

Organizers promise a return engagement next year, and you just might want to apply.

In a town notorious for early departures, there were as many people standing for a performance by the Polyphonic Spree at the end of the program as there were sitting for the big-screen opener of Bobby Haas' aerial photography nine hours before.

SMU engineering student Mary Moore demonstrates a simple water purifier to poet and TEDxSMU co-host Rives.

In between, we heard:

  • What it's like to be an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
  • The unusual "teamwork" needed for giant whale copulation.
  • How to get the United States off oil by 2040.
  • How to get our minds to work faster than calculators.
  • How living with a terminal, excruciating disease can be fulfilling.
  • The engineering marvels of Dallas' new Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre.
  • How to help solve malnutrition among India's orphans with peanut butter bars.
  • Why our ocean world may be more important than our dirt one.

Each topic was covered in less than 18 minutes.

Read the full story. . .

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