Last Sunday I attended TEDxRyersonU down at the CBC building on Front Street. The day started at 9:30 in the morning with the opening registrations, a complimentary breakfast, coat check and ran until 5:30 in the afternoon (it was only supposed to go until 5:00 but I really didn’t care, it was awesome). For those of you unfamiliar with what TED is, I suggest you start by reading Part 1 of my review which explains it in simple detail. In part 2 of my review I will be giving a brief overview of all but three of the speakers as well as my thoughts on their speeches in minor detail. The three I will not be covering in this review are Ramona Pringle, Gwen Elliot and Josh Louie who I spoke extensively on in part one. I this part of the review, I will also be covering the role that social media played at the conference.
Without any further preamble, I present to you my thoughts on the rest of the TEDxRyerson!
Session 1: The Perspective Change
Speaker #1: Alan Shepard – Think Different: a brief history of universities and why they need to change
Alan Shepard is the VP of Academics at Ryerson University and opened the conference by giving his thoughts on what role innovation needs to play in education. I remember how he compared the old style of learning (and I mean old) of monk’s reading to several students in order to educate them. Fast forward to the year 2011 and things aren’t really that much different. Professor’s still stand in front of “auditorium” style lecture halls and teach. There isn’t any specific reason classrooms are still designed like this. It’s just what has worked in the past so why change what isn’t broken? Alan however encourages innovation, and in true Ryerson fashion instead asked why not make it better? Alan Shepard: “In a world where you can go to 200 million users in a year [Facebook], curriculum probably has to speed up.”
My thoughts on this talk: Innovation plays a key role in learning and it is professors that can adapt to change and think of collaborative ways to teach will be the ones who do exceedingly well. One of my favourite professors at Ryerson – Genevieve Farrell – taught her Recruitment & Selection class in such a method. Throughout the course we ran a very realistic simulation through the entire hiring process complete with actors being brought in to play the role of job applicants. I probably learned more in this course about Human Resources than any other course I took and it remains one of my favourite and most memorable classes to this day. Why? Because it was innovative.
Speaker #2: Tony Burman – Al Jazeera, Arab Spring and the End of the World as we know it
Tony Burman is currently a lecturer at the school of Journalism at Ryerson and the former managing director of Al-Jazeera English. In his speech, Tony spoke about the riots in Egypt that had occurred last year and how they were able to bring about change to a nation that had been living the same way for a long period of time. In the end when the Egyptian Prime Minister stepped down, he compared the radical change that had happened similar to the collapse of the Berlin wall and the fall of the Soviet Nation. He completed his presentation by showing us a video compilation of the riots through their beginnings, to hitting their climax and how they came to an end with cheering and celebration.
My thoughts on this talk: Not being one for politics I feel I may have missed some of the finer details of this talk, but what I did enjoy was that he brought to our attention a subject that had been forgotten about. Ever notice how news such as Haiti, New Orleans and Cairo will hit the headlines for a while and then disappear out of sight? Unless you’re making an active effort to follow the subject, it tends to evade your thoughts. I thank Tony for adding a conclusion for myself and any others who lost track of a subject that will be written about in the history books.
Speaker #3: Simon Sinek – TED Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action
This part was a little bit different. Rather than having an actual speaker in front on stage, a video was streamed directly from the TED website; in this case Simon Sinek’s. Simon had a very simple but revolutionary idea that he called “The Golden Circle”. It’s a little difficult to explain without a diagram so I took the liberty of finding a picture of it online.
Basically, Simon explained that all companies know what they do. Some know how they do it but very few know why they do it. He explained that most companies try to sell by explaining what their product is, how it works and then finally why you need it. But it’s successful companies such as Apple that have the entire process reversed and start by explaining why they do it (Think Different), how they do it (by providing easy to use electronics), and what they they do (sell computers). Essentially that was the gist of it but since the video is online I just suggest you go and watch for yourself.
My thoughts on this talk: I was conflicted over this one. I thought the speaker, the message and the ideas it gave me were fantastic but I didn’t really understand why they were streaming a TED video instead of supplying a live speaker. If I want to watch a TED talk then I can do so anytime from a computer. It just seemed a little strange to be getting a streamed video at the conference. However, it is possible that streaming TED videos may be part of the regulations for hosting a TEDx event. I really don’t know.
Speaker #4: Alex Fox – From ‘Conscious to Creative
Alex Fox is a Ryerson fashion student and spent this past summer oversea in Ghana with Engineers Without Borders. She talked to us about the change needed in helping developing countries and how charitable causes aren’t always as charitable as they might seem. Take for instance (as she explained) TOMS shoes. If you are unfamiliar with the brand, for every pair of shoes bought they donate a pair of shoes to children in third world countries. It seems like a good intention right? The truth is, shoes are not hard to come by even in the third world. In fact, by supplying free shoes it actually hurts the locals who are trying to make a living by selling shoes for an already cheap price. There are ways to help developing countries, but don’t believe that every charitable cause really has someone’s best intentions at heart.
My thoughts on this talk: Alex had (in my opinion) a major challenge to overcome. She was a junior presenter at a TEDx conference, going up after the VP of Academics at Ryerson and other big names. However, within a minute of Alex’s talk I was ensnared by her speech. What she was speaking about and the way she presented her ideas and opinions immediately grabbed my attention and got me thinking about things that had never crossed my mind. This is exactly what a TED presenter should do, and she did it well.
Session 2: In Other Worlds
After an hour lunch break (with lunch provided, thank you organizing committee!) with some networking, we resumed for session 2, In other World’s which had five speakers.
Speaker #5: Sheldon Levy – The Forefront of Innovation
Sheldon Levy is the Dean of Ryerson University and was probably the most well known of all the speakers at the conference. Like Alan Shepard, Sheldon Levy also spoke greatly with innovation in mind. For anyone who has attended or simply paid attention to Ryerson over the last five or six years since Sheldon Levy became the Dean, we have seen innovation taking place first hand. In his speech, Sheldon spent a portion of it talking about the Digital Media Zone developed at Ryerson; an area that was originally created only for students and alumni to come together and develop new ideas, but soon after was inviting companies to come as well. The results? Sheldon Levy: “320 full time jobs have been created through Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone for innovation.”
My thoughts on this talk: When I started at Ryerson in 2005 it was still commonly referred to as “Rye High” and “not a real university” (even though it was). Over the course of the last six years there has been a huge change in the way the university has been perceived. New buildings such as the innovative student learning centre, programs such as “New Digital Media” and “Economics” and a new but cost-effective and (already!) leading MBA program are only a few of the many things Ryerson now has to help put it on the map. I can honestly say that I’m proud to be a Ryerson alumni and without Sheldon Levy’s innovation that changed the school, I don’t know if I could have honestly felt as much pride. Basically, you can talk the talk but Sheldon Levy has walked it.
Speaker #6: Ramona Pringle – Real Wisdom Through Virtual Worlds
This speaker was covered in detail in part 1 of my review.
Speaker #7: Adrian Bulzacki – Monetizing the Holodeck
If you pay attention to science fiction then you probably already know that Star Trek predicted many modern day technologies such as cell phones and tele-presence (ie. Skype). Well, Adrian is a PhD student at Ryerson and the founder of ARB Labs Inc. who is doing his part to bring hologram technology to commercial space. The future is on it’s way once again. The most recent TV example along the lines of what Adrian is working on is the underground room they have on the show Terra Nova that let’s the residents view any point of history in 3D. How it works is a little too complicated to explain for me, but I did manage to find this video of what Adrian has been putting together. It’s some pretty cool stuff.
My thoughts on this talk: I had the privilege of meeting Adrian out in the hallway before he did his talk and I have to say, he was a really cool and high-energy guy. His passion and his enthusiasm clearly showed in his work and he’s doing his part to make what is currently very expensive technology and only accessible to major corporations commercially available to the world. There wasn’t anything to not like in this talk or in Adrian.
Speaker #8: Elizabeth Gilbert – TED Talk: A New Way to think about creativity
This was the second video streamed from the TED website by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of a book called “Eat, Pray, Love” and significantly longer than the first streamed video. I’m not going to go into any detail about this talk as it was a streamed video and can be watched here.
My thoughts on this talk: Actually, I’m going to be straight forward and admit that I did not enjoy this talk. There was no particular reason other than it did not grab my interest. But that’s the thing about TED that there’s a wide variety of speakers and not every one is going to be for you.
Speaker #9: Jeremy Kinsman – Are other People’s Democracies Any of Our Business?
Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman has been Ryerson’s Distinguished Visiting Diplomat and professor since 2010. Jeremy was clearly very well informed in his topic but unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, politics is not one of my strengths or interest areas which meant that I had a difficult time following him. Essentially what Jeremy wanted to convey was a message of fair governance and peaceful uprising without violence. Unfortunately I can’t give him a more extensive review and try to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
My thoughts on this talk: As you may have guessed, this talk was one of the ones I could have missed and not felt bad about. However, that is not to say he was a bad speaker. One of my friend’s I was sitting with told me that this was one of her favourite speaker’s of the day and she wasn’t a fan of Ramona Pringle who was one of my favourites. Not every speaker is for every attendee, and Jeremy Kinsman was not for me.
Session 3: Discover, Grow, Dare
After a short half-hour break that consisted of soft drinks, tea, coffee and most importantly – cookies; we reconvened for session three.
Speaker #10: Sean Wise – How to be a Business Superhero
Before the break we had a couple of very serious speakers so Sean Wise was probably the perfect speaker to ease us into the third segment. Being a professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Ryerson and the founder of VenCorps.com he had a unique way of talking business. With a good sense of humour and some serious artistic skills, Sean draws and used art to convey his message. He brought out the slideshows and gave us an overview of his book (with the same name as the speech) using metaphors of some of his favourite superhero’s as his speech material which was to give out business tips using lessons straight from the comic books.
My thoughts on this talk: I enjoyed Sean’s talk for the feeling of lightness and laughter it brought, however I think the real message here was to be different in how you present. Giving business tips is easy. In fact, if you read a couple of books by entrepreneurs then you often walk away feeling like they had collaborated to come up with similar ideas (at least that’s how I feel). What can really be said about Sean’s approach is that he communicated his advice in a way that will get him remembered. Even if people don’t remember the tips themselves (I don’t) they will still remember him.
Speaker #11: Mary Donohue – Millenials, McLuhan & Slow Dancing: Understanding the Generation Gap
I remember this being a rather lengthy speech. Mary is a Management Analyst and Early Childhood Education professor at Ryerson and her topic was centered around communication and understanding how to communicate with millenials (aka Gen Y – born between 1981 and 2000). I remember at one point Mary broke into a anecdote about how she was trying to communicate with her class (all women over 21 years old) about processes. Unable to get through to them in traditional means she started asking them about how they went out to meet men and used each point of that “process” to relate to what she was trying to communicate about business.
My thoughts on this talk: I had one major problem with this talk and that was that she was speaking to the wrong audience. Her speech was mostly focused on how to communicate with millennials but her audience was mostly millennials. The talk itself was fine but it was meant for a different audience.
Speaker #12: Matt Cutts – TED Talk: Try Something New for 30-days
This was the third streamed video of the day and since it was very short, I will give a brief overview (you can watch it here). Matt puts forth a challenge, give yourself 30 days to complete a challenge for yourself. After participating in a challenge to write a novel in 30 days (the trick is to write approximately 1600 words a day and not sleep until you do so), he found by pushing himself he could make almost anything he wanted happen. Go on a diet, exercise, improve your drinking stamina (hey exercise isn’t for everyone). But give yourself a challenge and stick to it – just something simple you want to accomplish. Why not?
My thoughts on this talk: I think everyone challenges themselves to do something but we all forget to establish a timeline and think it’s okay to slack off for a day or two, which leads to slacking off for a while longer. Establishing a strict 30 day timeline and sticking to it helps you stay accountable. It’s a great idea and since it’s almost New Years – the perfect time to start thinking about your challenge.
Speaker #13: Ivan Joseph – The Role of Self-Confidence
Ivan is the Director of Athletics for Ryerson and as a coach should be, he was certainly one of the most inspirational speakers at TEDxRyerson. He spoke about something that I very much believe in and try to strive for, and that is re-framing coaching and mentorship into a positive light. For instance, he told us when he originally asked his wife out he was told that the only way he would ever have a chance to go out with her was if the human race was dying and dating him was the only thing that could save it. Ivan’s first thought? “So I still have a chance!” Looking at things in a positive light not only makes people feel better but it gets better results. After all, when do you feel at your best? After being told how arriving at work 5 minutes late once a week is going to get you into trouble or how arriving 30 minutes early every day is going to take you places? Ivan Joseph: ”Thoughts influence actions. We need our own self-affirmations”
My thoughts on this talk: It was an energetic and inspiring talk. Ivan was a great speaker and certainly one of the highlights for me!
Speaker #14: Gwen Elliot – Start Something Big!
This speaker was covered in detail in part 1 of my review.
Session 4: Re-Think
After one final break where I got to speak with Gwen Elliot and get my picture taken with some friends holding up the letters “TEDx”, we met back in the auditorium at 4:30 for the final session.
Speaker #15: James Smith – Using Biology to Inspire Engineering Design
James Smith is part of the Engineering faculty at Ryerson and does research into biomechanics and robotics. His topic was about how living organisms such as birds and other animals have influenced modern day inventions. Take for example the Japanese bullet train which was influenced by the kingfisher bird which could dive into the water at incredible speeds without leaving as much as a ripple. He also told us about engineering students at Ryerson that have been able to develop a fully automated robotic arm that responds to “thoughts” just like a real arm and about their inspiration.
My thoughts on this talk: I was very interested at first in what James had to say and I certainly liked hearing about the ideas behind modern day inventions. However, as it was a slightly more technical discussion I feel like I may have missed some of the details. I’m looking forward to this talk becoming available online in January to find those details again.
Speaker #16: Evgeny Tchebotarev – Pursuing a Dream: What it Takes to Make Photography a Full-time Dream Job
For anyone who is familiar with the website 500px.com then you may be interested to know that this speaker is the founder of that company. A finance graduate of Ryerson, Evgeny believes that photo sharing will help the world’s best photographers connect with their photos to create something new and inspiring. But how hard can taking a picture be? Well, Evgeny showed us just how much work can go into the process. Take a photo such as this one. In order to capture the “swirling” effect of the stars. The photographer would have to sit in the same spot and take a photo every 30 seconds or so for a 50 hour period to capture the changing pattern of the stars. It’s that kind of dedication to your art that can leads to photographic success.
My thoughts on this talk: I love seeing good photography and I love seeing people who can make a legitimate career out of it even more. To make a living off of doing something you enjoy is something I truly believe everyone should try and aim for. Evgeny is one of those people who has done exactly this, and done it right. For him to come and share his story made this an excellent speech.
Speaker #17: Dave Meslin – TED Talk: Redefining Apathy
This was the final video streamed from the TED website and it can be viewed here. Dave gave a speech on why no-one wants to get involved with their community. It’s not because they’re lazy or don’t care, it’s because government has placed too many barriers in the way in order for anyone to do so with any sort of ease. As you can watch the video online I won’t go into any more detail then that but I do suggest watching it as he raises some very good points. The real treat to this talk at the conference was a twist, when Dave Meslin was actually in the audience and brought up on stage to answer a question.
My thoughts on this talk: This talk did something revolutionary for me (it was actually the second time I had seen it, I watched it on the TED website a while back), it spoke about politics in a way that actually got me interested. I’ve seen these barrier’s that Dave speaks of in every day life and he’s certainly right that they do prevent community involvement in Toronto.
Speaker #18: Julie Rochefort – Shift the Focus
Julie is a registered dietitian and recent Ryerson graduate. Her talk was about shifting the focus away from weight loss for obesity and towards promoting health & body acceptance. She was able to back up her ideas with statistics that showed that obese people are actually likely to live longer than average people. However, she also showed in her graphs that obese people have more health problems than average people. She told us that a third of all obese people however, live without any health problems and it’s this third that is always forgotten about and never talked about.
My thoughts on this talk: I have to both agree and disagree with this speaker. While I do believe that obese people should not be criticized for being obese, I don’t believe that simply accepting their situation and not working towards weight loss is the right solution. A third of obese people may live without health problems but that means two-thirds still do which is obviously a lot more.
Speaker #19: Josh Louie – Make Change a Reality
This speaker was covered in detail in part 1 of my review.
The Role of Social Media
For the final part of my review I want to talk about how social media was used during the conference as I found it to be done very well. Days before the conference, attendees were told that we could follow their Twitter account @TEDxRyersonU to receive conference updates. But more interestingly was their use of the hashtag #TEDxRU which would be used during the conference to ask the speakers questions. It was an innovative approach I thought as every type of event I have ever been to that has had room for questions has always used the “raise your hand and hope you get chosen” routine. Using Twitter like this had several advantages:
- The best question could be asked which meant in order to be picked, you had to think creatively about what you wanted to write
- You didn’t have to feel awkward about raising your hand and asking something you were unsure about being received well
- You didn’t have to listen to someone trying to explain a question they didn’t quite know how to ask. It was clearly laid out in 140 characters or less
Of course the major disadvantage to it was that if you didn’t have a smartphone then you couldn’t ask a question (unless you were sitting with someone who had one anyway). Still, the use of the hashtag also created an opportunity for people to have a live stream of what was going on at the conference, network with other conference attendees after it had ended, and retweet useful information.
For me personally, I also found that knowing I was going to write a review of the conference to be very motivational while at the conference. It encouraged me to make a lot of Tweets and it gave me extra things to talk about while networking. I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of TEDxRyerson if I hadn’t fully intended to review it afterwards.
Of course, the other piece of social media being used by the conference was Facebook which has allowed all of us to network on there, and will let us share photo’s and video’s once they’re online.
Overall, I can’t wait to attend future TEDx events! My application has been sent to go to TEDxRyerson Women on December 2.