ROCKVILLE — TEDx came to Bethesda with speakers to talk about this year’s theme about visionaries.
TED is a nonprofit organization that holds conferences with high-profile or influential speakers. TEDx is a program of local speaking events organized by volunteers.
The TEDx Bethesda event was organized by Chad Grant, who served as director and primary organizer, and Michelle Tran, who took on the roles of event manager and co-organizer. The duo had two other primary team members and a host of volunteers to help the event run smoothly.
The conference was held on April 27 at The Strathmore Music Center and was the second annual conference held in Bethesda.
“I saw that there are TEDx events held in notable communities throughout the world, and I figured that Bethesda, Maryland, is a pretty vibrant community and is one that is probably deserving of a TEDx event,” said Grant.
He explained that he reached out to the TED organization to make the case for hosting an event here in Bethesda and received the go-ahead. Grant has a license from TED to run local conferences.
The TED organization was created in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks. According to the TED organization, the annual conferences began after a conference that brought together speakers from fields of technology, entertainment and design. The first TED conference included demonstrations of the compact disc and the e-book, according to TED. The organization gained popular attention when the nonprofit branched out into audio and video projects that were then released free to the public online.
TEDx, which allows for independent, self-organized events, came on the scene in 2009. They receive guidance from the larger TED organization but are otherwise independent.
Today there is an annual TED conference held in British Columbia. Speakers in the past have included Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert and Bill Gates, according to TED.
The first TEDx Bethesda event took place in March 2018 before a small audience. The second annual event brought in about 900 attendees with a ticket price of $55 each, according to TED.
TEDx Bethesda also receives funding from sponsors like Honest Tea, the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and KIND snacks. among many others.
The planning for local TEDx events is fairly demanding, Grant said.
“Most people don’t know that TEDx events are 100-percent volunteer endeavors,” Grant said. “We actually don’t get paid; this is strictly for the purpose of enriching our local communities and spreading ideas. So, most people do this in conjunction with full-time work of some sort.”
He explained that he was already acquainted with his co-director Tran before embarking on putting together the conference.
“We met working together on marketing, and it turns out even before we knew each other we went to college together at the same time at UMBC,” Grant said. “She has a passion for event planning, so it was a natural fit.”
Grant explained that the theme for this year’s conference came from Tran.
“She has a knack for themes, and she gave her reasoning as: you know a lot of the time people can be a little bit hesitant to move forward with their ideas or they may have to let them go,” Grant said. “I think part of what she was trying to get across is that if you have big ideas. try to move forward with them and have the courage to see them through.”
Speakers for the TEDx event included Karen Civil, Julian Mitchell, Principal Brandice Heckert of Churchill High School and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. Each speaker was tasked with discussing their theme for 20 minutes or less.
Karen Civil, who works in the media industry, explained in her speech that she first started her work by creating a Backstreet Boys fan website when she was in eighth grade.
“One of the first things I did was teach myself how to build a website,” she said. “The kids who interacted with these e-platforms were creators just like myself, that were discovering a whole world where we could connect with other creators, which obviously was one of the first steps for me walking into my purpose.”
In his speech, Julian Mitchell, a well-known multimedia journalist, drove home the point of shaping culture through content.
“Creativity fuels the way the world works,” he said. “Today there is a huge and evident voice in this generation. There are no mainstream platforms owned by the new creative class.”
Mitchell also said that there is an abundance of legacy platforms for content that are more concerned with success than in being effective in creating culture. He ended his speech by saying: “Cultural capital is more valuable than the dollar.”
The Churchill High School principal closed the conference by speaking about her experience as an educator. She explained the importance of inspiring youth and being able to jump at opportunities that come one’s way.
Grant said that the possibility for a third annual TEDx Bethesda conference is still up in the air.
“We’ll have to see. I’m going to talk with my team on exactly how we want to move forward, but it seems like the community enjoys it, so I think they certainly deserve another,” he said.