Penn student groups frequently offer to broaden the perspective of the student body through speaker events, but few do so by inviting ex-convicts, aspiring comedians and neuroscientists onto the stage.
This weekend’s fifth annual TEDxPenn conference seeks to present 12 speakers from diverse backgrounds at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and hopes to deliver TED’s motto of “Ideas Worth Spreading” to Penn’s campus.
The TEDxPenn team consists of a group of 30 Penn students who work together to independently organize a licensed TEDx event each year. The group is responsible for presenting a collection of presentations that embodies the values of both the TED and University of Pennsylvania brands.
This year’s speakers include George Martorano, an ex-convict who spent 27 years in jail on a drug charge but spent that time in jail on creative writing and spiritual studies, and Jeff Beal, who composed the soundtrack for the Netflix drama House of Cards.
TEDxPenn used an open nomination form, the Penn Alumni Association and extensive Internet research to compile a list of people with engaging ideas who might be able to speak at the conference and, through a long nomination process, ultimately narrowed down its roster of speakers from over 150 potential orators. The Speaker & Content team was tasked with the job of pruning down this list of possible presenters and preparing the selected speakers for the main stage.
Individual speakers come into the event with varying levels of public speaking experience. Some come in with a strong grasp on their speech. For example, Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar, who will open this year’s conference, gave a TED talk at the main conference in 2012.
For others, the initial quality of their ideas was somewhat raw, but through the support system provided by TEDxPenn they were able to hone down their ideas into strong monologues.
“They are incredibly professionally, extremely efficient and have an attention to detail not common on many college campuses,” Engineering freshman and TEDxPenn speaker Johnathan Chen said. His speech will try to tackle the intersection between how an engineer approaches a question versus how a photographer approaches a perspective.
Over a three-month development cycle, speakers receive feedback from the students, workshop their outlined speeches into drafts and potentially work with voice coaches to prepare for their address. In the meantime, the design team helps fluff up their online personas.
“It was really enjoyable to work interactively with them to think about ways to take my academic ideas and make them accessible for a public audience,” said Penn professor Michael Horowitz, whose presentation explores how the life experiences of leaders fundamentally shape their willingness to take risks.
“A lot of this is about exposing people to things that they haven’t necessarily thought about or seen before and opening their eyes to new topics and themes,” Wharton and Engineering senior and co-curator Deeptanshu Kapur said.
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