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TEDxUWMilwaukee is currently taking applications for speakers for its Sept. 27 event.

TEDx takes Milwaukee for a second time

They may not be up to the meme-worthy levels of cute kitten photos and the Oscar selfie, but TED Talks are still one of the Internet's great fascinations.

Started in California 26 years ago, TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading and sharing ideas, hopefully ones that can change the way people think about themselves, their world and more. The talks – from speakers like the late Roger Ebert, Bill Gates, Julian Assange, Bono and many, many more – range in topic, from science to music to sustainability to even the potential harm of TED Talks.

The goal, however, always remains the same: spreading ideas in the hopes of changing attitudes and – eventually – changing the world. It's a mission that's likely landed many a TED Talk video on your Facebook wall (or recommended for streaming by Netflix).

Milwaukee got its first taste of TED last year with a TEDx conference – a local, self-organized talk event, run independently but aided from afar by TED – in Harambee. And now, thanks to some ambitious students at UWM, it seems the city will get a second taste of TED.

The event, TEDxUWMilwaukee, is set to hit the UWM campus on Sept. 27 (changed from Oct. 4), from 2 until 8 p.m. While that date is still several months away, the event's organizers have already begun searching for nominations for speakers from across the nation and, most importantly, from the Milwaukee area.

"Hopefully we'll get some national talent coming in, but we would like to showcase the Milwaukee community," said Aaron Davis, a sophomore from Brookfield studying business at UWM as well as one of the lead organizers for TEDxUWMilwaukee.

"We believe that Milwaukee is kind of a hidden gem of the United States. There's such potential here for growth, and there are people doing a lot of incredible things that don't have attention on a national scale, but should. So part of our mission is to bring a light to a lot of that stuff."

The deadline set for speaker applications and nominations – available on TEDxUWMilwaukee's website – is April 22. The event organizers will then go through the submitted speech outlines and unveil the final presenters on May 22. The chosen speakers then have until the fall to plan, develop and rehearse their TEDx talk, which usually last around 18 minutes or less.

The hope is to find a solid lineup of speakers and presentations that fit with the theme set by Davis and the rest of TEDxUWMilwaukee Team: Generation Why Not.

"We found that it really represents a new way of thinking, of a generation that – instead of asking why things are – is asking and thinking why not do incredible things," Davis said.

In addition to touching upon the event's theme at least broadly, the committee is looking for speakers, no matter the industry or topic, that exhibit at least one of the following qualities: passion, ambition, innovation and inspiration.

The group behind the event – an all-student organization called the TEDxUWMilwaukee Team – came together merely back in February. However, over just barely two months, the team has made massive strides – most importantly receiving a license from TED to use their name and put on the convention.

"The TED conference, as an extension of their brand, allows for independent license holders to host events," Davis said. "They sent some rules and some strict guidelines, but within those rules, you can really go as big or as small as you want."

The team's goal, however, isn't merely to put on a TEDx event, but to create one up to a world-class level experience. The TED organization itself – an incredibly small staff of people, according to Davis – is mostly hands-off when it comes to groups putting on TEDx events.

However, the list of rules, regulations and resources passed along to the TEDxUWMilwaukee Team – who you can accept as sponsors, parameters for the event, the time allotted, etc. – help not only to make the conference uniform, but help bring a sense of progress and structure to the process for these young event planners – who, in between organizing the TEDx conference, still have to go to class and do schoolwork.

"You kind of think of this area of limitless possibility when you think about a TED conference," Davis said. "But it's very, very structured, which has helped us think through what we can and can't do, but also what we should want to do and could do."

And what they want to do is showcase UW-Milwaukee and the city that shares its name.

"I absolutely love it here," Davis said. "I love it here because I can really feel the potential that this community has. And I think that TEDx will lend some real credibility to this community. You start to look at where TED events have been hosted; they've been hosted all over the world, but they've always carried some weight in where they're located. Later this month, we're going to be attending one at the University of Chicago. So if you can start to associate UWM with the type of community that can host a really, really powerful TEDx conference, you start to change people's mindset about the community at large."

And then there are the talks themselves.

"One thing TED has been accused of doing is dumbing down very complex science," Davis noted. "A lot of people argue that you can't really do industries – like cosmology, physics, genetics – justice in an 18-minute talk that's meant to apply to everyone. But personally, what TED does more is shed light on issues that need to be addressed. Some of my favorite TED Talks are in the areas of alternative energy, and though they deal with very complex thought processes – things I'll probably never understand on a mechanical or engineering level – I'm now inspired to follow that progress more closely."

"I see the value in spreading worthy ideas. I think TED has really succeeded in giving people deserving of a voice the voice they deserve."


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