Can we talk? Making the most of your TEDx experience

The most effective way to be inspired by a TED or TEDx talk is to attend the event in person. Stuart A. Kessler spoke about technological innovations that assist with independent living for seniors at last year’s open mic. Photo by Jack Looney. The most effective way to be inspired by a TED or TEDx talk is to attend the event in person. Stuart A. Kessler spoke about technological innovations that assist with independent living for seniors at last year’s open mic. Photo by Jack Looney.

This town is no stranger to open mic nights. We boast Big Blue Door storytelling and improv night; the musicians, poets, and comedians of Verbs & Vibes; and Olio, a pechakucha-style series that was popular until its untimely demise in 2011. So, how is the upcoming TEDxCharlottesville Open Mic Night different? In a word, glory. The presenters are vying for a place in the spotlight onstage at The Paramount Theater in November.

Participants had to submit either a two-minute video or a 200-word description of their proposed topic. Out of these submissions, the event organizers hand-picked speakers to take the stage, and like last year the audience will vote to select a winner who will get to speak along with 19 other curated presenters at the main TEDxCharlottesville event, which focuses on the theme of “RefleXions.”

Titles from the 2013 TEDxCharlottesville Open Mic Night included “Understanding What You See at Night With Your Eyes Closed,” “Connecting to Coincidence,” “Sociocracy,” and a variety of other areas of expertise (or some might say, strong and convincingly voiced opinions). Last year’s winner, Darius Nabors, gave a talk on bucket lists, a concept which was previously probed in the similarly titled Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman movie.

Which begs the question: In the majority of TED and TEDx presentations, by amateurs and professionals alike, are we really expanding our knowledge base or are we simply reinforcing concepts that are already within grasp? TED Talks make us feel smart when we agree with them—which is pretty much any time we watch or listen to one. The ideas are meant to unite, not rupture; to motivate us generally, but not to encourage us to face any uncomfortable realities. The official TEDx guidelines even state that “we seek to build consensus” and provide event organizers with a list of content areas to avoid.

Likewise, TEDxCharlottesville volunteer materials pose the question, “Do you ever feel inspired while watching a TED or TEDx talk?” Though this is clearly meant to, ahem, inspire people to volunteer, I have to ask myself: do I? Sure, I feel warm and fuzzy after watching. In many, but not all cases, I feel like I’ve just seen someone who has perfected the art of public speaking. But, then I close that browser tab and get back to work. And the moment—and any lingering inspiration—is lost.

TEDx events, like our local one, improve this. Rather than watching a video or listening to a podcast of a TED presenter in a vacuum, TEDx works because it opens the door to conversation, discussion, and debate within the microcosm of the TEDx audience at each local event. Acknowledging that this discussion is limited by the main TEDx event’s high ticket price and one’s ability to take an entire day off from work to attend, the open mic night provides even more accessibility to this discussion and exchange, with a centrally located venue on the Downtown Mall and free admission.

Still, finding a way to measure impact and follow-through resulting from the idea-sharing propagated by TED and TEDx Talks is, well, a TED Talk I’d like to see. For now, I’ll continue to enjoy the talents and well-spoken presentations. Moments of inspiration, no matter how ephemeral, are still worth spreading.

TEDxCharlottesville Open Mic Night takes place at The Jefferson Theater on October 13 at 6:30pm. Admission and voting are both free.

Return to the big screen

Prefer onscreen inspiration? On Tuesday, the Virginia Film Festival unveiled the schedule for this year’s festival, running November 6-9—and you won’t be disappointed. It boasts plenty of Oscar hopefuls including Foxcatcher with Steve Carrell,  Wild starring Reese Witherspoon, and director Mike Leigh’s new film Mr. Turner.

On top of that, this festival embraces a greater focus on emerging filmmakers and Virginia filmmaking, with works by directors like Joel Potrykus (Buzzard) and Jeff Reichert (This Time Next Year) as well as films shot in Virginia, including the craft beer documentary (From Grain to Growler) and the world premiere of Big Stone Gap. Filmed in the titular town, the latter features an ensemble cast with Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman, and others—some of whom will be in attendance.

The festival’s more offbeat highlights include Chris Marker’s Level Five, the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, and biopics about jazz pianist Joe Albany (Low Down) and computing pioneer Alan Turing (The Imitation Game). Another highlight will be the live performance by Hal Holbrook accompanying the documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey.

This year’s cinematic classics include Dr. Strangelove, Charlie Chaplin films, Dead Poets Society, and a free screening of The Wizard of Oz.

Want more? There will be more short films, more visiting filmmakers and actors, and more participating theaters than ever before. Tickets go on sale October 10 at

Share your favorite film fest memories in the comments.

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