What’s possible for our city? Speakers at the 2011 TEDx Omaha event offered many answers to that pressing question.

TEDx Omaha is an independently organized event affiliated with the well-known TED conferences in California and Scotland.

The second TEDx Omaha was held on October 15 at Creighton University, with a theme of “What’s Possible?”

Eleven local speakers addressed that theme in wildly divergent ways, and they were supplemented by four videos from past TED international conferences. As at all TED events, speakers were limited to 18 minutes or less.

Othello Meadows spoke about issues facing north Omaha in a presentation called “Place as Fate: the Injustice of Geography,” predicting life events based on zip code and challenging Omaha’s actions to meet its values.

Anne Trumble’s presentation “Preserving Obsolescence” explained how the banners attached to grain elevators alongside Interstate 80 were developed, starting with her childhood time captive in the family farm truck.

Dave Mullins discussed “What I Got Rid of Today,” detailing how he gave away one personal possession per day for a year. Seventeen-year-old Tanner O’Dell spoke about his preferred definition of the word “fat.”

Presenters were not limited to a traditional speech format. Katie F-S led a five-woman demonstration of poetry performance. Aasim Cheena and Janel Scott discussed the history of hip-hop dancing before bringing four local dancers on stage.

Throughout the day, unusually long breaks of 45 minutes encouraged attendees and speakers to mingle and form new connections.

“Speakers don’t know each other, and the attendees usually don’t either,” TEDx Omaha producer Brian Smith said. “There is the ability for attendees and speakers to meet during breaks and make a connection. That is the spirit of the event.”

TEDx Omaha began two years ago during a brainstorming session by Smith and his co-workers at Rebel Interactive.

“We have worked with so many Omaha institutions and keystone organizations,” Smith said. “We wanted to give back, and came up with idea for the TEDx Conference. TED had just started to license that year, so we were able to do it.”

Smith holds the license for TEDx and serves as producer. About 20 other volunteers are involved in planning, divided into four teams overseeing various aspects of the event.

“TEDx events are net zero,” Smith said. “Nobody makes money from TEDx. It is all volunteer-based.”

Smith asked Roger Fransecky to act as host for this year’s event, and Fransecky wanted to be more than a traditional master of ceremonies.

“I see my role as senior vice president of linking and lashing ideas together,” Fransecky said. “I wanted to develop a narrative around the theme to link all of the presentations together. I wanted coherence for the audience.”

Fransecky believes the event achieved that coherence while offering multiple viewpoints.

“Clearly, there was a celebration of diversity of ideas,” he said. “We were talking about faith and music and dance and social interaction and entrepreneurship. There were a dozen points of view on the theme. It was a terrific range of topics.”

Attendees included artists, businesspeople, community organizers, and college students, with a strict limit of 100 tickets given out. The event was also streamed live through TEDx Omaha’s web site.

According to Smith, the TED organization limits local events to 100 attendees, unless one of the local organizers has attended an international TED conference.  Those conferences sell out years in advance and cost thousands of dollars to attend, so Smith said that is currently not realistic for his group of volunteers.

“There was some confusion about the cap of 100 people, and some comments about it on our Facebook page,” Smith said. “I wish we could have more people, but there are very particular rules around the events and the brand.”

Smith plans to make TEDx Omaha an annual event.

“We have a distinct pocket of local people who are recognized on a national and global basis,” he said. “They are generally not recognized in the Omaha area. Their intention is to contribute their ideas and passions so that we all benefit, and that’s good for the community. We want to keep moving forward.”

TEDx Omaha was sponsored by Apogee Group and Creighton University, and produced by Rebel Interactive.

You can learn more about TEDx Omaha on Facebook or at tedxomaha.com.

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