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TEDx Buffalo wrap-up

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

It can’t be easy to prepare a concise 18-minute talk. Since a lot of influential, “idea”-people also have a case of verbal diarrhea, there’s the temptation to spew out as much information as possible rather than hone in on one coherent message.

Despite occasional tech issues, TEDx Buffalo excelled in avoiding these struggles. Held Tuesday at the Montante Cultural Center, 10 local speakers, a violinist, a dance troupe and three videos from a national TED conference informed and entertained a select audience of over 100. From one speaker drinking beer on stage to a deaf DJ to a group of chefs slicing a giant fish (fine, it was in a video), there were a few mesmerizing moments from the annual TEDx talk.

As with a lot of these speakers, the TEDx presenters weren’t charged with telling their own stories but rather digging into an idea that inspires progress in Buffalo or expands upon a formative theme. They could certainly delve into their own experiences to support their arguments, but the talks were more about Buffalo than individual stories—which was refreshing!

Keep an eye on TEDx Buffalo’s website for when the videos from yesterday’s TED talks are posted.

These were the highlights for me:

Kevin Gardner, Five Points Bakery (header photo, too): Gardner’s message was a little counter-intuitive, for me at least. His message centered around this point (paraphrased, sorry):

Change yourself on a microcosmic level, because expanding your own consciousness improves the city. Don’t look beyond yourself to change someone else. No one else will know if you make yourself better, but the entire world will be better.

Discussion over the value of individual perception—which dawned on Gardner when he could see on top of the refrigerator though his wife couldn’t—was a little deep, but at least Gardner’s talk was one of the first of the day. Chats that are motivational are often shallow—this one wasn’t.

Tom McManus, Kegworks: McManus is one intense, passionate man. When he began with discussing the medical district, Larkinville and the waterfront, he lulled the audience into believing this would be a feel-good chat about Buffalo’s progress. Wrong. McManus harped on the value—and profit—of the e-commerce sector, the most alluring sector for venture capitalists. As disheartening as it was to hear that Western New York is last in number of venture capitalists, it was encouraging to hear that KegWorks has added 40 jobs and immediately became a national brand by virtue of its sector. Maybe this area deserves more focus than it currently receives.

Matthew Walter, COO of Oogie Games: Probably the most polished speaker of TEDx Buffalo, Walter’s message was simple: ask questions and take time to leave all distractions. Emphasis on questions over statements—even when thinking—promotes progress. While his “dude ranch” probably wouldn’t be my choice for escape, Walter raises a good point—it’s much more difficult to arrive at answers to questions when our days are littered with answering email, browsing Twitter and checking in on Foursquare.

Joy Kuebler, landscape architect: Clearly one of the audience’s favorites, Kuebler’s Pop-Up Park day on the East Side—using typical construction materials—was an example of the ingenuity and positivity of children combined with Kuebler’s (photo below) open mind and practical expertise. Despite considerable rain on June 9, Kuebler’s video proved that simple ideas and resourcefulness are sometimes all it takes for a memorable experience.

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