Back in October, we were inspired by TEDxRainier, a day of fascinating and inspiring talks by local geeks, chefs, visionaries, authors and do-gooders. What we enjoyed about the day wasn’t just the series of talks themselves, each worth the price of admission in themselves, but the conversations between that the talks inspired.
Of the talks, one stood out in particular: Michael Hebb argued that how we share food together is as important as what the food is or where it comes from. “The Table,” he said, “the place where we come together and share food – is one of the most important cultural sites in the modern world….[but] the common table is in a state of peril. We don’t eat together anymore.” He went on to ask “How can we expect to revolutionize our food system without a deep investment in how we eat the food from that system?”
Taking heed, we had our first run at it, which we dubbed TEDDYxWallingford*, Saturday night at our home. We’re sharing the details here with you in the hopes that it might inspire similar events around the neighborhood and beyond.
In addition to the TEDx events, one of our models and inspirations for the evening was Ignite Seattle: An evening of pecha-kucha-style talks by geeks and digeratti. At Ignite, each presenter gives a five-minute talk on something they are passionate about to slides that proceed at 15 second intervals. The pace and excitement of the evening are carried by the fact that the slides advance every 15 seconds automatically, whether the presenter is ready or not. The format requires timing and careful preparation. In the best of cases, it’s five minutes of wonder. In the worst, it’s only five minutes long! Ignite was created by our friends Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis, and has since spread worldwide.
Following Hebb’s lead, though, our evening centered around a dinner party. We invited 9 friends chosen specifically because a) they were intelligent and full of ideas and b) none of them knew each other, to the best of our knowledge (Seattle, being a small town, thwarted us here, but we at least achieved “didn’t know each other well”). The invitation explained:
- Each person attending will give a brief, 5 – 10 minute presentation about something . The topic can be anything that grabs you: an idea you’ve been mulling, some talent you have that others may not, a book you’ve read, an intricacy of one of your hobbies. You could sing a song or guide the guests through an appreciation of port! You can use props or slides if you want, or just talk.
- Everyone must participate, no exceptions
- Here’s the schedule:
The result was fabulous beyond our expectations:
- Antonio explained the intricacies of high-dynamic range (HDR) photography, then showed striking images of Russian rural life shot at the turn of the century by Sergey Prokudin-Gorskii, who pioneered a method of constructing color images thirty years before Kodachrome.
- Gail gave us a window into the life of her grandmother, and through it, a surprising portrait of Jewish life in the Mississippi Delta in the early 20th century.
- Carey broke the PowerPoint spell with a set of conversational cards she created to aid the temporarily and constitutionally boring. A perfect gift for new moms and the recently saved.
- Julian (Totcycle) sang the praises of the Power to the Peddle movement, with an affectionate focus on the awesome and esoteric options for carrying kids.
- Matt (Walkscore) slipstreamed on Julian’s theme and took us on a tour of Topeka, Kansas, urban planning, Jane Jacobs and why short blocks are better.
We broke for dinner, a gluten-free feast artfully prepared by Michelle (sweet potato soup, salad, gluten-free olive oil bread, roasted seasonal vegetables and roast chicken with cashew gravy. The break gave us all a great opportunity to chat and casually chew on some of the themes the first set of talks had raised, and to take them on tangents. We also paused briefly between courses for Heidi’s talk on the oyster (sadly, none were to be had for the tasting, but we did learn the best option for oysters in Seattle, happy hour at Shucker’s, featuring high quality oysters at a dollar a slurp).
In the second half of the evening,
- Hoyt let the Gini Coefficient out of the bottle, sparking the longest post-talk discussion of the evening. We all see how the world could be better, but how do, we, here, today, make it so?
- Jordan (Wallyhood!) showed off our attempts at art and beekeeping. Yes, that’s “art and beekeeping“, not “art of beekeeping”.
- Nikki showed us an architect’s perspective on Earthship, the pioneering ultra-sustainable building group where she interned in the early ’90’s.
- Branden unearthed the roots of the rattlecan art that cloaks his beautiful bus, Lucinda.
All in all, an incredible evening. Should you think of replicating, a few thoughts:
- The number of people worked out just right for the time we had: the talks all clocked in closer to 15 minutes than 10 (nobody got the hook, nor did they need it).
- It was essential, we believe, that everybody contributed to the evening. Had it been a TED or Ignite-style evening, where a small set of presenters put on a show for a larger audience it would have been good, but fundamentally different. We were all equals, everyone had their moment to share their piece, and that was a defining characteristic of the evening. That said, there were other ways to contribute than “giving a talk”: Michelle created a meal. Someone could have played music or provided some other artistic or inspirational input (perhaps a gallery show?)
It was such fun, we’re already thinking about the next one. If you try something like this yourself, please let us know.