TEDxYouth helps Park City students find their voices | ParkRecord.com

TEDxYouth helps Park City students find their voices

Kaden Salem delivers a talk about animal equality at the 2015 TEDxYouthParkCity event. Salem, who was a seventh grader at Ecker Hill Middle School, is one of several students who have participated in the program, which returns May 4. (Courtesy of the Park City Institute)

In 2010, the Park City Institute became one of the first groups to receive a license from TED, a non-profit dedicated to spreading ideas, to put on events modeled after the popular TED Talks that have become synonymous with the organization.

The Institute’s first TED events focused only on adults. But everything changed when Teri Orr, the Institute’s executive director, learned about the TEDxYouth program, which allows students to deliver short talks at conference’s centered around teenagers.

"I thought, ‘We need to steal that idea and have it here,’" Orr said. "It fit in with what we did at the (Mega-Genius Supply Store and IQ HQ) and working with students already, and the fact that we do a lot of student outreach all year long. We like kids."

Like that, TEDxYouthParkCity was created, and it’s returning for its third year this spring. Students Monday and Tuesday auditioned to speak at the conference, which is set for May 4. This year’s theme is "dream," and students are given the freedom to explore the topic however they’d like.

Moe Hickey, managing director of the Institute, said he is blown away by what the students deliver. In past years, students have talked about things ranging from a parent’s suicide to their sexuality.

"The courage from some of these kids at the high school level — and some of them are even ninth graders and eighth graders — to get up in front of an audience and talk about it is incredible," Hickey said. "And in some cases, it’s going to change how they view things. Hopefully they realize they have a voice."

Many of the students are not polished, confident speakers when they audition, however. They are not required to memorize their talks for the audition, and many of them have never spoken in front of a large crowd. Before their final performances, the students work with the Institute to transform into the self-assured orators that end up conveying powerful messages.

"They deliver exactly as you see any other TED Talk," Orr said. "There are no notes, they’re not wandering all over the stage. They’ve learned not only how to project and to memorize, but how to tell a story and have a stage presence I hope stays with them. When you see that kind of transformation from someone who has something really important to say, but they’re looking at their shoes during their audition, that’s amazing."

Another unique part of the program is that it allows the students to connect with people from around the world. Videos of their speeches are uploaded to the TEDx YouTube site, and Orr said talks Park City students have given have received more than 150,000 views. Some of the students have formed relationships with people who have seen their videos and wanted to have more conversations.

"There are kids that are starting kind of video pen pal relationships with people," Orr said.

Hickey added that the worldwide exposure of the videos provides another valuable lesson — dealing with criticism.

"Not everybody is going to like your topic, and that’s a learning experience," he said. "But if you want to put yourself out there, that’s part of the process."

Orr believes much of the value the students gain is from pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones, both through speaking and engaging with peers they might not otherwise have met. They find their own strong voices and learn how to appreciate others’. Seeing that happen is fulfilling, Orr said.

"They bond with each other, even if they’ve never known each other until now," she said. "They’re different age groups and different classes, but they want to see each other be successful. They know how hard it is to do what they’re doing, so they know it’s just as hard for their peer to do the same thing."

For more information, visit tedxparkcity.org.

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