TEDxMcGill reinvents your reality

This weekend marked this year’s TEDxMcGill event. For those of you not in the know, I’m going to immediately do you a huge favour and link you on over to the TEDtalks website so you can get a taste for what the concept is all about. The acronym stands for Technology Education and Design, although the breadth and scope of the presentations in the globally loved conference series extends into every topic imaginable.

I volunteered on the speakers’ team; a position involving looking after the needs of one of the guests of honour and making sure setup, organization and basic logistics went smoothly. The theme of this year’s event was ‘redefining reality,’ which as near as I can figure is simply carte blanche to talk about whatever awesome stuff you want.

Set in Bain Mathieu, a retrofitted public pool transformed into an engaging venue, the event was the latest in the increasingly popular TEDx series, which engages groups other than the traditional TED format of city-based conferences.  Speakers included artists, playwrights, entrepreneurs, olympic athletes, performers,  a neuroscientist lecturing on multilingualism, and an astrophysicist lecturing on the future of the humanities. Despite the overwhelming diversity of the guests, several threads connected the lectures. The most obvious of these was the basic premise of having your view of the world shifted in some way, but another interesting recurring undertone was the way that social media has changed the world. How appropriate for me to blog on it!

One of the luckiest things about the event for me was being assigned to Dr. Brenda Milner, one of McGill’s brightest minds in a field that I find endlessly revealing: neuroscience.  A pioneer in the study of memory, it’s perhaps appropriate that Dr. Milner has one of the sharpest ones I’ve ever encountered. At a sprightly 93, Dr. Milner has accumulated over 20 honorary degrees,  been given endless accolades and awards, and still runs a research program in cognitive neuroscience when she’s not lecturing to medical students.

Although her speech on the effects of multilingualism on the brain staggered much of the audience, I learned at least ten times more while accompanying Dr. Milner throughout the breaks between speakers. She NEVER STOPS. She paused frequently during our discussions (on every topic you can imagine, believe me) to do interviews, shake hands, and meet stunned audience members who were thrilled by her talk. Still, by the time the conference ended I think I was more exhausted than she was.

If you ever get a chance to attend one of the lecture forums, don’t hesitate for a second. Beyond the amazing lectures and stories, the interactivity with the speakers is truly inspiring. Having the chance to get to know some of the folks behind the stories on TED was an all-around wonderful experience, and one that I hope to repeat as many times as possible in the future. All in all, a great volunteer experience.

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