TEDxColumbus has established itself as a platform where the city's civic and business leaders share big ideas, where citizens tell their stories and where revelations emerge. Thanks to its organizers and their success, TED-style events have been adopted as development tools in some of Columbus' largest organizations.

TEDxColumbus has established itself as a platform where the city's civic and business leaders share big ideas, where citizens tell their stories and where revelations emerge. Thanks to its organizers and their success, TED-style events have been adopted as development tools in some of Columbus' largest organizations.

The annual TEDxColumbus event feels like a citywide hack day. The hybrid symposium/stage show draws a rare assemblage of Columbus businesspeople, entrepreneurs, artists, designers, academics and nonprofit leaders into one auditorium. They listen collectively as a selection of local presenters share "ideas worth spreading"-the mission of the nonprofit TED parent organization, which licenses TEDx events across the world.

TEDxColumbus 2015 was the event's seventh iteration. Co-curators Ruth Milligan and Nancy Kramer presented 16 speakers and performers from very different backgrounds to a sold-out audience at the Capitol Theatre in late November. Cardinal Health CEO George Barrett and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams founder Jeni Britton Bauer shared the stage with startup founders, restaurateurs, social justice advocates, athletes, artists, a forensic scientist and a recovering heroin addict. On the TEDxColumbus stage, all were given equal voice.

"This was an opportunity for me to talk about leadership, but from a more personal perspective and in a somewhat unique setting," says Barrett, who appreciated the audience's engagement in all of the day's talks. "I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet some of the speakers that had such interesting stories to tell."

The speakers' seemingly unrelated perspectives coalesced around the 2015 TEDxColumbus central theme: disruption. The cumulative result was a wide-angle view of the disruptive issues, ideas and innovations developing within the city.

"It's exciting to have the talent of our community be revealed before our very eyes. In a lot of cases, it's relatively unrecognized talent from unknown places," says Doug Kridler, president and CEO of the Columbus Foundation. He and his wife, Monica, have been sponsors of TEDxColumbus since its debut, as has the foundation.

"I believe it's reflective of our community in the best of ways. To me, this is leadership in action, and to me it's wonderful that women are leading the way," says Kridler, referring to organizers Milligan and Kramer.

"I'm just so impressed with how adroitly Ruth and Nancy have guided this, how inclusive their planning and execution," Kridler adds. "It's one of the top TEDx community events in the US."

Breaking down the barriers between Columbus' different sectors creates a forum for ideation-which is why several large organizations have taken a cue from TEDxColumbus and begun hosting internal TEDx events. Business leaders are finding TEDx licenses to be useful tools for team development within their organizations. TED-style talks have added a new dimension to standard corporate presentations and companywide events.

The story of how TED-style talks became a local business trend begins back in 2009, when two expert communicators made Columbus one of the earliest cities to hold a TEDx license.

Bringing TEDx to Columbus

As a child, young Ruth Milligan would attend annual meetings of the Kit Kat Club of Columbus with her late father, jurist and Ohio House member William W. Milligan. Female guests were invited for one night to join a meeting of the club's 39 members, who delivered papers written to "promote social intercourse among congenial men who are interested in literature, art and other matters of broad human concern."

Milligan relished her annual night in the salon with people who "thought of intellectualism as a sport." She spent her adult life searching for a Kit Kat Club of her own.

"I'd think to myself: Where's my place to have conversation and dialogue unrelated to my profession, to be provoked?" says Milligan, who for years operated her own PR firm, served as chief of staff for Ohio First Lady Janet Voinovich and was a member of Gov. George Voinovich's staff.

In 2009, she saw a poster for the newly introduced TEDx, a licensed version of the TED Conference. Milligan had found her club. In preparing the first year's speakers for the stage, she also found her calling. The experience prompted Milligan to narrow her coaching and communications practice. That same year she founded Articulation, Inc.

"TEDx becomes my laboratory," she says. Today, Milligan spends three-fourths of her time coaching speech for executives and corporate clients. The other quarter she devotes to the TEDxColumbus event and others for which she is a series licensee, including TEDxColumbusWomen and TEDxYouth.

To stage a large-scale TEDx event, Milligan needed a co-curator who'd been to a TED conference, as was required by the organization. She found an equally enthusiastic partner in Nancy Kramer.

"She was very influential in teaching me what made a TED-style event. As long as we're doing the event, we're doing it together," says Milligan. She and Kramer bring different attributes to TEDxColumbus, she says, which is part of why it works so well.

"It's a passion project for me on the side," says Kramer, founder and chairman of Columbus-based digital marketing agency Resource/Ammirati.

Kramer first heard of TED during the course of her work in California with her first client, Apple. In the early days of the conference, TED attendees were heavily vetted. Jim Hackett, then Steelcase CEO, sponsored Kramer's first TED invitation. Kramer has attended annually for the last decade.

"It's a week of mind-blowing talks that go through early in the morning to late at night," says Kramer. "You could be sitting next to Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, these luminaries who attend and stay all week."

To bring the best possible TEDx event to Columbus, Kramer and Milligan solicited support from Kridler at the Columbus Foundation. He volunteered during the program's debut at the Wexner Center for the Arts and gave introductory remarks during TEDxColumbus 2010, which took place at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

"TED is obviously a big phenomenon, and obviously Columbus gets it," Kridler told the second-year crowd. He called the event an extraordinary opportunity to explore thought leadership developing in Columbus.

TEDxColumbus is very similar in spirit to the TED Conference, says Kramer. As she and Milligan planned the theme and performances for the first event, they sought Columbus-area speakers who were doing things worthy of the tagline of TED.

"What are 'ideas worth spreading' that are happening in our community? We combed Ohio State and Battelle and different organizations for people who were doing interesting things that we thought would be worthy of the TEDx stage," says Kramer. "That continues to be our focus."

A couple dozen people recognized the TED brand and immediately bought tickets to the first TEDxColumbus event. Milligan and Kramer worked to generate interest in the event among a wider Columbus audience during its early years.

Tickets for 2015 sold out quickly. The annual event has grown so popular that Kramer and Milligan have debated whether to institute a vetting process for attendees, similar to the TED Conference. They concluded that approach was at odds with the local spirit of the event.

"The community owns the event. We happen to be stewards of it," says Milligan.

Preparing the talks

In addition to the demand for tickets, TEDxColumbus has become a coveted speaking engagement. Between 75 and 100 speakers apply for the TEDxColumbus conference each year, though only a few are invited to give talks.

"In 2009, I was begging people to speak. Now, TED's become a fairly well-known platform," says Milligan. The multimedia production that goes into staging the event and filming the speakers' talks for the TEDxColumbus website have made it a desirable local forum.

"It's going to give you a video of your talk that you could never do on your own. It becomes a lot of people's calling cards," says Milligan. She knows of at least one TEDxColumbus speaker who received a job offer as soon as he left the stage. Some presenters have been invited to give their speeches in other forums.

As demand grows, Milligan and Kramer make sure they're staying true to TED's principles. Although giving a TEDx talk generates attention, presenters can't use the stage to promote themselves or their organizations. Talks built around bad science, political/religious agendas or polarizing topics are unwelcome.

The first TEDxColumbus was built around the theme "Global." John Glenn was among the speakers. The organizers hoped that talks on such a big theme might give their speakers a better shot at being featured as TED Talks on TED.com.

TED Talks have received more than a billion online views since TED.com began posting them in 2006. TED.com features 2,100 of the best talks recorded at the TED Conference and TEDx events around the world.

Organizers upload their talks to a seperate TEDx Talks library in hopes of being added to the selective TED Talks collection. The competition is fierce. Over 30,000 videos have been uploaded to TEDx Talks from organizers in 130 different countries. To date, two TEDxColumbus presentations have been featured as TED Talks: Chris Domas' 2013 talk and James White, Sr.'s 2014 talk.

For their second event, Milligan and Kramer put their TED.com aspirations on the backburner. They redoubled their commitment to curating talks that would resonate with their core audience.

"The TEDx stage tries to reflect in Columbus the conversations that are already going on, that need to be elevated or that need to happen," says Milligan.

As early as February, she and Kramer will start brainstorming a theme for TEDxColumbus 2016, scheduled for Nov. 4 at the Capitol Theatre. Once they've decided on a theme, a selection committee chooses 16 or so presenters. The lineup is culled from the open call for applications and speaker referrals.

"My gold standard is to have a stage of people who are incredibly diverse speaking to an audience who are incredibly diverse," says Milligan.

Speakers undergo seven rigorous weeks of training as they develop their talks for the TEDxColumbus stage. Milligan and a small team of speaker coaches work one-on-one with presenters over the phone, via Skype and in person throughout the two months leading up to the event. Speakers hear each other's talks during technical rehearsal the week before the event.

The training sessions are remarkably intimate for all involved. Speakers open themselves to honest feedback from the coaches. Milligan and her team tailor their coaching to coax the strongest performances from speakers who have disparate presentation styles and levels of experience.

The process marries communication and psychology, says Milligan. "We're dealing with people's motivations, their choices, their behaviors and their history. Even though it's a (roughly) ten-minute talk, a lot comes out in the process because they have to make a lot of choices."

Milligan's coaching expertise is in-demand from organizations that hold TEDx licenses or host TED-style internal events. Amy Barnes, faculty advisor for the student-led TEDxOhioStateUniversity, says Milligan improved the speaker preparation for their annual event.

"When you have college students putting this together and acting as speaker coaches, they don't have a lot of experience," says Barnes. A senior lecturer in OSU's College of Education and Human Ecology, Barnes saw potential to develop a curriculum around Milligan's methods. Together, they built an original digital course, "How to Be a TEDx Speaker Coach."

Much of the prep work is in condensing speakers' talks for maximum impact. Twelve minutes is the target length for a TEDxColumbus speech. No TED Talk runs longer than 18 minutes.

"Somebody capturing their idea in that succinct a time period is a great discipline for sharing ideas and forcing clarity," says Kramer. A number of Resource/Ammirati associates have delivered talks at TEDxColumbus. Kramer says the regimented preparation and framework of TED-style presentations can have business applications.

TEDx in the workplace

TEDxColumbus has inspired executives for several Columbus companies to bring TED-style events into their organizations. The format appeals to businesses that put a premium on ideation and strong messaging.

Battelle applied for an internal license and hosted its first TEDxBattelle event in 2013. Alexa Konstantinos, director of marketing for Battelle's medical business, curated the first two TEDxBattelle events. She says the format complements Battelle's mission because it fosters the exchange of ideas.

"That's really the core of innovation," says Konstantinos. "The idea was to give people the opportunity to share ideas and share thoughts. We're a big organization. We wanted to break down silos."

TEDxBattelle features speaker sessions and networking. It takes place near the cafeteria and is designed to allow employees to cycle in throughout the day. The talks are broadcast to seven of Battelle's satellite offices.

Attendance tripled between the first and second year of the event, says Konstantinos. Battelle CFO Dave Evans gave the introductory speech for the second event. Konstantinos was gratified to see employees and executives unanimously "celebrating the phenomenon that it was."

The next TEDxBattelle event will be part of Battelle's Founders Week celebration in 2016.

Alliance Data has also incorporated TED-style talks into internal leadership development events.

"TED-style talks are a great way to communicate topics and trends to a large audience," says Erick Carter, vice president of human resources for Alliance Data's credit card services business. Alliance Data leaders have delivered TED-style talks on topics like building high-performance teams and championing innovation, says Carter.

"Because our leadership team is scattered throughout the US, TED-style talks are great opportunities to provide virtual training when we can't be together in person."

A number of Cardinal Health employees and executives attended their CEO's TEDxColumbus talk, for which Cardinal was a sponsor. They also had the opportunity to attend TEDxCardinalHealth when the company staged an internal event in 2014 around the theme "Plunge, Pivot, Pounce." The company is looking to host an event every other year moving forward.

"I think it's a great forum for companies," says Shelley Bird, EVP in the Office of the CEO for Cardinal Health.

TEDx events contribute in a very positive way to the corporate culture, says Bird. TED-style presentation training also weans people off of PowerPoint and improves their audience engagement, she says. It helps employees build their "storytelling muscle" and stretch beyond their comfort zones.

"We've got such a strong TEDx city event," says Bird. "I would encourage companies to attend, to see what it's all about."

Kitty McConnell is associate editor.

About TED

The first TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conference was held in 1984. It included a demonstration of cutting-edge compact disc technology and the eBook, among other revelations. By the 1990s, TED had become an annual happening in Monterey, Calif. TED2016: Dream will take place in Vancouver Feb. 15 through 19. For $8,500 to $15,000, selected applicants will see this year's 70-plus talks live.

TED is headquartered in New York and Vancouver. Entrepreneur Chris Anderson, founder of the nonprofit Sapling Foundation, which acquired TED in 2001, curates the conferences. The nonprofit also stages TEDGlobal, TEDWomen and TEDYouth events.

In 2009, TED began issuing TEDx licenses to independent organizers. Some 10,000 TEDx events have been staged in communities and organizations around the world since then. There are different licenses and formats:

• Standard events like TEDxColumbus

• Simulcast and hybrid events like TEDxLive and TEDxWomen

• Internal events for universities, corporations, organizations, government agencies and nonprofits

• TEDx events can last from a few hours to one day

• Events can include a simulcast of the larger TED conference, original speakers or a blend of both

TEDx Guidelines

Licenses are free, but they come with a lengthy set of rules around sponsorships, content and ticket revenue:

• To host an audience of 100 or more, standard event organizers must have attended one of the main TED Conferences.

• Ticket prices must be $100 or less; all proceeds must be put back into the nonprofit events.

Complete guidelines and applications can be found on TED.com