Nov. 17, 2020

TEDxCalgary is back with fresh ideas to help you stay engaged

Challenge your perspectives about staying connected during Nov. 18 virtual event featuring UCalgary alumni

On Nov. 18, participants will gather virtually for an evening exploration of what it means to stay connected. Although TEDxCalgary runs dozens of events a year, this intimate two-hour session is a sharp pivot from its all-day, marquee event that was bumped last spring due to COVID-19.  Four of the five speakers at this year’s evening, dubbed Engage: Connected, are UCalgary alumni.

They include President and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers Anila Lee Yuen, BSc’06; Cumming School of Medicine Alumni of Distinction Award recipient Dr. Rupinder Toor, BSc’92, MD’96; CEO of Tecterra Inc. Jonathan Neufeld, BSc’03, MBA’15; and psychiatrist and founder of headversity, Dr. Ryan Todd, BHSc’08, MD’12.

As for staying engaged and connected, Lee Yuen relies on “written, quick conversations whether that’s through WhatsApp or Messenger — this keeps me sane and grounded.” In her working world, one of the Centre’s biggest challenges has been teaching literacy classes to newcomers in an online format. “For the majority of our clients though,” she adds, “online services have worked out quite well. But I will reveal more at TEDx.”

  • Pictured above, from left: Ryan Todd, Anila Lee Yuen, Jonathan Neufeld, Rupinder Toor

Dr. Ryan Todd, a practising psychiatrist who founded headversity, a mental-wellness platform that measures, tracks and trains mental health resilience in the workplace will give us a peek into his world: “At any given time, one can be refining a spreadsheet on a PC, talking on a landline, responding to a text message and listening to a podcast while watching a YouTube video on a laptop,” he says. “There is much less room today for the kind of attention we need to truly learn. Deep engagement is needed now more than ever before.”

The 2019 Top 40 under 40 winner hopes his TEDx presentation will give the audience a new way to look at mental health care. “Every member of the audience has a deep stake in mental health and our collective approach to mental health care is not working,” he says. “The demand is greater than ever; the public conversation needs to be exchanged for collective action. 

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"The future of mental health care requires fewer experts, and more self-care; that’s what I hope the audience gets out of my presentation."

The aim of Dr. Rupinder Toor’s talk will be how the medical profession needs to become “deep listeners,” with her focus being on women and young girls in poverty. Says the physician who opened the Northeast Calgary Women’s Clinic in 2007: “Improving access to long-acting birth control can strengthen families, communities and nations and truly help break the cycle of poverty.

“In my work, deep engagement is to hear my patients’ stories,” explains Toor, “and when I start to see patterns and gaps, I report this to the appropriate stakeholder and advocate for my patients’ needs in a responsible and passionate way. I become a deep listener and then an amplifier for the lives of people who may not typically have a voice that is strong enough in society to be heard.

“I suppose deep engagement is when you know something well enough that you can present it simply,” adds the woman who launched a new not-for-profit initiative called Project EmpowHER earlier in 2020. “It’s what you hear when you listen deeply, after you cut out all the noise.”

The other speaker is Jan Keck, of Toronto, who has created a set of cards called Ask Deep Questions. Keck’s conversation-starters were first noticed in 2018 when the cards were used to spark new ideas and deeper discussions about staying connected. Exactly how they will be used at this online event will remain a mystery until Nov.18.

Deep dive into deep topic

If you haven’t been to a TEDxCalgary event, here’s how it works: Each of the speakers is allotted a maximum of 18 minutes “to make their idea consumable so people are able to really engage, connect and explore that idea,” explains one of TEDxCalgary co-founders, Jonathan Perkins. “It’s not like presenting an academic paper or simply conveying information — we want to launch people on a journey that dives deeply into a specific idea. We think of the speakers as trailhead markers, or navigators, who launch the participants on a journey.”

After a speaker finishes discussing their idea, interactive activities or further discussions will occur in small breakout groups, in what Perkins is quick to point out is a “safe space . . . one where everyone can ‘play’ with ideas.”

Playing on the image of a Cirque du Soleil big top, Perkins asks us to “imagine a big tent where a troupe (TEDxCalgary) brings the ideas to town. And yes, there are performers but the production is only as good as the crowd . . . a passive crowd is never as rewarding as one that is truly engaged. We want your ideas, your voice . . . we need you to look up from your devices and engage eye to eye.”

Tickets are still available for $10 but register soon for the Nov. 18 (7-9 p.m.) event as attendance is limited to ensure interactivity in small-group discussions. Special rates for UCalgary alumni and students are also available.