Feb. 25, 2020

TEDx Calgary challenges participants to engage deeply

UCalgary alumni among those speaking at annual event March 28

Editor's note TEDxCalgary is postponed until Oct. 31, 2020. 

On March 28, participants will gather at the Central Library for a full-day exploration of what it means to engage deeply. Although TEDxCalgary runs 35 different events a year — held mostly through Calgary’s library system — this is its once-a-year marquee event. All 12 speakers at this year’s event, dubbed Engage: Deeply, have not yet been released, but four or five will be UCalgary alumni.

They include Dr. Ryan Todd, BHSc’08, MD’12, a practising psychiatrist who founded headversity, a mental-wellness platform that measures, tracks and trains mental health resilience in the workplace.

On the importance of deep engagement, Todd gives 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.

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.

Also on the roster are Jan Keck, of Toronto, who has created a set of cards called Ask Deep Questions; Arch Award winner Anila Lee Yuen, BSc’06, CEO of the Centre for Newcomers; and Cumming School of Medicine Alumni of Distinction Award recipient Dr. Rupinder Toor, BSc’92, MD’96, who opened the Northeast Calgary Women’s Clinic in 2007.

The aim of 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. “Improving access to long-acting birth control can strengthen families, communities and nations and truly help break the cycle of poverty,” says the doctor, who maintains it’s her role to “hear, encourage and support” her patients’ goals.

“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 has plans to start a new not-for-profit initiative called Project EmpowHER in 2020. “It’s what you hear when you listen deeply, after you cut out all the noise.”

Deep dive into deep topic

If you haven’t been to a TEDxCalgary event, here’s how it works: Each of the 12-plus 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, facilitators and animateurs will guide participants to various spots in the library where interactive activities or further discussions will occur, 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.”

Booking for the event is at capacity. To be placed on the waitlist, members of the general public can sign up here. UCalgary alumni can sign up here.