By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

TEDx speaker slots open; hard work, but worth it, past pres

Submitted photo##Gerardo Ochoa during his McMinnville TEDx presentation.
Submitted photo##Gerardo Ochoa during his McMinnville TEDx presentation.
Submitted photo##Amy Fleckenstein gives her McMinnville TEDx presentation.
Submitted photo##Amy Fleckenstein gives her McMinnville TEDx presentation.

After a successful inaugural event, organizers of McMinnnville TEDx program are seeking speakers for January 2020.

Applications are due by July 12. Forms and more information can be found on the event website,

The theme for 2020 is “Currents,” which could be interpreted as relating to water, electricity, connectivity or other topics.

Amy Fleckenstein and Gerardo Ochoa, who were among the presenters at the first McMinnville TEDx, said they wouldn’t hesitate to apply again. Both had a great experience.

Preparing a TED talk is challenging, time-consuming and sometimes difficult, they said, but the rewards are great.

“What an impact you can have!” said Fleckenstein, who was chosen from more than 100 applicants for the first event.

To apply, potential speakers need to have a solid idea for a talk — a topic or message about which they are passionate.

“Don’t fear applying because of stage fright or inexperience or disability,” said Fleckenstein, who suffers from a chronic facial pain condition called trigeminal neuralgia.

“The TEDx team will help you,” she explained. “It’s very intense, but everyone is so accommodating and supportive.”

The McMinnville TEDx is related to the world-renowned TED program of presentations about technology, entertainment, design and a wide array of other topics. It carries the “X” because it’s an independently organized event, rather than hosted by the TED nonprofit, and because it focuses primarily on local speakers and their issues.

The second McMinnville TEDx will take place Jan. 25 in Ice Auditorium at Linfield College.

The first, in the same location, sold out quickly. The capacity crowd was very supportive, Fleckenstein said.

After speaking at the first event, Fleckenstein has become part of the volunteer organizing group. She brings skills she developed as a consultant and vice president for a health care company — and it’s something she can do a few hours at a time despite her trigeminal neuralgia.

“Finding a Purpose in Pain” was the subject of her TEDx talk, in fact. She discussed how anyone can use mindfulness meditation to get through physical or emotional pain.

“I had an added layer of difficulty, because of the pain,” she said. “It was tough,” but she still had a great experience.

Working with a personal coach, McMinnville High School teacher Susanne Sayles, made a big difference, she said.

Each speaker was assigned a coach who assisted them as they wrote, revised and practiced giving the memorized presentation in the TED format.

“They gave us great feedback,” she said.

This year, coaching will be available again.

There will be more meetings of the whole group of speakers so that camaraderie develops sooner. Last time, speakers didn’t spend much time together until they were in the final stages of rehearsal in January.

Deadlines also will be more structured, Fleckenstein said, with speakers encouraged to have talks substantially written by a certain date, memorized by another. “So there’s no last-minute scrambling,” she said.

She explained, “at the first rehearsal, I felt I wasn’t ready. It turned out everyone felt that way.”

Ochoa, who got to know Fleckenstein through the TEDx program, recalled putting about 100 hours into his presentation.

He already felt comfortable with public speaking — he speaks a lot in his role as special assistant to the president and director of community relations at Linfield College.

But he wasn’t used to memorizing his speech, rather than talking off the cuff, and he wasn’t used to the timelines and rules associated with the TED program, such as timing the talk to coincide with several slides.

“In this, every word is valuable. Less is more,” he said.

At the same time, he added, he was able to “keep my authentic voice.” His personal coach, Linfield speech professor Jackson Miller, was a big help, he said.

At the first TEDx, he spoke about the importance of calling people by the right name and developing empathy for others.

He recalled entering fifth-grade in Hood River, newly arrived from Mexico, and being dubbed “Jerry” by a teacher who couldn’t bother to correctly pronounce his name.

“I felt like a fraud,” he said in his TED talk, explaining that, as a child brought up to respect adults, he wasn’t able to contradict his teacher.

All the McMinnville TEDx presentations are on YouTube. Both Ochoa’s and Fleckenstein’s have been viewed by people around the world.

And Ochoa’s was picked up by the TED organization as one of its featured talks. In addition, TED worked with Ochoa to create a written version of the talk, which also has received international attention.

Since his TEDx talk, he has been asked to speak to management groups and organizations. And Linfield College President Miles Davis asked him to read the names of graduates at the school’s commencement ceremony.

“I’ve realized this resonates all over the world,” he said. “That’s really affirming for me.”

It’s received plenty of local attention, too, Fleckenstein said. Her fifth-grade daughter, Carolyn, watched Ochoa on the Internet and thought his talk was great, she said. Carolyn could relate, too, since her own first and last names are often mangled.

Reaching such a diverse, widespread audience is a great thing about TEDx, Fleckenstein said.

“We knew what we had to say was relevant,” she said, and she and other speakers couldn’t have asked for a better way to get their points across.


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