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Kevin Hnatiuk (left) and Leanne Havelock (right) with TEDx Manitoba at the Park Theatre where the day-long event took place.


Kevin Hnatiuk (left) and Leanne Havelock (right) with TEDx Manitoba at the Park Theatre where the day-long event took place.

On Tuesday morning, when Karen Letourneau stood up to speak at the first TEDx Manitoba conference, she was a soft-spoken mom and an assistant sonographer at St. Boniface General Hospital.

Only 18 minutes later, when she got off the Park Theatre stage, Letourneau was a rock star: the toast of Twitter, surrounded by journalists, stretching to clasp grateful hands.

"It really, literally changed my life," Letorneau beamed of the conference, moments after wrapping up her talk on under-the-radar research that is saving Manitoban babies' lives. "I've been wanting other people to find out about (the research), and I didn't know how to do that. It helps to get the word out."

Word spreads fast, these days; TED's goal is to make it spread faster. The conference's concept: to share eclectic ideas in short, snappy talks, and inspire others to put them into action. The original TED -- which has hosted folks like Al Gore and Jane Goodalll -- launched in Los Angeles and soon spread to sanctioned spinoffs across the world.

It brings together individuals from three areas: technology, entertainment and design.

At the Park Theatre, the 18 speakers at TEDx Manitoba's debut were mostly homegrown, their topics diverse. There was a monk whose monastery runs a multimillion-dollar business and invests profits in the poor. Local architect Scott Stirton explained how the Manitoba Hydro tower is like a camel (no, really) and how we can -- and must -- build buildings that "coexist with their environment." BUILD Inc.'s director Shaun Loney showed how Winnipeg can cut crime, slash poverty and save the planet at the same time.

And that's just the tip of the ideas iceberg on display at the Park Theatre. "There was so much to absorb," mused marketing analyst Dave Pensato, 33, nursing a pensive beer after the event wound up at 5:30 p.m. "I don't exactly know where to begin. It's all sort of settling and percolating."

Each talk was a call for a tiny revolution; and the revolution will be digitized. TED talks are byte-sized, limited to 18 minutes and streamed online. Only 100 people were able to attend, hand-picked from hundreds of online applications -- a crowd small enough, organizers said, to facilitate networking.

And so, while the talks ran, those picked to attend sat before the stage, tapping away at iPhones, iPads and laptops. Up to 500 more people watched the conference live online, and the dialogue exploded across Twitter, favourite quotes swapped and shared. "Love this," wrote Twitter user ModernSusan, quoting a speaker on changing how teachers learn from each other. "Expertise is important, being an expert is not."

Tweeter Toby Bartlett raved after young anti-poverty activist Hannah Taylor took the stage. "What a great collection of inspiring speakers today!"

As the conference wore on, organizer Lisa MacKenzie monitored every tweet aimed at the conference, from audiences inside and out of the Park Theatre. The medium was familiar: it's sort of where TEDx Manitoba began.

"Social media was the only way to get our message out," MacKenzie said, buzzing in the theatre lobby during a break in the speaker-stream. "I still remember the first time I Tweeted that (there was) a TED event coming to Manitoba. I must have gotten four or five tweets back right away. 'Are you serious? How can I help?'

"I've never had that experience... where so many wanted to be involved."


Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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