An idea worth sharing

How TEDxHiltonHead has given our island community a global voice

By Hannah Massen

True to his organization’s tagline, Rex Gale had an “idea worth sharing” while driving home from Savannah one night in 2014. He had just given a talk at TEDxSavannah (previously known as TEDxCreativeCoast) on how to make better decisions in life by not always “trusting your gut,” and wondered if Hilton Head had ever hosted a TED event. 

Maybe this was one instance where Gale was right to “trust his gut,” because he was finally granted a license to launch TEDxHiltonHead in 2016.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Rex Gale is the local organizer.

If you’ve ever been on YouTube, listened to podcasts, taken an interest in continuing your education, or even heard the thank you for coming to my TED Talk sound on social media, then you’ve probably come across something with TED’s iconic bright-red logo. TED, which stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design,” was founded in 1984 as an annual conference for innovators and entrepreneurs in California. Today, TED is a global phenomenon where keynote presentations are hosted around the world and in nearly every state. TEDx events were created to bring the experience to local communities, and require a special license issued by the TED organization. 

TED and TEDx talks have been given by everyone from small business owners to scientists to celebrities on the topic of their choice, so long as it centers on an original idea. But the thing that makes TED events so special is that you don’t have to be in the audience to learn from these presentations. TED requires every one of its events to be professionally recorded and uploaded to the TED website. 

Over 500,000 people have watched the TEDxHiltonHead Talks online, giving our coastal community a global reach. 

After completing the lengthy application process for his TEDx license, Gale and a small group of volunteers had just begun to organize the first TEDxHiltonHead event in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew caused it to be postponed. The theme for TEDxHiltonHead in 2017 was “Resilience,” a tribute to the volunteers and community members who helped Hilton Head recover from the hurricane. 

In 2018, Gale also applied for a license to host TEDxHiltonHeadWomen, an event that celebrated women who were “breaking out and pushing boundaries” in the Lowcountry and beyond. Dr. Debi Lynes, a professional counselor on Hilon Head, had been involved in organizing TEDxHiltonHead from the start, but officially became co-chair of the event that year. 

By 2019, Gale and his team were ready to host two rounds of Talks: TEDxHiltonHead and TEDxHiltonHeadWomen. 

Every event was sold-out, partially thanks to the TEDxHiltonHead team’s marketing strategy. 

“From the start, TEDxHiltonHead relied on social media to get out the word,” Gale said. “We also understood that the widest possible communication strategy was required to make the event a long-term success, and we [hired] an outside marketing and public relations firm, SmartMarketing Communications, to help promote TEDxHiltonHead in all forms of media: print, electronic, and social.” 

SmartMarketing Communications helped TEDxHiltonHead develop a website and social media to get the word out and attract new speakers. 

One of Gale’s Favorite talks was one given by Fran Capo, the world’s fastest talking woman at 603.32 words per minute. She set a Guinness World Record by delivering the fastest TED Talk in history – less than a minute long. He also recalls Talks given by Emily Johnson, reminding women that “a man is not a financial plan,” and Justin Batt who created a national movement with his idea about “Daddy Saturday”, encouraging men to challenge themselves to spend each Saturday actively engaged with their children to create lasting memories. Dennis Ittenbach spoke about the need for physical therapy services for cancer survivors and patients at the point in their treatment when the patient is most vulnerable, and when treatment ends, most medical support ends as well. Erika Kramer’s idea was to “choose opportunity over insult,” and Susannah Winters spoke about what self-care really is, making her Talk the most-watched TEDxHiltonHead video with almost 250,000 views.

In January 2020, TEDxHiltonHead organizers hosted their first Pitch Night, where 15 candidates would share their TEDx idea in a three-minute pitch. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the event was once again postponed. But after two years of waiting and working to improve the event experience, TEDxHilton Head is set to return this fall. 

“TEDxHiltonHead returns in November 2022, with a focus on ‘Making Waves,’ and will introduce to Islanders speakers from all over the world who have succeeded in making waves in ways that will inspire you to make waves in your own lives, and in your own communities,” Gale said. 

Apply to be a speaker, a TEDxHiltonHead partner, or learn more about the event at tedxhiltonhead.com.

Dr. Debi Lynes has served as Master of Ceremonies for TEDxHiltonHead and TEDxHiltonHeadWomen events.

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