TEDx Returns to Nicolet College

By Kathy Cutforth, Correspondent

Nicolet College in Rhinelander will host its second TEDxNicoletCollege event on Friday, September 30th from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Lakeside Center. Ten speakers from a variety of backgrounds will give short presentations on the theme Origin Stories: Reflections from Our Northwoods Community.


Nicolet College file photo

TEDx is an independent, licensed, locally organized event dedicated to the same purpose as other TED talks:  spreading “ideas worth sharing” not just to educate, but to encourage conversation.

Per TEDx guidelines, this in-person event is limited to 100 ticket holders. Tickets are $15 each and may be purchased online at https://www.nicoletcollege.edu/tedx.  TED merchandise and lunch boxes from CT’s Deli will be included.

TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design”, referencing the theme of the nonprofit’s first conference in 1984. Nearly four decades later, TED sponsors conferences all around the world and licenses about 3,000 TEDx events a year. There are 1.65 million TED podcasts covering a wide variety of topics downloaded each day. Local listeners can tune into the “TED Radio Hour” Sunday mornings at 9:00 am on WXPR radio.

Organizing such an event is no small task. Each step is tightly regulated by the TED organization and requires the participation and support of many parties.

David Holt, Nicolet College Professor of Sociology, first casually brought up the idea of hosting a TEDx during a department meeting in 2018.  He said the idea came to him because “I use a lot of TED and TEDx videos in my classes,” and he was impressed that his nephew participated in a TEDx youth event in high school.

“I wanted to showcase our institution, our region … and I hope in the future we can feature more of our students and alumni,” he added. He also hoped it would bring together the diversity of people you find in the area. “You can meet people from all over the world here.”

He first applied for a free license in 2019 and renewed it in 2020, but the pandemic delayed the first conference to 2021. That conference was organized by a tight group of four people, all employees of Nicolet College, and focused on the theme of “How Rural Communities Thrive in the 21st Century”.

The event has received strong support from the college administration since the beginning and making it an annual event has always been the plan. This year, David wanted to make sure the event outlasted his influence and focused on logistics, rather than theme and speaker selection. “(Last year) I’m glad we did it, and I was happy to do it. … But you need to make sure something sticks and lasts years; you need to step back and let others take ownership of it.”

Lessons from the first year have guided the second. Launching during the pandemic made it difficult to attract speakers to auditions, and hard to sell tickets. This year involved more people, more coordination and working groups, and greater emphasis on speaker selection, speaker coaching and running the event.

A TEDx speech is a performance with the rigor of a term paper, and the best ones rouse the listener to think about ideas in a new way. Speech and slide content has to be screened to avoid copyright infringement and to ensure proper attribution and use of science and statistics. Speech topics are diverse, with volunteer speakers coming from Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Sara Tienhaara, Success Coach at Nicolet College, helped organize the event both years. “Double the numbers applied this year than the previous year,” she said. Each applicant sent in an initial inquiry and followed up with a short three-to-five-minute video, scored by a rubric.

“We enjoyed so many more entries than we could accommodate since we decided to keep the event to only a half day,” Sara said. The hardest part was telling people they didn’t make the cut, “but we let them know it wasn’t a hard ‘no’.”

This year, each finalist was invited to an in-person rehearsal supervised by Michael Effinger, Theatre and Event Services Manager for Nicolet College, and is coached in person and virtually by K. Woodzick, Nicolet Players Artistic Producer.

Last year was a test run for both organizers and speakers. Although Rhinelander Alderman Tom Barnett, owner of Tom’s Drawing Board, is an experienced public speaker, he was a little nervous opening the event last year. “Professionalism is always good, but it is also important to have fun. … If I were to do it again, I would put more energy and mannerisms into it … and have a lot more fun with the whole presentation.”

David appreciated Tom’s injection of humor into the event, “Tom opened his speech and the whole event with a quote from Salvador Dali – I thought that was great and shows the creativity that resides in the Northwoods!”

As a rural sociologist, he hopes the 2022 TEDxNicoletCollege event will not only spark conversation, but shape a sense of community.  “I always hope to build more relationships here.”


Kathy Cutforth was a freelancer for four years prior to joining NorthwoodsNews.com as a correspondent.

She earned a degree in urban planning from the University of Cincinnati, and then served as a journalist and photographer in the U.S. Army. She later received certificates in web and graphic design, and has freelanced for a variety of organizations.

Kathy’s husband is also a journalist and a veteran. They traveled the world together before landing here in the Northwoods, within hailing distance of her hometown of Marquette, Michigan.