09:10 AM

Diane Michlig Brings Silicon Valley's Most Innovative Speakers To TEDx San Jose

By Intel Free Press

Silicon Valley is the epicenter of technology entrepreneurship, but Diane Michlig (above) looks for something more than just startup savvy -- she wants good stories.

As executive director of TEDx San Jose, she prowls the valley in search of innovators who have a unique story, an unusual perspective or a deep passion for making a difference. Those she selects tell their story on stage at TEDx, but with a catch -- they must do it in less than 18 minutes.

Recently, she spoke about the role technology plays at TEDx San Jose and her vision for the future.

So who is this TED everyone talks about?

TED is not a who ... it's a what. It stands for Technology Entertainment Design, but it's grown to include all kinds of topics -- broad subject areas that are shaping the future. TED is known around the world for ideas worth spreading.

If people don't know about TED or TEDx they've usually heard about TED Talks which are available online. I find that almost everyone has a favorite TED talk.

TED existed 10 years ago, but in a very different format than today. It was pretty much a 4-day brainstorm event for the rich and famous. Now it has expanded to TEDx events in different parts of the world.

Is there a common trait in TEDx speakers?

I believe the TEDx speakers are all willing to push the envelope. They embrace failure. They are passionate about what they are doing and have a deep conviction that it will make a difference.

Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, is a perfect example. He is a former rocket scientist who is convinced that doing good is more important than making tons of money.

A TED talk is different than most other presentations because it's all about the story. The journey is what makes it meaningful. We all know everyone loves the backstory.

Walter De Brouwer's "Life Meets Trek" talk reveals that his son was the real motivation behind creating a medical tricorder.

The story of David Milarch, "The Man Who Planted Trees," is fascinating. He is a pioneer in the cloning of ancient trees. He's completely dedicated to replacing the Earth with the genetics of the world's ancient forests, and has led efforts to propagate more than 90 species, including the tallest redwoods.

What is distinct about TEDx San Jose?

We are in Silicon Valley, which attracts creative, entrepreneurial people, scientists and technologists. There are high expectations for us to have talented speakers.

Our theme is "pay it forward," and we want to motivate people to take action. I didn't think we could top last year's lineup with Salman Khan from Khan Academy and "Rocket Man" Jeff Greason, but this year we had child prodigies.

Angela Zhang is a 17-year-old who discovered a possible cure for cancer. Anshul Samar, who started an educational gaming company called Alchemist Empire and became a CEO at age 13, launched his Elementeo iPhone app at our event.

What role did technology play this year to engage the audience?

From the very beginning, technology played a significant role in TEDx San Jose. It is a vehicle to connect with our community. We introduced our speakers through social media on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

This helped us build our community and start conversations. Sometimes people suggest a performer or a speaker to us via social media.

We streamed live through Ustream and reached a much larger audience. Through the magic of technology, we connected with over 20,000 people all over the world. Without these technologies, we would be limited to the 425 people sitting in the audience.

We want to reach a larger audience and connect with people across the globe inspiring them to take action. Next year we have a big, bold audacious goal of streaming live to over 50,000 people.

Where does technology fit into your vision for the future?

I do believe that technology can help us make a better world. We see many ways it has changed our lives for the better. Technology is evolving and privacy is becoming a bigger issue.

We see the success of companies like Facebook and Google. There are concerns about the loss of privacy.

Our speaker Christopher Soghoian, a sort of Ralph Nader for the Internet Age, challenges us to examine technology and our own personal privacy in his talk "Why Google Won't Protect You From Big Brother."

I think our challenge and my passion are to plant the seeds for a better tomorrow. I believe that's exactly what TEDx San Jose will do and it's why I do what I do. And I think technology will continue to help.