LEWISTON, Maine — Graham Morehead, taking the stage at the Lewiston Public Library on Wednesday night, gently touched the microphone and then, in a booming voice, proceeded to describe the gonads of a sea urchin.
Bernard Mohr bit into a lemon to illustrate his point while Klara Tammany opted to open with 20 seconds of song.
When you only have three minutes to state your case, you’ve got to do whatever you can to capture the imagination of the audience.
Welcome to tryouts for the speaker series known as TED. It stands for Technology Entertainment Design and it has become a global sensation. In Lewiston, 15 people took the stage for 180 seconds each, hoping to convince the audience that they should be chosen to go on to a bigger event in October.
It was heady stuff. The men and women who went before the microphone were there to speak of things like the energy crisis; economic turmoil and the very future of society. TED is geeky business, yes. You might even call it nerdy.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a light affair.
Before the tryouts Wednesday, the speakers milled around on the upper floor of the library. They went over notes, on laptop computers or in old-style notebooks. They rehearsed with friends and tried to memorize their lines.
They blew on their hands a lot and took deep breaths.
“Oh, yeah. I’m nervous,” said Gabby Russell of Lewiston. “I’m nervous about getting through it and about getting my point across.”
Spoiler alert: Russell had nothing to worry about. More on that in a bit.
TED began in Silicon Valley in 1984 and grew into global popularity over ensuing decades. The TED organization also licenses smaller TEDx local groups, including TEDxDirigo, the Maine chapter. It was that group that held auditions for an event called TEDxDirigo Villages, slated for Oct. 20 at Bates College.
The people who tried out for that gig Wednesday night went right at it. There was no time to back into a concept or to fiddle around with flowery speech. They had exactly three minutes and not a second more.
And yet, they did get creative.
Tammany, of Auburn, sung several verses before uttering a single word.
“Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song,” she sang, before describing her work with a local drop-in center.
Seth Silverton, a Lincolnville man who teaches sustainability, reminded the audience that the date of the event — June 27 — was the same date that was listed on the flux capacitor in the nerdy cult-classic “Back to the Future.”
Mathew O’Malia went onto the stage clutching a blow dryer to serve as an analogy for the nation’s energy needs.
And of course there was Morehead, who studies marine sciences at UMO, and his talk of urchin gonads.
Some referred to notes, some did not. Some cracked jokes, others were deadly serious.
For most of the day, the group had been watching live broadcasts from Edinburgh, Scotland, which features presentations by quantum physicists, politicians, journalists, musicians, mentalists and others.
“This has been a cool day,” library Director Rick Spear said.
Gabby Russell had either the advantage or disadvantage (depending on how you look at it) of being the last speaker. That meant she had to wait with jangled nerves for nearly an hour before it was her turn to take the stage. When she was up there, she introduced her corgi to charm the audience before speaking for the rest of her time about the value of server farms.
Was the corgi gambit too much? Was it not enough?
Turns out it was just right. When the ballots were counted at the end of the night, Russell and Seth “Flux Capacitor” Silverton were declared the winners and will get to do it all over again in October.
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