Inside CAS

College of Arts and Sciences


TEDxAirlie Makes Waves With UNCW and the Wilmington Community

Monday, August 15, 2016


Written by Megan Wordsworth ’17; Photo by Will Page

Coordinators of the inaugural TEDxAirlie event put their motto “making waves” into action when they enlisted the help of three University of North Carolina Wilmington Department of Communication Studies faculty. Associate Professor and Department Chair Richard Olsen, Associate Professor David Weber and Faculty Lecturer Rachel Olsen served as speech coaches for the speakers of the event. Morgan Jones, media organizer for TEDxAirlie and a 2014 UNCW COM Studies alum, explained why she sought her old professors for the partnership.

“I have seen first hand how amazing COM faculty are when they lecture. Their passion for educating and helping others succeed is unparalleled, so we knew that we needed them to make our event a success.” 

TEDxAirlie is an independently organized TED event intended to focus on issues that directly relate to the Wilmington community. The event, organized by a team from SIS Digital Agency, debuted on March 31 at the historic Thalian Hall to a sold-out crowd. Additional viewings via webcast at Ironclad Brewery and TekMountain were also sold out. The crowd heard a range of motivating speeches given by individuals in fields representing the TED acronym of Technology, Entertainment and Design, including local business entrepreneurs Ellen Long, Co-Founder and COO of Long Business Advisors, and Jordan Watson, President and CEO of National Speed.

“Speaking coaches were essential to the success of our event. There is a very specific 'TED'-style of talk that was important for our speakers to emulate. The coaches not only gave them advice when it came to things like stage presence, public speaking and other typical speech coaching tips, but they helped mold the talks to meet the high standards of TED Talks, and helped our amazing speakers get the confidence they needed,” Jones added.

Just as each professor spends weeks helping students from a variety of backgrounds become effective communicators, the professors spent weeks meeting with their assigned prospective speakers, all of whom had a wide array of experience in public speaking. They trained the TEDxAirlie speakers with the same techniques they teach their students in the classroom. “We started working through the same speech design program we have as COM majors to get a bottom line that is easy to remember,” Olsen said.

Jones and Team TEDxAirlie extended their collaboration with UNCW students as well.

“We had an amazing intern, Amanda Klutzz, a senior in the Department of Communication Studies, that helped with day-to-day agency life over the past couple of months, and was a great resource we had when planning and executing the event. Also, all filming and live-streaming for TEDxAirlie were done by UNCW video students.”

While the relationship between organizers of TEDxAirlie and UNCW has just begun, faculty within the Department of Communication Studies remain hopeful for future collaborations, not only with the professors but also the students. 

“It would be very possible to have student coaches pair up with faculty coaches. Hopefully the relationship will grow. The folks involved really valued the coaching and technical support and had the sense that we were all in to make it happen,” Olsen said.

The university’s involvement also helps strengthen existing relationships within the Wilmington community, and it creates an opportunity to build new relationships. “There is a certain prestige that comes with being associated with TED in any respect. Our new chancellor and dean (of the College of Arts and Sciences) are really good at collecting evidence –– everything from scholarly productivity, academic accomplishments, professional accomplishments and community engagement –– to demonstrate how involved this university is within the community. It builds alliances with the community,” Weber said.  

Jones and Team TEDxAirlie are appreciative of the partnership with UNCW and hope to make TEDxAirlie an annual event. TEDxAirlie was “the tidal wave that Wilmington needed to disrupt complacent thinking, and inspire positive change within our community,” said Jones.