The College of Communication Broadcasts Student TE...

The College of Communication Broadcasts Student TEDx-style Talks on a Virtual Stage

The College of Communication created their own TEDx-inspired stage on Facebook Live with “BETTER TOGETHER: Voices of Strength During the Distance.” The virtual event occurred on June 9 and featured nine TEDx-style talks created by the students of CMNS 290: YOU, on the TEDx Stage. 

TEDx is a program of local and self-organized events inspired by TED talks. TED is a nonprofit organization that features academic talks devoted to spreading ideas that can have personal and societal impacts. There are two annual TED conferences that feature talks from the world’s leading thinkers. The “x” in TEDx indicates that it is an independently organized TED event. 

CMNS 290: YOU, on the TEDx Stage, is a separate entity from TEDx DePaul, which is an annual event every spring that features speakers from throughout the DePaul community. The course is designed to introduce students to the TEDx style and prepare them to potentially participate in TEDx DePaul. 

Students broadcasted their talks virtually from their own residences. Shawna Franks, an alumna of the Theatre School at DePaul, directed the event, while CMNS 290 instructor Deborah Siegel-Acevedo hosted and introduced each speaker.

“We need voices of strength more than ever,” Siegel-Acevedo said during her introduction. “These students are the voices of the future, but also the voices of now.”

“We need voices of strength more than ever,” Siegel-Acevedo said during her introduction. “These students are the voices of the future, but also the voices of now.”

Siegel-Acevedo and Franks have been the coaches of the TEDx DePaul event for the last five years. CMNS 290: YOU, on the TEDx Stage, was a new course during the 2019-2020 academic year developed by Siegel-Acevedo to serve as an introduction to TEDx style talks. 

“Carolyn Bronstein, the associate dean in the College of Communication, tapped me to develop a course on TEDx for undergrads,” Siegel-Acevedo said. “Together we came up with the name and I came up with the curriculum. It was Carolyn’s brainchild and my content.”

Siegel-Acevedo considers the course a tool to develop public speaking skills as well as an opportunity for students to get out of their comfort zone. She encourages students of any major to consider taking the class. 

“People in general, and maybe undergrads in particular, need to be encouraged to take such a course, to see themselves on the TEDx stage, maybe [they] don’t see themselves in that format,” Siegel-Acevedo said. “That’s exactly who I want in that class because I think there’s an element of humility to really good stories.”

Many students who sign up for CMNS 290 consider it the first step in a much bigger goal: the TEDx DePaul stage. 

This year would have been the fifth TEDx event at DePaul. Since its inception in 2016, the event has grown with more speakers and a larger audience every year. Last year, nine speakers delivered talks to a sold-out crowd at the School of Music’s Holtschneider Performance Center. Each past TEDx DePaul event is available to watch on the TEDx Talks YouTube page.

Sophomore Amber Farooqui aspires to do a TEDx-style talk. For her, this course was the perfect introduction to that goal.

“I was looking for ways to prepare for one and that class came up,” Farooqui said. “And I know DePaul does DePaul TEDx so I felt like that would be a good starting point for me. Any TEDx would be fine, but to do one at DePaul, at my own school, would be pretty cool.”

Junior Nicholas Durham wants to pursue public speaking as a career. He applied for the 2020 TEDx DePaul event, which eventually got cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His application was rejected, but he didn’t lose hope.

“I just had this feeling that something else was going to happen,” Durham said. “And then I found this class in Spring Quarter. It still fell into place. Plus, it was through DePaul.”

The class changed significantly in the Spring quarter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Fall quarter, the class culminated in students pitching an idea for a TEDx-style talk. When the course moved online, Siegel-Acevedo used it as an opportunity to try something different. The final project for the course changed from a two-minute pitch to a virtual five-minute TEDx style talk.

“I decided from day one of the course that we would do something different,” Siegel-Acevedo said. “I think having them work towards something that has concrete results during such a tumultuous time in everybody’s life was really grounding for them, and for me, too.”

“It’s a tool for people who want to see change happen in the world and who want to be instruments of change,” Siegel-Acevedo said.

The students of CMNS 290 developed the virtual event, coming up with the title and workshopping ideas to make the event successful. They pre-recorded their speeches so that they can be edited into one video for the presentation. Farooqui thinks the class transitioned well into a virtual environment.

“Deborah made it as comfortable and engaging as possible. I don’t think having it virtual affected anything,” Farooqui said. 

All of the work during Spring quarter culminated in the Facebook Live virtual event on June 9. The event took place on the DePaul College of Communication Facebook page. Although the speakers did not have a physical audience, the event being recorded presented a greater opportunity to share their work. 

“It can reach more people being virtual so that was a plus. I can always send out a link and people can spread it,” Durham said. “There’s across the board so many speeches that were great and can help people. I was just happy to be a part of it. It was nice to see so many positive messages about different topics.”

The thought-provoking topics highlighted racial and economic disparity within this modern crisis as well as celebrated overcoming deception, stereotypes and traumatic experiences. Siegel-Acevedo thinks the TEDx style presents an opportunity to make an impact through their storytelling.

“It’s a tool for people who want to see change happen in the world and who want to be instruments of change,” Siegel-Acevedo said. “There’s the ability to tell your story and the story of your idea is what allows you to have an impact.”

Senior College of Communication student Clare Ruddy kicked off the virtual stage with a powerful talk titled “Unexpected Death Causes Young People to Reevaluate Life.” She started the event by posing a question to the audience.

“What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” she asked. “What would you do if you knew your best friend was going to die tomorrow? Or your sibling?”

She dedicated the speech to her brother Peter, who died unexpectedly at 22 from an aortic aneurysm. His passing opened her eyes to the concept of death. She spoke about the impact his death had on her and the new value she now sees in life.

“I started to feel more grateful for the ones around me. And I started to feel more grateful because I knew I could die at any moment,” Ruddy said in her talk. 

Her personal story transitioned into a discussion of the individuals who died unexpectedly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the speakers placed their talks within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unique situation presented by the pandemic could result in unexpected struggles.  

Junior Jessie Cook highlighted one of those unexpected struggles in her talk, “Come Together Around Those Suffering from Addiction.” She encouraged the audience to consider the impact that the stay-at-home order had on people suffering from addictions. Her brother suffers from alcoholism and inspired her talk on the virtual stage.

Durham’s talk, “Self-Belief from a Fifth Grade Teacher,” reflectively looks at mentorship, negative feelings and finding your path. Durham’s fifth grade teacher helped shape his life during his challenging childhood. Her influence led to his interest in public speaking and a desire to help others like she had helped him. 

“My fifth grade teacher doesn’t realize the impact she made,” Durham said. “There’s something special about taking the time to really help people not focus so much on the negative and what’s going on in their mind. I’ve always kept it close to my heart.” 

The positive mentors in Durham’s life put him on the path to the TEDx stage. He plans to apply for TEDx DePaul again next year, but he isn’t concerned with any negatives.

“If that doesn’t work out, I’ll apply to other places. One ‘no’ won’t stop me,” Durham said. “I think I understand more of what my purpose is and it’s to give that same love and truth that my fifth grade teacher gave to me and help people.” 

Considering the new virtual learning environment, Farooqui related her experience being homeschooled with the current remote learning environment. Her talk, “Homeschooling May Not Be as Horrible as You Think,” referred to the current state of learning as “crisis schooling.”

“Homeschooling is a resourced choice. Crisis schooling is not,” Farooqui said in her talk. “I wish for those who are struggling with learning at home to be a little more open to the benefits of homeschooling. Sometimes running toward what scares us helps us become incredible human beings.”

Farooqui thinks people could be more open minded about the benefits of homeschooling. In her talk, she discussed the differences between the rigid learning structure of the public school system and the more active learning she experienced at home. For her, it produced a more beneficial balance between her academic, social and mental capacities. 

“My grades got a lot better, I was happier, less stressed, I was way more content with my life,” Farooqui said. “My mental and emotional state got much better, but then also my education was better.” 

Senior Jacks Cruz closed the virtual stage with an important discussion about racial disparity titled, “How COVID-19 has Affected Minorities and Made their Disparities More Visible.”

Cruz believes there is not enough advocacy done for human decency and mutual respect. The COVID-19 pandemic only highlighted an issue that Cruz thinks is historically ingrained: economic and health disparities among different races. 

“How are we going to look at the significant and obvious differences between the deaths of minorities and whites in relation to COVID-19?” Cruz asked.

Cruz discussed the tough transition during the pandemic for all kinds of families before giving a call to action to individuals who can help out those who are in greater need. 

“There’s a lot that you gain besides for learning what goes into a TEDx talk. I think it goes a lot deeper than that,” Durham said.

“We have seen times change. We sure have found out the extremes that capitalism will go in order to put businesses and money first,” Cruz said. “Are you willing to help out a neighbor regardless of sex, race and sexuality by putting yourself out in the community as a whole?”

The culmination of a virtual event to celebrate their accomplishments was a rewarding experience for Siegel-Acevedo and her students. Considering the world events surrounding this academic quarter, the video serves as a memorable moment that goes beyond a final project for a class.

“The event in the video really tells a story of what students are feeling and thinking and going through,” Siegel-Acevedo said. “Their end products really brought tears to my eyes. I was so proud of them for how far they came. And I only wish they could have had the experience of seeing their audience take them in.”

Both Farooqui and Durham would recommend CMNS 290 to students beyond just the College of Communication. They think it can be beneficial in a professional and personal way. 

“I definitely would recommend this class,” Farooqui said. “I feel like it would be very beneficial, whether you are trying to do a TEDx talk or in general get better at public speaking, or if you just want to take a fun class. I took this class as an elective.” 

Durham also pointed out the strong connection Siegel-Acevedo made with her students. He appreciated her continued efforts to bring the class together during challenging times. 

“There’s a lot that you gain besides for learning what goes into a TEDx talk. I think it goes a lot deeper than that,” Durham said. “Deborah cares and I think that’s important for any student at DePaul. She’s a phenomenal professor in the way that she handled everything with the pandemic. She was able to still create that connection.”

CMNS 290: You, on the TEDx Stage is being offered again as a course at DePaul in Fall 2020. Siegel-Acevedo also hopes to offer a version of the course to the general public through her company, Girl Meets Voice.

“I like the idea of the students applying to TEDx DePaul, I’d like to elevate them to that stage and level of production,” Siegel-Acevedo said. “I’ll be experimenting some more with content and form. Let’s see what fall quarter brings and what needs to happen as a culminating event. In some ways, the circumstances might tell me what we need.”


Editor’s note: the language used in the headline and opening paragraph of the story has been updated to better reflect the nature of the event.

Header image by Cam Rodriguez