It’s 6:00 PM on a warm, auburn coloured fall night. Rita Zurbrigg has stayed late at her office to set up yet another online meeting. Dressed in fall colours, Rita centres herself on camera against a huge picture of white, snow capped mountains. She started a new job in June but this meeting is not for work. Tonight, Rita is hosting a TEDxToronto Circle.
A Circle is like a book club. Up to 15 people gather to watch and review a TED Talk. Rita explains that Circles is part of TEDxToronto’s strategy to move its annual, weekend long event from the quaint setting of the Toronto Brick Works to an online format in response to COVID-19. The goal is to transform into a 365-day a year, community.
For TEDxToronto, launching Circles is an example of the “learn by doing” spirit of this self-organized group of volunteers. They organized a team of 20 hosts and have hosted over 50 Circles over the last six months. The group adapted the format and have used monthly themes set by TEDCircles. The theme for tonight’s fully subscribed Circle is “Curiosity”.
Rita is admittedly nervous. It’s only her second time hosting. She has taken the TEDxToronto Circle’s training, selected her video, has a discussion guide and is ready to start with an icebreaker. Rita is a professional. She is a product manager with expertise in security and experience as a facilitator.
Rita hasn’t been involved with TEDx for long, having just learned about the group from a friend at WoodGreen Community Services. She volunteers there as a mentor. WoodGreen helps newcomers and local professionals build meaningful employment in Canada. Becoming a volunteer at TEDxToronto was a good extension to her volunteer work. She guesses that two or three people in tonight’s group are new Canadians. Since COVID-19 restrictions, Rita really misses meeting people for coffee and just chatting.
By 6:30 PM, Rita begins with her icebreaker. She has each person introduce themselves, give their preferred pronouns and talk about where they are from in the city. Nine of the fifteen guests show up by the time the last guest introduces themselves.
The TED Talk Rita has selected is, “How to get better at the things you care about” by Eduardo Briceno. She could have chosen her own Talk to use. She made a safe choice by selecting a talk she has already seen from the TED recommended list.
In an endless glittering cosmos of ideas, a star bursts hitting the screen with the signature TED Talk chime and then explodes in a ripple of energy and sound, like “ideas worth spreading”.
Eduardo appears out of the darkness to applause. His ideas on the importance of developing a growth mindset have been viewed on YouTube 3.6 million times and counting. “What if, instead of spending our lives doing, doing, doing, performing, performing, performing, we spent more time exploring, asking, listening, experimenting, reflecting, striving and becoming?” Eduardo asks.
Laura Bejarano Granados sits comfortably on her couch in her living room. She is one of the guests.
She is a professional, like Rita, except Laura is an industrial engineer who specializes in data governance. Laura was born in Colombia. She came to Canada four years ago to learn English, build a career and enjoy the four seasons. She has a passion for the environment, religion and helping new Canadians.
Even though she likes to meet and talk to new people, Laura is a self-proclaimed introvert. As a new Canadian, she likes to get involved in her community and build her network of friends and business associates. She was introduced to TEDxCircles by one of her friends, a TEDxToronto volunteer. Through her friend, she can feel the sense of community TEDxToronto is building.
This is Laura’s third circle. She has been participating in Circles since July 2020. She likes the conversation. She says she likes to hear other people’s points of view. “You don't need to agree with them. I just process what they are saying and then I decide whether or not to agree... It is important to practice your growth mindset.”
Laura listens intently to each point of view. Many of the guests relate to Eduardo’s message of feeling stuck in their career or in life. Laura’s analytical mind is categorizing each person as they talk, like the lady with the glass of wine, “she wanted to have a meaningful conversation.” Another person talked about their career, another about her startup and another seems to just want to meet new people.
Laura likes the simplicity of Briceno’s message.
People attend Circles “for the connection… Can I be heard? Can I have an idea?... They want to communicate.” says Rita in reflection. They are here because they are curious. They have an openness to explore ideas and are not afraid of disagreement. We don’t have all the answers. We need to have a willingness to hear other people.
Rita gently steers the Circle conversation. She ensures that everyone has a chance to talk and explore their curiosity. In the last ten minutes she helps the group to summarize lessons learned.
By eight o’clock, Rita had gotten everyone to talk. It was like the feeling you get attending TEDxToronto in person. Everyone is so different, unique in their own way. “The group could have talked for another hour,” Rita says.
A week after Rita’s Circle, TEDxToronto announced that they would be launching Circles as a featured part of their new online series of Talks, “Uncharted”.
TEDxTonronto is creating safe spaces for Torontonians to try something new. “Ever since this program began back in April, we’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in the Circles program, and nearly 500 participants, who have given their time and energy to connect over the power of ideas and the importance of community.”
TEDxToronto “Uncharted” is on now until March 4, 2021.
It was an awesome experience meeting Rita and Laura at the TEDxToronto Circle.
My experience made me reflect on the steps all us use to build resilience to COVID-19.
Ron Nakagawa is a Toronto-based researcher and writer focused on digital transformation and people in transition.
Follow Ron on LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/ron-nakagawa