Lake County women find their voices at TEDxEustis presentations.
Photos: Nicole Hamel and Douglas Tyler
Lake County is blessed to be home to many inspirational and creative residents, and the internationally known TED program has provided an opportunity for these people to express themselves.
TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, was created in 1984 as a conference of ideas, marked by talks of 18 minutes or less on any number of topics. The organization went online in 2006 with TED Talks.
TEDxEustis is an independently organized TED event for the local level. At TEDxEustis’ first conference in 2018, the speakers included Lake County residents Kim van der Sanden, Ze’ Carter and Heather Elmatti. Joy Williams, Ze’s daughter, spoke at the most recent Eustis event in January.
These women shared some thoughts about their experiences with TEDxEustis:
Heather Elmatti, a professor of communications and speech at Lake-Sumter State College, runs LSSC’s TEDx chapter.
“I think the TED Talks became so popular that they started realizing that they wanted to have more opportunities to do this, so they created this venture called TEDx where local groups can apply for a license and host events,” says Heather, of Eustis.
The first TEDx event at LSSC was in 2017. The gatherings require a long process of planning.
“Typically, a TEDx event is a full-day event, so we run those every other year. It takes literally almost a year to organize a one-day event,” says Heather. “At a TEDx conference, you’ll have four to five sessions, and each session has four or five different speakers and activities.”
Heather’s talk, “Deeper Learning Needs Community,” focused on the idea that people learn best in a community setting. If you can create a place, whether it’s in a classroom or a workshop setting, where people feel connected with each other, then they have a sense of belonging and, in turn, will learn to the best of their abilities, she says.
“An aspect of belonging has to do with a sense of mattering; not only recognizing that I’m part of a group and that I’m added to the group, but the group matters to me. It’s an acknowledgement of the diversity and the differences that are there, and those differences are valid and viable, and in spite of them, we can still work together,” Heather says in her TEDxEustis talk.
Heather quoted research and science about learning in a classroom setting as well as in a general setting, and she explained the best ways that people can utilize tools to learn and understand on a greater level.
“Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Michigan, have found a direct correlation between a college student’s willingness to persist to degree completion with a sense of belonging,” she says in her talk. “Other research by Dr. Karen Osterman has found that student success rates and retention, specifically in terms of motivation and academic performance, are directly correlated with a sense of belonging they feel in the learning environment.”
Reflecting on the conference, Heather says, “TED, at this point, is about not people but ideas.”
Ze’ Carter is a chef and owner of the Kitchen Café and Cooking School in Leesburg. She also founded Kitch’n Lyfe Skills, a nonprofit organization that helps foster children learn how to cook healthy meals and avoid “food insecurity,” a term she uses to explain the lack of knowledge that leads people to live unhealthy lifestyles.
Once children age out of foster care at 18, they’re on their own, and they often lack the life skills, like cooking, needed to survive.
“Our original mission was to reduce the amount of foster kids who aged out of foster care, kids who are in school, and eventually we expanded that to seniors, and now our mission is for anyone who is facing food insecurity,” says Ze’, of Leesburg.
Her TEDxEustis talk, “Let Them Eat Cake: Teaching Whole Food Cooking to Alleviate Poverty,” focused on teaching people how to cook healthy meals for themselves no matter their budget.
Ze’ is passionate about what she does, both at her café and her nonprofit organization. This is one trait that led her to begin her TEDx journey. A friend who is a curator of TEDxEustis asked her if she had heard of TED Talks. She hadn’t, so that night, she looked it up and couldn’t believe how many different ideas and speakers there were from all around the world.
“This is no exaggeration, I must’ve binge-watched about four hours of TED Talks,” Ze’ says.
Overall, Ze’ loved TEDxEustis. She never has been nervous speaking in front of crowds, she says, but the experience helped her become a better public speaker, though it was in no way easy.
“I feel like if you can make it through a TED Talk, you can do anything in life,” she says.
The speech also did a lot for her career, as she spent the next year or so serving as a keynote speaker at conferences for school nutrition and other events. Ze’ and her daughter, Joy, also were the first mother-daughter combination to speak at TEDxEustis.
Joy Williams, of Eustis, works as a chef at her mom’s kitchen, and her talk was titled, “Delivered: Childbirth Survival for All Women.”
“(Doing TEDx) was kind of a personal dare, because after I had my baby, Lelani, in October of 2018, I was severely depressed, I didn’t go outside much and I’d been going to therapy,” Joy says. “I talked with my husband and I said, ‘It should be about my experience and so many other black women and people of color, especially Native American, who are going through a hard time during their pregnancy.”
In preparing her speech, Joy says that her first draft had an angry tone.
“Everyone was like, ‘Whoa, it’s very powerful, but I don’t think that the audience is going to be very receptive.’ So, we had to change it, and I really had to make them understand what it was like to be in my shoes,” she says.
Joy says that her coach, Linda King, was very helpful throughout the preparation for her talk. All participants prepare for six months to a year.
“In every meeting, we were crying. Thinking about my story, how it affected me emotionally, how that affected me physically, it was very hard. But I knew it was something that I had to do,” Joy says.
“The process was definitely therapy in itself,” she adds. “I decided to challenge myself because I felt like if other women could hear that ‘Hey, this happened to me, too,’ then we could have a real chance in enlightening people about this issue.”
Ahead of her January talk, Joy found out in October 2019 that she was pregnant again. This time, she went into her pregnancy knowing what to expect. She felt more prepared and knew that she had to speak up about it.
Joy’s venture with TEDxEustis also was a good one.
“The group that I was with, they’re a bunch of amazing people and they’re so loving and kind, and they heard my story and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, people are going to cry.’ And I made several friends from the whole experience. It’s something that we went through together,” she says.
Kim van der Sanden, owner of My Favorite Things craft store in Eustis, spoke about “The Business of Giving” at the 2018 TEDxEustis.
“In terms of deciding on the topic, it’s something that I’m just really passionate about. I think that you can prosper and also treat people fairly. I don’t think it has to be one or the other,” says Kim, of Leesburg.
Kim has worked for large companies, such as Universal and iHeartMedia, as well as smaller companies. Across the board, she realized the importance of treating employees like family, which is something she has tried to do as her own business has grown over the years.
“It’s my intention to treat my employees the way that I always wanted to be treated when working for someone else,” she says.
Like the other women, Kim agrees that doing a TEDx speech requires a lot of work in creating, practicing and perfecting it, but it’s a rewarding experience once you finally deliver it.
“I really felt so good about what I had to say and the perspective I had to bring that I just really enjoyed it,” Kim says.
To watch the talks of these women, or anyone else from TEDxEustis, visit YouTube. Information about future TEDxEustis events can be found at tedxeustis.com.
The origins of TED
TED, or Technology, Entertainment and Design, was co-founded by architect, graphic designer and author Richard Saul Wurman and graphic designer Harry Marks, according to ted.com. The first TED conference in 1984 included demonstrations of the compact disc, the e-book, cutting-edge 3-D graphics and how to map coastlines by using mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot’s theory of fractal geometry.
The next gathering was not held until 1990, after which the TED Conference became an annual event in Monterey, California. The conference attracted influential people from all fields, brought together by the common desire for new ideas. The list of speakers branched out to include scientists, musicians, philosophers, business leaders, religious leaders and others.
In 2001, media entrepreneur Chris Anderson acquired TED from its founders and became its curator. Between 2001-2006, TED expanded with TEDGlobal, with events around the world; the TED Prize, granting the winner one wish to change the world; and TED Talks, an audio-visual podcast series which is free online. After the first six TED Talks were posted in June 2006, they received more than 1 million views in about two months.
TEDx was created in 2009 to target local and independent events organized by individuals who want to bring new ideas and start conversations in their own communities. The events are sponsored by TED and abide by TED guidelines regarding speaker coaching, curation, format and event organizing. More than 3,000 TEDx events are held annually.
TEDxEustis held its first conference in 2018 and conducts two or more events each year, usually with several sessions of five speakers each.