At last night’s free TEDxSanAntonio Salon event at Geekdom, about 80 attendees were asked a seemingly innocent question: “How do you create meaning?” To some, answers came easily, others – myself included – were at a loss for words. How does one even start to answer that question with only two small PostIt notes?

In my mind, I was left with even more questions: Who am I creating meaning for – myself or everyone? Is meaning even “created?” Is meaning inherent to the human experience? I could have spiraled into a trance-like state, staring at the wall, taking the assignment way too seriously – but luckily I had company in a few good friends and new acquaintances to brainstorm and joke around with. Snacks and a pretty decent wine and beer selection certainly didn’t hurt the light-hearted mood either.

The collective conscious attempts to describe the creation of meaning. Heavy. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The collective conscious attempts to describe the creation of meaning. Heavy. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

It felt a bit cheesy at first, like an activity for a high school philosophy class – but it got us talking and thinking on a higher level and that’s the whole point of these mini-TEDx events.

Organizers also hope to build momentum and buzz for the 2013 TEDxSanAntonio talk on October 12 at Rackspace. Tickets to see the 15-20 soon-to-be-announced speakers are expected to be around $50. [Click here for registration and application information.]

TEDx San Antonio
Have you become acquainted with TED yet?

TEDxSanAntonio is an independently organized program that carries on the “ideas worth spreading” mission of the national TED nonprofit: “A conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.” Through TEDx, local communities can follow the entertaining and intelligent presentation format of TED talks (live or recorded) to “introduce your friends, school, community or workplace to a world of new ideas – and foster rich and inspiring connections and conversations.”

Billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, North Korean refugee Joseph Kim, beatboxer and inventor Beardyman are but a few examples of the caliber of speakers who have graced the stage at past national conferences.

Locally, TEDxSanAntonio speakers have included the likes of Mayor Julián Castro, bionic exoskeleton creator Eythor Bender, journalist and former Current Editor Elaine Wolff, rancher and artist Linda Perez, and Rivard Report’s very own co-founder, butterfly evangelist, and (now) CPS Energy Integrated Communications Director Monika Maeckle.

[Read more here: Ideas Worth Spreading: TEDx San Antonio Celebrates Three Years]

To use the TEDx name, certain rules must be followed and local chapters must obtain a license. TEDxSanAntonio was starting in large part thanks to the organizing efforts of Susan Price, local web producer, USAA veteran and entrepreneur/founder of Firecat Studio. Now in its fourth year, Price and a core group of TEDxSanAntonio volunteers have begun to organize several, smaller salon TEDx talks. Last night’s event was the guinea pig, Price said, and one things for sure – “there is plenty of demand.”

The first TEDxSanAntonio salon hosted by Geekdom. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The first TEDxSanAntonio salon hosted by Geekdom. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Geekdom‘s meeting space (one of many) was packed with 80 people who registered within a few weeks of the salon’s announcement a couple of months ago, Price said. “Forty-five people are on the wait list … we hate to turn people away, but we’ve reached capacity.”

TED also requires its sanctioned salon events to be less than 100 people to keep the setting it intimate and distinct from the 500 person cap on this year’s TEDxSanAntonio main event. During a recent volunteer meeting, “we decided that we wanted more frequent talks and found the salon event to be a perfect fit,” Price said.

Originally, Cynthia Phelps volunteered her home as the first venue – sticking with the original concept of “salon” (“an assembly of guests in a fashionable household, especially a gathering of major literary, artistic, and political figures from the 17th to the early 20th centuries“).

TEDxSanAntonio volunteer organizers Susan Price (left) and Cynthia Phelps. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
TEDxSanAntonio volunteer organizers Susan Price (left) and Cynthia Phelps stand in front of a few conversation visualizations at the local chapter’s first salon event. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“I didn’t even know what a salon was,” Phelps, a local mobile health application developer and entrepreneur, said laughing. Sounds fancy – but she was shooting for something a bit more casual. She and Price were overwhelmed with enthusiastic responses early in the planning process and decided that a more formal venue would be required.

They approached Nick Longo, Geekdom director, and the downtown co-working space became the first TEDxSanAntonio Salon venue sponsor.

Last night, the anatomy of “meaning” was explored by two (pre-recorded) TEDx speakers: Michael Steger at TEDxCSU’s presentation “What Makes Life Meaningful” dove into the human need to find meaning in their lives and the benefits (emotional and physical) of living meaningfully, while the second talk from Chip Conely’s, “Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile,” proposed (among other things) that governments and societies are measuring the wrong metrics – GDP should be GNH: Gross national happiness. The workplace especially should begin to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to employer/employee relationship – what Conely calls the Transformational Pyramid.

After the pair of 18-minute presentations, tables of eight audience members were then encouraged to discuss and explain – by using markers and poster boards – how they create or give meaning.

Amid beverages, snacks, and inspired conversation, most tables came up with what looked like mind-maps of concepts and ideas.

Attendees varied by age, educational, socioeconomic, and professional statuses – all hungry for intellectual stimulation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Attendees varied by age, educational, socioeconomic, and professional statuses – all hungry for intellectual stimulation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The next TEDx salon event will be about American body image, hosted by local mom, freelance writer, and general “tinkerer,” Kim McDonald. She’ll be sharing two relevant TEDx talks (required by TED) and will likely host a panel/audience discussion afterwards, she said. Inspired by the Sundance Film Festival-premiered film “Miss Representation“, and a history of friends and family with eating disorders and body image issues, McDonald agreed to host the event in the Spring.

“It’s an intimate topic, so we’ll be looking for the just the right venue,” McDonald said.

This is McDonald’s first year volunteering with TEDxSanAntonio. She moved here a few years ago and attended the 2011 talk.

“I’m on Twitter a lot, that’s how I found out about cool stuff happening in town … I eventually made friends that told me about (TEDx),” McDonald said. “I was intimidated by having to apply (for an invitation) … but it’s really just a formality that TED requires. I’ve heard that it’s not ‘hard’ to get in – global (TED) probably, but not here.”

As the evening drew to a close, Post-it Notes and poster board clung to the walks with the words, drawings and musings of what – without context – seemed to be the ramblings of a poet with a 80 different styles of handwriting.

“We succeeded in the social side of the event, for sure,” Phelps said as she thought about what to do with the end result. “We need to work out the ‘doing’ part.”

Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at