Five Questions for Parris Whittingham, Organizer of the TEDxNewYorkSalon


Since 1984, TED talks have inspired conversation around "ideas worth spreading," starting first by uniting thinkers in the areas of technology, entertainment, and design. In the decades since, TED has developed into a platform for building community around the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world (a mission not unlike those of libraries, archives, and information centers) by way of local TEDx conferences and, an online home where viewers can watch more than 1,400 TED talks for free.

Here in New York City, a group of artists, scholars, and entrepreneurs have created a space to discuss themes that emerge from the vast repository of TED Talks. We caught up with the one of the organizers of TEDxNewYorkSalon, Parris Whittingham, to learn more about their meetings and to find out how librarians, archivists, and other information professionals can get involved.


Tell us a little bit about the history of the TEDxNewYorkSalon. What's TEDx all about? How did you get started?

In 2009, TED launched the TEDx project: a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-­like experience. Our community was created by a small group of New York City artists, entrepreneurs, scholars, and creative professionals.

We are called TEDxNewYorkSalon and we believe in the power of conversation as a change agent. Today, we are the longest ­running and most active TEDx program in New York City.

How are your salons different from other ideas­-based events like conferences, meet-ups, and happy hours?

08132013_TEDxNewYorkSalon.jpgWhether you're a born New Yorker or you moved here in search of opportunity, living in the city can feel very lonely and quite overwhelming at times. When it comes to meeting like­minded people, most ideas-based conferences (or networking events) emphasize their keynote speakers/panelists while promoting a culture of micro­interactions that can feel very aggressive and a bit like speed dating. If you’re an introvert, these environments may be especially stressful and agonizing. At TEDxNewYorkSalon, we do things differently by offering a safe space where deep listening and meaningful conversation can emerge.

For example, this August we're exploring the theme of COURAGE. At a recent salon, cultural anthropologist Dr. Gina Bria helped set the tone for our month-­long journey. After screening a series of related TEDTalks, she gathered attendees into a large circle and challenged us to consider the following: rather than telling everyone about your personal definition of courage, who inspires you, or how you've been courageous in the past, share an area of your life where you are in need of courage right now.

The brilliance of this question is that it prevents you from regurgitating a "safe" response or preparing a familiar anecdotal story in advance. Ironically, this is the very tactic many of us use when meeting strangers (or acquaintances) at networking and social events. By focusing your attention on the present moment, Dr. Bria’s question helps energize the space for deep listening and personal connection. As a result, the practice of courage was designed into the salon about courage! Ultimately, TEDxNewYorkSalon offers an experience of connection rarely found in New York City.

What's on your docket for future events? What types of topics will do you plan to discuss?

To quote a member of our organizing team, Tish Valles, "TEDxNewYorkSalon offers a soft space for hard conversation." For future events, we're really energized about expanding our salons to feature live TEDxTalks. Also, we’re focused on training additional community members to join our roster of world ­class facilitators. Although we don't publicly announce themes or topics in advance, I can say we have an upcoming theme which is especially well­ suited for academics, librarians, archivists, and information professionals.

It sounds like you've added an element of community to TED's mission to share "ideas worth spreading." How do you think this setting will be of service to librarians, archives, and information professionals who make up METRO's membership?

08132013_TEDxNewYorkSalon2.jpgTo stay relevant in today's ever increasing struggle for attention, libraries, archives, and information centers must develop a culture that embraces both digital media and community building. These are some of the many challenges we explore at TEDxNewYorkSalon. As a result, our community continues to grow and most of our new members are millennials between the ages of 22 and 34. This allows our salons to offer rich conversations that reflect the diversity of age, culture, and professional experience in New York City. We welcome any member of the METRO community to join us!

How can METRO members get involved with TEDxNewYorkSalon?

  1. To receive weekly invitations for upcoming salons, click here.
  2. If you are interested in hosting TEDxNewYork Salon at your venue, email us.
  3. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, see here.


Presented with thanks to Parris Whittingham and the TEDxNewYork Salon team.