By Tiffany Brown
In addition to being known throughout the greater Reno-Tahoe community as the organizer of the annual TEDxUniversityofNevada event, Dr. Bret Simmons also happens to be a management professor committed to excellence at the University of Nevada, Reno where he has taught for over 10 years in the College of Business.
According to TEDxUniversityofNevada team member Nicole Shearer:
Bret pours his heart and soul into this event. Without his dedication, passion, and conviction it wouldn’t be possible. He gives so selflessly and endlessly to support everyone’s big idea.
Bill Eckstrom, CEO of the EcSell Institute also echoed and supported these statements when he said:
The EcSell Institute continually preaches the obvious, ‘the performance of individuals and teams are a reflection of how they are coached,’and this University of Nevada TEDx event certainly follows that theme. Dr. Bret Simmons, the event’s director, is a rock star. He is the kind of Coach I would (and did) follow into battle. He strategized, challenged, hugged, prodded and loved. As a result of him, the TEDx committee is equally as strong, and combined they made the event the most memorable professional experience I’ve had to date.
Read more to learn more about how Dr. Simmons pulls together and executes these complex events.
Tell us about how you became involved with TEDx.
It was total serendipity. I had dinner with a guy in Oklahoma City in April of 2012, met him for the first time there, and he mentioned applying for a TEDx license. I’d never heard of that. First thing I did when I got home from that trip was apply for a license for TEDxUniversityofNevada. I got the license two weeks later, then had to go ask my boss Greg Mosier for permission to hold our first event. That guy I had dinner with, David Burkus, spoke at our 2016 event and his talk is now featured on TED.com.
What is the hardest part about pulling an event like this together?
It’s a very complex show, lots of moving parts. The hardest part is putting together a team of talented people then asking them to dedicate crazy amounts of time to pulling this off. It’s a labor of love for all of us. All of our core team members believe this is a great thing for our community. In the months, weeks, days before the event, and then the day of the event, everyone executes his or her assigned task with distinction
It’s also increasingly difficult to find good local speakers, but our local speakers are critical to the success of the event. There is no shortage of people that will travel here to speak, because we’ve earned a reputation for being a great TEDx event. I’ve contacted everyone I know locally with an “idea worth spreading”. One of the most important jobs of our local team members is to continually suggest locals they know that might make a great TEDx speaker. Finding new local speakers is one of the main reasons we add a few new team members every year.
Selecting the speakers is hard, but preparing them even harder. Our local speakers are required to meet with us three times in person – once in October, November, and then December. Preparing our non-local speakers is even more challenging because that has to be done with phone calls and skype. It’s very time consuming.
What is your favorite aspect of organizing a TEDx event?
Watching our team execute. I wake up the day of the event pretty relaxed because I know it’s all out of my hands at that point, and in the hands of people I can trust. They are so good at what they do. This year I spent more time in the audience just watching the show than any other year. Our motto is “we will not fail our speakers,” and this year I felt we delivered on that promise better than ever. I love being around people that take such great pride in their work.
What is one thing you’ve learned from hosting these events that you did not expect to learn?
I’m amazed and delighted how we continue to raise the bar on the show we organize. Every year I leave thinking “how are we going to top THAT?” and every year we do. Some people mistakenly think that I’m the reason this event is successful, but I’m convinced I’m one of the biggest constraints to our success. If we return for a 2018 event, I have to learn to let go of even more of the things that I do and instead give them to team members.
Do you have a favorite TEDx talk of all time?
Not really. We were extremely lucky to have Logan LaPlante speak at our first event. He took us to school on how to do a great TEDx talk, and I learned my vision for the event was way too small. We didn’t even have a red carpet on stage that first year! I’ll never forget the Elizabeth Smart talk – maybe the most riveting 12 minute talk I’ve ever experienced personally. Meeting her in person was such an honor; she was very humble and kind. Jill Tolles did a really tough talk for us last year, and I was proud of her for exceeding our expectations. I do love The Warning. Their talent and passion is inspiring, and they are such a genuinely nice family. Probably the biggest thrill ever for me was having Jon Foreman perform and speak for us. Switchfoot is my favorite band, so I got to meet one of my “heroes” in person, and he was better than I imagined. Such a humble guy, and his message between songs was like poetry. We’ve seen some amazing talks right here on our stage in Reno. Everyone on our team knows that the folks we had speak in 2017 were incredible. Honestly, our 2017 speakers and performers were truly exceptional.
What advice do you have for people who would like to be considered for giving a talk next year?
TEDx is an idea forum, so the key to a great talk is a great “idea worth spreading”. We are not looking for great speakers, we are looking for great ideas. If you have a great idea, we can help you develop a talk. Want to know if you have “an idea worth spreading”? Read Chris Anderson’s book TED Talks for the best description of what makes a great idea. If after reading his book you think you have a great idea, contact me and we can talk. If we return in 2018, or open call for speakers will likely be in June 2017 – so watch our website and don’t miss the deadline. The most important question of the form is “what is your idea worth spreading?”
How can we stay up-to-date with TEDx events and initiatives around the country year-round?
Go to TED.com and join the community! Follow our TEDxUniversityofNevada Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter @tedxuofnevada. I tweet new TED and TEDx talks all the time, and I try to spread news provided by TEDx and TED.
Photo credit: Tim Dunn and Chris Holloman