GRU speakers prepare for TEDx Augusta

When Augusta’s second TEDx event is held at the Imperial Theatre on Friday, Jan. 30, four of the 17 speakers will be from Georgia Regents University.

For those who might not have seen one of the popular videos frequently shared on social media, TED Talks are relatively short and highly accessible speeches given by experts on everything from oceanography to the theremin. Known for their casual delivery and their insightfulness, they’ve become the gold standard for today’s lifelong learners, distributed free across the Internet in easily consumable bites.

Dr. Chris McKinney, Associate Vice President for Innovation Commercialization, said author Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” is his personal favorite.

Chris McKinney
Dr. Chris McKinney

“He brings discipline to how I do things,” McKinney said. “I’ve literally changed how I do some of my business based on that single TED Talk.”

Considering McKinney heads up the Office of Innovation Commercialization, that’s pretty high praise. Not only is innovation the currency with which he does business, it figures into his talk, which uses health care examples to talk about how everyone can help innovate and create the future.

While McKinney, like most TED speakers, is confortable in front of an audience, he said the relaxed, off-the-cuff presentation is not left to chance. Rather, the rehearsal process is actually fairly rigorous.

“I’ve been to TED, and it does look really well done,” he says. “It’s very disciplined, and for a guy who’s not used to writing speeches out, this is very different.”

That sentiment is seconded by Dr. Samir Khleif, Director of the Cancer Research Center, who is speaking about a sustainable cancer health model for underserved communities. He was surprised by the preparations required by the organizers.

Dr. Samir Khleif

“I don’t rehearse my talks,” he said. “I’ve never rehearsed a talk in my life because I don’t like to give my talk more than once. I just do it when I’m doing it, because if you rehearse a talk, it becomes mechanical.”

While the majority of his talks are for the scientific community or those in health care, he says he’s looking forward to speaking to a wider, potentially limitless audience.

“Clearly, any time you give a talk, it’s either for an education perspective or to intrigue an audience about certain thoughts, to make them think about something,” he said. “Whether you give it to 100 people or 1,000 people, it’s always better to give it to 2,000 people or 3,000 people. It’s the same when you publish something. You want to put it out there. The more people who read it, the better.”

Steven Uhles, Director of Media and Marketing for the GRU Cancer Center, is the only nonacademic of the GRU contingent, but he is no stranger to speaking in front of crowds or giving his opinion. After 15 years with the Augusta Chronicle (he currently writes the “Pop Rocks” entertainment column for the daily paper) he is one of the most recognized contributors in Augusta.

Steven Uhles

“I’m a guy who likes to think about things, so to sort of spend an extended period of time rolling this thing over in my head has been an interesting experience,” he said. “It’s like writing a piece for a newspaper – you write that piece and you are sort of intensely in there for the day or two it takes to get it done, but then it sort of moves on. So, for me this has been a lot like writing an extended column and then being asked to do a reading of it. I’ve written thousands of columns, but I’ve never written them this long, and I’ve certainly never gotten up and said, ‘My Ode to Steely Dan.’”

Writing about how creativity is valued, Uhles is mining the artistic world he has covered for so long.

“Creativity is an abstract, and we’re always asking what something is worth,” he said. “My talk is about how can you value something that really exists on a theoretical level. What is a painting worth? It’s not worth the price of the paint, it’s not worth the price of the canvass. You’re paying for creativity, so how do we value that?”

For Dr. James Rawson, Chair of the Radiology and Imaging Department, the TED Talk process was familiar, since he was involved in the organization of last year’s TEDx TelfairSteet.

Dr. James Rawson
Dr. James Rawson

“This year, when it was moved to TEDx Augusta and the topic was going to be Connections, I thought that was a perfect opportunity to talk about social media, which we’ve been very involved in in our department.”

His talk, “Virtual Communities and Social Media: How Will You Use These Tools to Change the World?,” seems tailor made for a TEDx event, since that’s exactly what TED Talks have done on a large scale since 1984.

“One of the things that’s exciting about our audience is that it’s not a narrowed-focused audience,” he said. “It’s a very diverse group with a lot of different types of thinkers, and the opportunity to interact with them is very exciting.”

In fact, his only disappointment, he said, was the fact that he’s so far only been really able to connect with the speakers rehearsing in the time slots on either side of him.

One thing he finds especially interesting and symbolic, however, is the rehearsal space.

“We’ve been rehearsing to a large extent in something called, which is actually the old Richmond Academy building,” he said. “I drive past the original Medical College of Georgia, turn into the driveway of the old Richmond Academy, walk into a building with a great legacy in education that’s being renovated for computer labs and BattleBots. To me, that’s part of the value of being able to do this in Augusta, leveraging all of the pieces of the community – the people and the organizations and the heritage that’s here – and putting it into this one TEDx event.”

According to Rawson, the exposure the GRU speakers will receive will benefit the enterprise’s reputation.

“For Georgia Regents to be able to share some of its innovative thinkers with a TEDx Augusta that is potentially available to a global population gives us the opportunity to make more connections and have more visibility for what we do, but it also allows us to share our thought processes with others, have them critiqued, and to learn from that interaction ourselves.”

Know someone who would love to attend? Email that person’s name and email address to to give them the chance to win a free TEDx Augusta ticket.


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Written by
Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson is publications editor at Augusta University. You can reach him at

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Written by Eric Johnson

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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