We Find Out The Big Ideas Behind The TEDxMaui Conference Happening This Sunday At The MACC

At first glance, it’s easy to assume TEDxMaui might be another kooky, self-help kind of conference. Wrong. Actually, the talks are less about you and more about the planet. Sure you may come back from it with all kinds of great ideas for improving your life, but the speakers and conference dig deeper into humanity, offering 20 different world experiences from 20 different perspectives. TEDxMaui ignites a greater global purpose, so it’s understandable why many attendees consider that life-changing stuff.

“TED stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design,’ but it’s really much more than that,” says Sara Tekula, one of TEDxMaui’s founders. “I feel that TED is about the human need to learn, teach and share. We all want to know more about our world. We want to understand how things work, or how they can work better or differently. TED really offers a vast educational library of brief ‘talk story’ moments where incredible people are given 18 minutes or less to share their big idea with the world. And because of the power of the TED brand (one billion viewers can’t be wrong), these ideas DO get shared with the world.”

The process of selection is egalitarian; anyone can apply. Applications are submitted by people interested in sharing something, and the review team searched through them diligently to select TED talkers for the Maui stage. The core people behind TEDxMaui are Katie McMillan, Sara Tekula, Peter Liu and Danielle Vieth. Speakers don’t have to be living on Maui, but many have a connection one way or another to the island.

“For me, there were several factors that I looked for,” says McMillan of the search for presenters. “We had an advisory board that reviewed our applications in addition to our core team. The most important for me was passion. And next was the idea itself. I also was looking to balance the program with a diversity of subject matter and a mix of talks and artistic performances. I also looked at the entire body of work of each speaker. I wanted people that stand out as revolutionary in their field.”

Maui’s TED talks are a satellite version of the original conference held annually in Long Beach, California. TED sanctioned “x” conferences encourage localities to create their own versions using their model, short talks and demonstrations with no political, religious or commercial agenda.

The first TEDx events started in 2009. Today there have been more than 5,000 of them in more than 1,500 localities spread over 137 countries. TED is holding their annual event this year Feb. 25-Mar.1. Tickets were $7,500–the event is already sold out.

But TEDxMaui offers our own community the chance to get in the mix at a fraction of the price, ($100/person, with discounts for some students and seniors available), but with just as many “ideas worth spreading”–the mantra behind TED–as the original conference.

“When the annual TED conference started back in 1990, TED was simply an elite ideas-sharing gathering,” says Tekula. “It was selective (even for attendees) and expensive–nearly impossible to gain access to. When Chris Anderson acquired TED and became the curator in 2001, he brought a new nonprofit idealism to the table and shifted the mission of TED to ‘ideas worth sharing.’ In 2006, TED harnessed the power of the Internet by offering TEDTalk videos on the web for the first time. I think once they were online, it was only a matter of time. Talks on TED.com have reached over one billion views.”

The theme for this year’s Maui’s TEDx is “The Dream is Real.” The conference will feature 20 speakers throughout the day on Sunday, Jan. 13. The order, topics and schedule for the talks remains undisclosed until the morning of the event. Some of the speakers include physicist Garrett Lisi, National Geographic cinematographer Paul Atkins and renewable energy pioneer Quayle Hodek. Also in the lineup is recording artist Makana, legendary Hawaiian waterman Archie Kalepa, Honolulu artist Kamea Hadar and master of Polynesian navigation Kalepa Baybayan, renowned humanitarian and author Reverend Dr. Michael Beckwith and “designpreneuer” Graham Hill.

Lisi, a Maui resident, describes himself as a “geek for life.” Invited to speak at the main TED conference in 2008 about a new unified theory in physics, he describes his experience at TED as surreal and intimidating. Lisi says he has been trying to figure out “how the universe works, mathematically, on a fundamental level” his whole life. He moved to Maui after earning his PhD in theoretical physics to enjoy the waves and ocean sports.

The first TED talk Lisi saw was Hans Rosling, who spoke on worldwide statistics, but he says in 2006 he watched every talk that came out online. Last year, Lisi went to Switzerland to visit CERN and the large Hadron Collider. He was impressed by the way thousands of people came together from different nations to spend their lives discovering how the universe works at the tiniest scale. He was also a part of their headline-making discovery of the Higgs Boson, what Lisi calls “the most important particle in the universe.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Maui has a bit of a woo-woo problem,” says Lisi. “A lot of people here believe funny things about aliens, crop circles, extra spiritual dimensions, ESP and all sorts of silliness. Maybe the natural universe that actually exists seems too boring for some people. But I’ve done a lot of hard work, including decades of study, looking into what the world is actually made of–and it’s beautiful! Most of the mathematics is too complicated to describe quickly, but I can try to get some of it across with pictures and diagrams, without resorting to bad analogies. If people leave my 10-minute talk understanding our universe and the Higgs particle a little better, I’ll be happy.”

Another presenter, Graham Hill, spends part of the year in Haiku and part in New York City where he works on building LifeEdited.com, a website that centers on minimizing and streamlining your lifestyle. Beautiful, convertible, modern apartments will transform before your eyes on the site. The site’s value for those living in an urban area is obvious, but here on an island with limited space it also makes perfect sense. Hill makes the approach even more viable with economic and community sharing.

“I love Maui and NYC but I’m always looking for NYC in Maui and Maui in NYC,” he says. “To me, TedX is NYC in Maui so I’m excited! I am now building LifeEdited.com whose focus is creating compelling, fulfilling lives within our financial and environmental means. This translates to small spaces paired with sharing systems and community as well as products that enable this way of life.”

Hill hopes that he can express “simply that we can design our lives to be smaller and it’ll make us and the planet happier. I’d love them to consider editing their possessions and even downsizing their homes. Done right this can lead to saving money, reducing environmental impact and give one more time.”

The conference will be live-streamed, but that’s not necessarily a reason for people to skip out and just watch it from home. That’s like “asking why you should get into the ocean when you can see it from the window,” says Tekula.

The conference itself generates a melting pot of ideas, created when people come together with the speakers. Breaks in between talks encourage TEDxMaui participants to discuss topics with each other.

“Watching a talk online only offers a smidge of the magic that you get when you actually attend,” says McMillan. “Attending means you get to network, connect with friends, meet the speakers, enjoy all of the engaging outdoor activities and dance the night away with some of Hawaii’s most revered musicians. You will laugh, you will cry and you will renew your spirit. Guaranteed.”

Registration starts at 7:30am. There will be coffee and a few breakfast items available for purchase. The speaking begins at 9am. Kainoa Horcajo returns as a host this year, with newcomer Lia Krieg. The day progresses with speaker discussion breaks, lunch and an evening reception with live performances. Boxed lunches catered by Vasi, a welcome gift bag that includes snacks from Whole Foods, coffee, tea and water are all included with your ticket.

Following TED protocol, the speakers must keep their presentations to 18 minutes or less. All 20 speakers are new to TEDxMaui.

In 2012, two of the speakers’ talks (Lisa Kristine, who spoke on slavery in the modern world, and Gary Greenberg, who talked of the beauty of the microscopic world) made it onto the TED website that features TEDx events from around the world.

“TED is very discriminating in their choice of talks that go on their website,” says Liu. “It’s an honor to see the fruits of your labor end up there. Last year we had two. Not bad for our first time out.”

Liu says this year’s speakers will tell “stories that bring a wealth of knowledge and experience from different walks of life, from being on the ocean to urban beautification, from the beauty of the spoken word to the beauty of music and dance.”

McMillan has another vision for the day. “At the heart of TED is it’s mission,” she says. “It’s all about the power of sharing great ideas and making them available to the world for free. The speakers have the opportunity to light a spark in someone’s mind and forever change their lives.”



Sunday, Jan. 13

$100/person (limited no. of $75/students & seniors available–must be purchased in person at Box Office with ID)


Maui Arts & Cultural Center, (One Cameron Way, Kahului)






Alex Grey

Archie Kalepa

Kalepa Baybayan

Reverend Dr. Michael Beckwith

Graham Hill

Paul Atkins

Quayle Hodek

Garrett Lisi

Rickie Byars Beckwith

Jim Channon

Wenlu Duffy

Kamea Hadar

Sean Connelly

Brian Kennedy

Sherry Lynn

Rachel Deboer and Next Level Theatre

Jenelle Peterson

Kim Rosen

Lauren C. Roth Venu