Global Reach: Professor Jakki Mohr Delivers Presentation at TEDx in San Diego

Ideas worth sharing. It’s how TED conferences—shorthand for “Technology Entertainment and Design”—bill themselves.

And those ideas do get shared: in the past five years, TED presentations have been viewed more than 500 million times online, with topics presented by luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and now Jakki Mohr, Regents Professor of Marketing and the Jeff and Martha Hamilton Distinguished Faculty Fellow at UM.

Jakki Mohr “It came out of the blue,” says Mohr of the invitation to present. “I received an email from the TED Curator, inviting me to present at TEDx. On the one hand, it was so exciting—an amazing opportunity. On the other hand, I realized it meant a lot of pressure, being on that kind of stage. But really, it came down to this: I’d be crazy to turn down an opportunity like this.”

Mohr’s presentation, delivered at San Diego’s TEDx event in December, was titled “Unleashing the Promise of Biomimicry for Sustainable Innovation.”

Which leads to an obvious question: what is biomimicry?

“One of the biggest problems we face as a society is transitioning to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly,” says Mohr. “There are lots of lenses on that problem, but my particular lens is biomimicry: innovation inspired by nature, which is immediately in harmony with nature. A great example, and one I used in the TED presentation, is a new display technology from QualComm for electronic devices such as tablets and cell phones. It’s based on the reflective properties of butterfly wings, mimicking those properties in the display. The results are better color, more vibrant images, a manufacturing process that’s less toxic, and less drain on the device’s battery.”

It’s easy to see why the TEDx organizers sought Mohr’s expertise for their conference, centered around the theme “The World in our Grasp.” The event was aimed at inspiring ideas for the future—not just among the speakers and presenters, but among the audience itself. And if Mohr felt the pressure of those expectations after receiving the initial invite, the preparation for the event itself only added to the scope and scale. “In the months leading up to the event, I was literally ‘coached’ by a member of the program committee—as was every presenter at the event. I worked with a woman named Felena Hanson, showing her my outline and visuals, doing a practice run. She had this marvelous ability to say, ‘It’s clear you know this subject, but people want an insight into the speaker, an emotional connection with what you’re talking about. How do your visuals, how does your presentation, convey that?’ Her guidance was critical, and it totally changed my approach. With Felena’s help, and with the help of Ruth Pogacar, my graduate assistant, the topic really came to life—I can’t even begin to count the number of hours Ruth put in translating content into visuals.”

That preparation, and that commitment to a global vision for a better world, even translated to the vetting of the sold-out audience. “To be able to attend the presentation, audience members had to apply, and describe their own ideas for the future in 140 characters. Even for the audience, they were committed to finding forward-thinkers—who then paid $85 to attend the event!”

At the event itself, the possibilities, and the excitement, became all the more real for Mohr. “There was a full dress rehearsal the day before. All the speakers were there—even Richard Dreyfuss, of the Dreyfuss Institute, went through the rehearsals. In fact, counting the rehearsals I did in Missoula before I left, I went through three full rehearsals. Everyone there—the audience, the presenters, the volunteers—I struggle to find the right words to describe them, but they were all so amazing and inspiring.

“Everything about the event really embodied the spirit of the future. For instance, Car2Go, a fully-owned subsidiary of Mercedes Benz that sells shares in electric vehicles, picked up all the speakers at the airport, and offered use of the cars to speakers during the event. During the event itself, an artist drew real-time depictions of topics and concepts, displayed for everyone to see. All those in-kind donations, everything tied to the event, was definitely a lived experience.”

And what about the presentation itself? With so much preparation, and so much hinging on what she was about to say, did she feel pressure when she stepped on stage? “Yes, I was nervous…but when I walked on the stage to actually give my talk, I had a sense of calm. There was a point in my talk where I stuttered over a word. I could have been derailed by that, but I just smiled. And when I did that, everyone was put at ease. I think at that moment I realized we’re all in this shared experience together. And I was able to just flow in the moment.”

Mohr’s talk will be available to a global audience on the main TED site, and the TEDx San Diego site at tedx-sandiego.com. And one person viewing the video for the first time will be Dr. Mohr herself. “I haven’t seen it yet,” she admits. “I want to see it to find out if it came out the way it felt. I think I gave the talk I wanted to give, and that’s the reason I want to see it: did it actually happen that way?”

Pictured above: Jakki Mohr, Regents Professor of Marketing and the Jeff and Martha Hamilton Distinguished Faculty Fellow at UM.