By Michael Padilla

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sandians deliver TED-like Talks

Focus on core message, facts, resonating story, call to action

Great ideas need great stories.

More than a dozen Sandians at the California site have been crafting and delivering TED-like talks that effectively communicate their big ideas for Sandia. The ideas were pitched in response to a site-wide solicitation made last November for an 18-minute or less talk to various internal audiences on new ways Sandia can have an impact on the nation.

The solicitation asked volunteers to provide talks that highlighted an idea around a strategic priority, technology, issue, new approach to an existing idea, or scientific discovery.

Submitted ideas ranged from the impact of California’s legalization of the recreational use of marijuana to how the site can leverage its expertise in chemical defense strategies. Other topics included how geoengineering can help climate change, solving physics problems with computers, and establishing an on site visitor services office as a pilot program.

The primary guideline was that each talk had to consist of a core idea, revealing facts, a resonating story, and a call to action.

A panel led by Craig Tewell (8005) and composed of members of the site’s Communications department (8524) provided input to the speakers. The panel, which included Emmeline Chen, Krissy Galbraith, and Michael Padilla (all 8524), offered graphics support, advised on delivery and body language, and promoted the use of personal stories during the talk. The panel provided feedback during three practice runs, including one videotaped practice talk.

Prop. 64 education

Tamara Cagney (8527) presented the first TED-like talk during a Quad-Level meeting in January and at an 8900 all-hands meeting in February. Her talk, “When a Weed-Friendly World Collides with Sandia,” addresses the impacts to Sandia concerning the passage of Proposition 64, which allowed California to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Tamara stressed the importance of introducing Sandia management to the future recruitment and retention challenges caused by legalizing recreational marijuana in California. The talk brought attention to the need for educating all hiring managers and recruiters about the impact of Prop. 64’s passage.

Tamara pointed out that all Q- and L-cleared individuals are considered to hold drug-testing-designated positions. All cleared members of the workforce are placed in a random drug testing program and selected at a 30 percent rate per year. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 35 test failures throughout Sandia. The concern now is that number may increase because of Prop. 64.

 “The concern now is that number may go up because of the shift in California, which treats marijuana like alcohol in social situations,” says Tamara. “Sandians will need a new level of awareness since increased exposure will result in increased risk for all Sandians in California.”

Smart computing

Machine learning was the topic of Jeremy Templeton’s (8253) talk during the site’s LocalScape meeting in February. Jeremy focused on understanding why all physics problems cannot be solved with computers. He provided the history of computational research in trying to answer that question and explained how machine learning may help turn the vision of the 1940s and ’50s into reality.

 “The biggest thing I learned about presenting my TED-like talk was how to focus down all the information and thoughts to their simplest essence, which could then be broadly communicated,” he says. “Normally in science, we spend a lot of time on the details and speaking to an intentionally limited audience. But to have a wider impact requires thinking in the opposite sense such as what can I take away and how can I communicate this idea more succinctly.”

Jeremy says he’s grateful for the assistance he received during the talk prep. “I got the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people providing feedback on multiple iterations of the talk,” he says. “It ended up feeling more like a collaborative experience.” 

Jeremy says the best outcome of presenting was realizing his talk was interesting to a wide audience. He says there has been interest in presenting the talk to several groups spanning the technical areas he discussed. The talk also led to connections with managers who have interest in finding collaborative opportunities.

Jasmine King-Bush (8533) and Katheryn Barker (8362) talk about their vision for a visitor services office to be piloted at Sandia/California.  (Photo by Krissy Galbraith)

One-stop shop

Katheryn Barker (8362), Jessica Matto (8522-1), and Jasmine King-Bush (8533) worked on their vision for a visitor services office to be piloted at Sandia/California. Katheryn and Jasmine presented the talk at a Quad-Level meeting in March, highlighting the importance of enabling all Sandians to engage in impactful partnerships.

The proposed office would incorporate all the aspects and steps needed to conduct a visit to Sandia. One key point made was that not all site visits use protocol services. During fiscal year 2016, Sandia/California had 2,294 visitors. Of that number, 2,070 visitors were unsupported. The office would offer support to all visits to the California site.

The talk was considered an overwhelming success.

 “The best outcome of our TED-like talk was receiving provisional funding for our idea, which is to create a visitor services office so that all Sandians have the opportunity to collaborate,” says Katheryn. “The second best part was receiving support and encouragement from managers across the site that I don’t normally interact with.”

Following the talk, Jasmine says she is grateful that Sandia invests in employees and has tremendous resources available to help develop employee skill sets. 

 “I was able to work on public speaking and creating relationships between what is important to me and what is of interest to my audience,” she says. “I’m grateful for the fantastic support and coaching we received from the Communications and deputy team and the warm reception we received from the listening audience.”

Direct climate action

Chris Shaddix (8351) presented a geoengineering talk titled “The Potential of Direct Climate Action” at the April Quad-Level meeting. Chris emphasized that Sandia, with its diverse and deep engineering expertise, is qualified to make major contributions to geoengineering research. Chris says the predominant geoengineering method under consideration is sulfate particle production or injection in the upper atmosphere, mimicking the oft-observed worldwide cooling phenomenon following major volcanic eruptions.

 “A crucial question is how to produce and inject very small sulfate particles in the upper atmosphere in an economically feasible manner,” Chris says. “One of the proposed approaches is for aircraft to burn sulfur-rich fuel, at least once they reach a suitable cruise altitude, and thereby inject SO2 into the upper atmosphere.”

Concerning preparation for the talk, Chris says, “The key thing I learned from this process was the value of preparing a presentation explicitly with an eye to grabbing the attention and having an impact on the audience through the use of dramatic elements. This included providing large images against a dark background and pauses in oral delivery. This isn’t something we commonly think about when making technical presentations to colleagues.”

Upcoming talks

Later this year, Brandon Heimer (8112) will deliver a talk on techno-economic analysis. He will focus on helping researchers determine how much technology and research is worth and how much does it cost. Historically, Brandon and his colleagues have answered these questions in the context of biofuels, solar, and energy-water nexus projects.

Another TED-like talk speaker, Trisha Miller (8112), plans to present a talk on chemical defense and provide a history of chemical warfare and terrorism from World War I to today. She will discuss how Sandia has an opportunity to apply its systems analysis expertise to develop a tailored, balanced chemical defense strategy.

 Advice for future TED-like talks

Jasmine encourages anyone interested in participating in the TED-like talks to take full advantage of the opportunity. She suggests reviewing other TED and TED-like talks to see how different speakers approached their talks. 

 “Be different,” she says. “Assume that your talk is the best, and convey that through your body language, your preparation efforts, and your delivery.”