September 28, 2022 | Alumni | Career Support

How U of T students get everyone talking

A large group of happy students in matching t-shirts pose with a big sign: TEDx U of T.

Through sharing stimulating ideas, student-run TEDx U of T events bring the cool to campus. Alumni support makes it happen.

Never underestimate the power of an idea.

For University of Toronto student Nathan Ching, ideas build bridges. He found that out when he was editing a video for a TEDx U of T event. He knew the speaker had a reputation for being almost frighteningly smart.

“But as I listened, I realized how fascinating his whole area of study is,” says Ching, who is studying public policy, criminology, and sociolegal studies and is this year's TEDx U of T chair. “I completely forgot about my intimidation. TEDx talks have that kind of effect on people. They take away barriers and distil ideas into something that is truly inspirational.”

TEDx U of T is a student-run series of lectures with impact—a forum for sharing bold ideas. And it is able to thrive because of alumni like you. When you use insurance services from U of T’s affinity program partners, Manulife or TD Insurance, part of the proceeds support student and alumni programs—including TEDx U of T.


Now there's an idea. When you use U of T alumni insurance services, you get preferred rates and support TEDx U of T.
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Composite image: portraits of Joey Shan and Nathan Ching.
Joey Shan (top) is past chair and Nathan Ching is the current chair of TEDx U of T.

TEDx is a grassroots offshoot of the popular TED Talks format—the x events are organized by individual communities. The TEDx program at U of T launched in 2013. Students run everything behind the scenes, and hundreds of their fellow students—as well as alumni and the general public—enjoy ideas that spark conversation, open minds, and help us understand each other.

It’s a pretty big project for undergraduate students—even for the group’s amazing team of 20 members. They apply for two licences from TED each year—one for a big event with multiple speakers and 200 to 500 attendees, and another for a series of two or three smaller salons featuring three or four talks.

Many of the speakers are alumni. “We always start with the speakers,” says Joey Shan, an English specialist who was last year's chair. “We’re googling furiously what alumni have done recently, really cool ideas that alumni have had, and reaching out to people whom we think would have an interesting talk. We also recruit speakers from our speaker applications, which are open to anyone who has any affiliation with U of T.”

The audience, however, are mostly students. “Alumni and the public are welcome,” says Shan, “but our focus is to create a great way for students to connect with people in the U of T community. They get a chance to see what great ideas we have right here at home, and get to know other students who share the same kinds of passions and interests. TEDx U of T is special because it takes place in a community of amazing ideas.”

TEDx U of T is special because it takes place in a community of amazing ideas

The alumni affinity program supports more than half of the TEDx U of T budget. Although normally the venues are the big-ticket items, during the pandemic the students had to cope with the unexpected costs of running an online event.

“In past years, we would invest in rental equipment to video the live event,” says Ching, whose service has included overseeing the videography, photography, and design content. “But in the online format, we needed to invest in cameras and microphones to help our speakers make quality videos from their own homes.”

“The support of the alumni makes a massive, massive, massive difference,” says Shan. “We appreciate so much that alumni are willing to back us. We definitely think that the message and the ethos that we’re spreading is very important, and I’m very, very grateful to the alumni.”

Poster for the Momentum conference: a series of stylized moving dots and the date January 29, 2022.
TEDx U of T’s signature event in 2022: the Momentum conference in January.


Both Shan and Ching say organizing TEDx events taught them real-world workplace skills, from how to listen to how to manage time. Above all, they learned the power of passion to inspire your best work.

On the morning of the Momentum conference in January 2022, the group’s biggest event of the year, one of the prepared video files became corrupted. They found out with just 20 minutes to go.

Nathan is like, ‘OK, I’m going to speed edit this entire video again from the raw footage’,” says Shan. “My guess is this should have been three or four hours of focused work. And Nathan gets it done in 20 minutes.”

“What I learned,” says Ching thoughtfully, “was that if you really connect with the message of an organization, you’re able to make time for it and step up. I feel really connected to TEDx. I really truly believe in using language to influence others and spreading ideas worth spreading.”

I really truly believe in using language to influence others and spreading ideas worth spreading

There’s no shortage of ideas at U of T. “This is a renowned public research university full of scientific innovation,” says Ching. “The professors and the ideas within the U of T community have always been very vibrant and inspiring.”

But more than that, a program like TEDx U of T really helps students connect with what university has to offer. “In such an extremely large and diverse community, it’s often hard to pinpoint what you’re interested in, where you fit in,” says Shan. “These events give a more specific and structured example of U of T’s smart and cool people. We give students the chance to take one slice of U of T and connect with others—to discover something that they will really be interested in.”


TEDx U of T couldn't happen without alumni support.

When alumni use insurance services from Manulife or TD Insurance, these affinity partners give a portion of the proceeds to TEDx U of T and many other U of T student and alumni initiatives every year. Plus, alumni receive great preferred rates negotiated by U of T.

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This story was originally published in May 2022 and has been updated.

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