West Albany junior Megan Cox, 16, dreams of studying business at a prestigious academic university, preferably Stanford.
But no matter where she ends up after graduation, Cox figures she'll benefit from an experience she was tapped for this past month: to be one of the speakers at the 2017 TEDxYouth@Portland conference.
TED stands for technology, entertainment and design, and TED talks sponsored by the nonprofit organization have become a household phrase in recent years.
TEDx events are local, independent gatherings to share TED-like ideas and opportunities. The Nov. 18 conference, meant specifically for speakers in their mid-20s and younger, was an invitation-only event at which Cox was the sole mid-valley representative.
"I got an email during August and they asked me to apply because I’m very involved in the speech and debate community — that’s something I’m very passionate about," she said.
After an application process that included a lengthy essay, Cox was invited for a face-to-face interview. A few weeks later, she was invited to join as a speaker.
"The opportunity for young people to speak and get their message heard is small and hard to find," she said. "To have that opportunity to have myself speak and share a message is something that I think is a very cool opportunity I got to be part of."
Cox chose her own topic: the effects of humor on society. She spoke in front of about 245 people.
A comedy fan herself, Cox sees humor as an important tool, especially in a particularly stress-filled political climate.
Humor can be used to create a safe space where people can both feel relief from real-world tensions and encounter — and perhaps better understand — ideas that could otherwise be uncomfortable, she said. "When people have a safe space to explore comedy and to tell jokes, and we're creating an environment where that’s OK, that’s where they can get the most out of it."
Through speech and debate, Cox has had plenty of practice in public speaking. But while she's familiar with large crowds and multiple topics, having to prepare one important speech to be taped and kept for posterity gave her pause.
"That was definitely nerve-wracking," she said. "People laughed, which was I guess was one of the most important things."
In speech and debate, Cox's favorite events are Humorous Interpretation and After Dinner Speaking. She placed third in the state last year in the latter category.
As a business major, Cox said, she figures she'll be making a lot of presentations. The experience at the TEDx talk will be useful, she said, as she prepares for that future.
"Public speaking seems to be more and more a necessary skill," she said.