Ignite Tampa Bay talks tackle STEM education, social media, silence

Just before intermission at the 2014 Ignite Tampa Bay, a man dressed in head-to-toe black stripped off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and hopped, bare-footed, onto a slack line positioned in the center of the elevated stage in Ybor City’s Cuban Club theatre.

The crowd cheered as the agile performer balanced, slipped, recovered and demonstrated an impressive feat of muscle control and entertainment combined.

“That was pretty unique,” says event organizer Joy Randels. At the upcoming Ignite Tampa Bay on August 27, Randels adds, there are a few new surprises in store: one “social experiment” and “something else, rather unexpected, from one of our presenters. … but I don’t want to give away his surprise.”

Put simply: “This is a high-energy event and the audience is engaged,” Randels promises. “No one will be bored.”  

Five Years of Igniting Tampa Bay

“Entertain us, but make it quick’’ has been the motto of Ignite meetups since the very first Ignite event unfolded in Seattle in 2006. Since then, different chapters in various cities throughout the country, and eventually across the world, have taken on a life of their own; large-scale events in cities like New York fill theaters, and smaller meet-ups can take place in conference rooms. Tampa falls somewhere in the middle-to-high end of the spectrum for Ignite participation; the August event at Ybor City’s Cuban Club is all but sold out. 

At capacity, the event will seat 425 attendees inside the nearly 100-year-old historic “El Circulo Cubano” building. Attendees are invited to mingle in the well-lit lobby, grabbing a drink at the long wood bar or admiring the black-and-white pattern of the tile floors before heading into the impressive, high ceilinged and opulently accented theater. 

The tightrope balancer’s surprise intermission performance from the previous year is a tough act to follow, but at least 20 speakers will take the stage to entertain, educate and inspire the crowd at the 2015 Ignite Tampa Bay event, touching on topics from the trials and tribulations that arise from the use of modern technology to the social media mythos of “Florida Man.”

The un-presentation format has paid off in prior years, with “new company ideas, increased volunteer support for a worthy cause, and a marriage proposal” resulting from Ignite events, Randels says.

The talks, which generally cover a wide swath of interests, “are a way for community members to share their passion and inspire others to join in,” explains Randels, who spoke at Tampa’s 2013 Ignite event. “It's a deliberate attempt to avoid what sucks about presentations.”

The speaker selection committee for Ignite Tampa Bay, which changes annually, represents a wide array of professions: artists, techologists, educators and students. Technova Florida board members and community members from across the Tampa Bay region take part in selecting the diverse group of speakers each year from a pool of applicants that can range from elementary students to retirees.  

Speaker Brian De Vito, founder of Startup Weekend-winning app Wazinit, will discuss hospital care and dietary needs based on personal experience; presenter Hillary Talbott will explore the value of being still in a busy world. Two local high school students will present talks on STEM education and the importance of strong role models.

“Ignite really is for everyone,” Randels says. “It’s about people who believe in the power of community and the ability to influence positive change.”

What won’t be on the table? Sales pitches. Ignite events are firmly focused on inspiration, not advertisement.

Now in its fifth year, the focus of Ignite Tampa Bay is clear, Randels says: “To inspire people and to engage community members who might otherwise never meet each other.” 

Igniting your alone time by slowing down

Talbott, who has “been obsessed with Ted Talks for a few years,” says she plans to use the Ignite Tampa Bay platform to “stretch out of my comfort zone.”

Talbott’s topic, Igniting Change Through Stillness, is inspired by the “tendency to overdo in life, to the point where stress breaks them down physically and mentally,” that she sees in patients during her work as a meditation practitioner.

“They've been conditioned to believe that success requires them to be ‘human-doers’ instead of human beings,” Talbott says. “I love to teach people that they can accomplish more in their lives through creating clarity with a little bit of stillness each day.”

How does one create clarity? Meditation, Talbott explains. “I want to show people that they can positively influence relationships and situations in their lives by introducing a 16-second meditation technique.” 

“Everyone has 16 seconds to potentially change their lives, right?”

Talbott, who offers free recorded meditations at her website, earned a BS in Physiology from the University of Florida, along with a BS in Health Science and a Masters Degree in Oriental Medicine from Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine in Gainesville. 

After finishing graduate school in 2009, Talbott relocated to St. Petersburg, where she cofounded Art of Acupuncture.

Letting go of ‘FOMO’

Sabah Karimi, a freelance writer and digital copywriter who moved from Orlando to St. Petersburg in fall 2014, spends part of her days researching social media behavior, consumer psychology, marketing and neuroscience.

One of her more alarm-raising findings: Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO (which can be prompted by posts to social media sites that make the viewer feel concerned he/she is missing out on something)” is “one of the biggest reasons why so many people experience stress and anxiety over social media and technology.” 

FOMO, Karimi says, “ is a growing problem in today's digital age.”

So to combat FOMO, Karimi offers a new acronym to those who might get a little too caught up in social media or sharing technology: “I'm sharing ways to embrace the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO) to restore balance - and sanity! - to our technology-controlled lives,” she says. “I wanted to share some insights about the effects of social media on the brain and ways to counteract the effects of technology in today's hyper-connected world.” 

Karimi hopes to offer attendees “a fresh perspective on their social media habits, and a few tips for incorporating JOMO into their everyday lives” with her talk.

Karimi, who maintains an active presence on Twitter at @sabahk, studied communications and marketing at the University of Wisconsin before moving to Florida in 2007 to pursue a writing career.

Uniting the local community through shared interests

Ignite Tampa Bay sparked a fire back in 2011, when the event was held in a medium-sized meeting space in the former Westshore Wyndham hotel. Over the years, Ignite Tampa Bay has grown steadily, and speakers and audience members have been welcomed into some of Tampa’s most well known locations, from Glazer Children’s Museum to the iconic Tampa Theatre to the Cuban Club.

A “loyal following” combined with event newcomers each year has helped Ignite Tampa Bay “grow a healthy, diverse community,” says Randels, who also runs the Tampa Bay chapter of Startup Grind and sits on the board for recently resurrected group Girls in Tech Tampa.

Long-time Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, who retired from the role in 2015 after 31 years of service, will emcee the evening’s events.

Ignite Tampa Bay organizers are honored that Castor will be the evening’s emcee, Randels says. “She is sure to add her own brand of humor to the opening of the show.” 

Ignite Tampa Bay will take place at the Cuban Club, 2010 N AVENIDA Republica De Cuba in Ybor City, on August 27, 2015, at 6:30 p.m. The volunteer-led nonprofit organization relies on sponsors to raise funds and publicity for the event. Ignite Tampa Bay is subsidized by the Hillsborough County EDI2 fund through Technova, Florida Inc., a nonprofit that produces entrepreneurial events like Ignite, Barcamp Tampa Bay, and Startup Weekend. 

Join the Ignite Tampa Bay Meetup group for event updates or visit the Ignite Tampa Bay website to check ticket availability.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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