Denise Druce has a self-described TED addiction.

“I would rather listen to TED than just about anything else, morning, noon and night, when I’m getting ready in the shower, when I’m driving my car,” she said.

Druce applied and was rejected, twice, to speak at TEDxSaltLakeCity. This year, for the first time, the event has a majority of female speakers, and Druce is one of them.

“The last couple of years, we’ve been so close to 50/50, to gender equity in our lineup,” co-organizer Becki Thatcher said. “But every year, it’s just been like one or two male heavy.”

TEDxSaltLakeCity is a locally organized event that’s based on a similar premise as TED Talks, short lectures recorded on video by a nonprofit to spread great ideas. Each TEDx presenter speaks for roughly 10 minutes about a topic related to technology, entertainment, design or social issues.

This year, TEDxSaltLakeCity did a lot of outreach, including spreading the word to local women’s organizations and through past female speakers, Thatcher said. More than 360 people applied.

To pick the finalists, Thatcher said, organizers “take out all of the identifying information from the application.”

“We remove names. We remove organizations. We even go so far as to change pronouns,” Thatcher said. The goal is to “focus on just the idea and not any superfluous information that comes with the person.”

And "to be on our stage, you have to have a new idea or a new twist on an existing idea, which sounds very simple, and it’s very hard to accomplish,” said head coach Beth Wolfer.

On Saturday, 14 speakers will give their presentations, which they’ve been honing and revising since June. The seventh annual event will be held at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, and tickets are available on the TEDxSaltLakeCity website. Recordings of the talks will be posted online after the event.

Em Capito, one of the nine female speakers, is excited that she’ll be joined by a record number of women. “The more of us that do step out into that light," she said, “I think it just invites others to do the same.”

Here are four of the women who will speak.

Resiliency through discomfort

Capito will focus on her work as a psychotherapist and yoga and meditation teacher. She’s found that “the quickest way for anyone to boost their own resiliency is through intentional discomfort," which means “safely stepping outside of your comfort zone on purpose ... in order to get intimate with your fears and learn precisely who you are,” according to her website.

“Honestly, getting up on the stage [at TEDxSaltLakeCity] is practicing what I preach,” Capito said.

The 34-year-old South Jordan resident said she hopes the audience on Saturday “comes away with the opportunity to see their next challenge as a resiliency field trip, as an opportunity to turn it on its head, as something fun, exciting and room for growth.”

Capito has gone to TEDxSaltLakeCity the past three years. “There’s a different speaker for everyone when you go," she said. "And there’s never been a speaker I didn’t enjoy.”

(Photo courtesy of Em Capito) Em Capito, standing in this undated photo, helps people get outside their comfort zone with yoga and meditation at her Resiliency Field Trips.

Rethinking landscapes

There’s “all of this incredible natural beauty” in Utah, yet “you see it everywhere but in our own yards,” Cynthia Bee said.

Bee will explain how to incorporate that nature at home through Localscapes, an approach to landscaping that works with Utah’s climate. People can also see it for themselves at a new immersive classroom — which looks like a house with a yard — at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District’s Conservation Garden Park, where Bee is the outreach coordinator.

“We’re going to have a population that’s going to double and our water supply can’t,” said the 47-year-old West Jordan resident. “So, there’s no scenario under which we don’t come into a crisis if we don’t act.”

The average person might be more concerned about curb appeal or how much maintenance a yard needs, though, Bee said. Localscapes’ goal is to address conservancy issues while also meeting homeowners’ needs.

“We’re fitting the solution around the people," she said, “rather than trying to make the people fit to the solution.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cynthia Bee, outreach coordinator at Conservation Garden Park in West Jordan, works to promote environmentally-friendly landscaping through an immersive classroom at the park based on the idea of Localscapes.
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Musical connections

Ruby Chou hopes people will reach out to a grandparent or older adult after hearing her presentation and say, “Hey, I heard this talk, and it made me think about you.”

Chou is executive director of the Mundi Project, which is launching Utah’s first intergenerational music program at Neighborhood House, which provides day care and support services for children and adults. The program will begin in October.

Mundi Project is a nonprofit community music organization in Salt Lake City. Music allows people to make connections, Chou said. It also teaches “acceptance and empathy and compassion and just everything that can happen when you are letting your guard down to want to learn music because you’re curious," she said.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter where you come from," the 31-year-old from Millcreek said. “You’re just there for the music and then, you know, all this other good stuff that goes with it.”

(Becky Jacobs | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ruby Chou sits in August 2019 by a piano that turned into "playable art" through the #peoplespianoproject at The Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City.

Prison yoga

With her nonprofit Yoga Forward, Denise Druce takes yoga “where it isn’t."

In 2017, Druce started a 200-hour yoga teacher training program at Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility at the Utah State Prison. It gives “a sense of calm, a sense of belonging, a sense of being able to look differently at their circumstances,” Druce said.

It took a year and a half to get women through the training, and now two of them are in the advanced program, the 56-year-old from Millcreek said in August.

Druce wants people to know “our past does not define us. Our past prepares us.”

“My past of having an incarcerated father put me in this position of service to women who were in that same situation," Druce said. “And their past has now put them in a situation of serving the people around them.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Denise Druce, left, guides a yoga instructor apprentice in April 2019 at the Utah State Prison. Druce is one of the speakers at 2019 TEDxSaltLakeCity.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date of TEDxSaltLakeCity.