Topher Horman

TedxSaltLakeCity & Topher Horman: The Language Of Symbols


201is the third year of TEDxSaltLakeCity, and the excitement that it has created in the valley has not died down. On Sept. 19, Kingsbury Hall will be filled with some of the brightest and most forward-thinking minds in the state, ready to share their insight and passion. Topher Horman, social semiotics guide and moment creator, will be giving a musically based, nonverbal TED presentation with fellow TEDx performers Bboy Federation, cellist Chase Ferry and Aerial Arts of Utah to help unite the crowd in a collective moment.

TED is a global conference network based on design, science and culture that has been running since 1990, and TEDx events are independent events licensed by TED in order to spread ideas to a broader audience. Three years ago, Anna Decker applied for a license and began running our local TEDxSaltLakeCity event. This year’s lineup of speakers is diverse, representing a wide range of interests present in Utah, from Davey Davis of the Bicycle Collective to neuroscientist Ivy Estabrooke.

This year’s TEDxSaltLakeCity theme is Upcycled Thinking, which involves incorporation of media in your surroundings to create an entirely new kind of thought process. Horman says, “We’re taking ideas and making them our own—taking ideas and combining them with science or combining them with some artistic value and turning it into something new and creative and cool.” The act of applying one’s filtered view of symbolic communication with someone else’s is, intrinsically, upcycling, so Horman’s presentation will harmonize seamlessly into the theme of the event.

“Who you are, how you define the world, and how you translate everything around you is based on all of your past experiences leading up to that moment, and that’s the filter that you are translating everything through,” Horman says. “It’s the reason why we all know the letter A and the letter T, the color purple. Our subconscious turns it into language.” This leads directly into social semiotics, when experiences become shared rather than singular. “It’s taking an audience of people down to a subconscious level with shared symbols and creating a moment where they can look around and say, ‘We as an audience in 2015, in Salt Lake City, can sit here today and share this one specific moment in time,’” he says. The fluidity of social communication makes this practice special and situationally unique, each person applying meaning to a construct in their own way. Social semiotics is so enmeshed with visual symbols that it translates effortlessly into nonverbal communication. “I’m trying to give a nonverbal TED presentation by using color, music and rhythm, to see if I can create a moment that resonates with enough people that they can do something on their own without any verbal instruction whatsoever,” Horman says.

TEDxSaltLakeCity Speaker Team Leader Margaret Romney, as part of a team, works with TEDx speakers through the sometimes challenging ins and outs of presenting at a TEDx event. “Preparing a speaker is a more involved process than just editing content,” she says. “TEDx talks should be based on an intriguing idea, with no agenda, presented in a jargon-free style, with humor and a personal touch.” This allows for a sense of direction for speakers and keeps events in the signature TED style.

Working with Anna Decker, Lead Organizer for TEDxSaltLakeCity, Romney helps individuals share their exceptional ideas. “We want TEDxSaltLakeCity to be a transparent reflection of the Wasatch Front to see its diverse, innovative and creative self,” she says. “We are building a community of idea-makers and action-takers. We at TEDxSaltLakeCity are volunteering our time because we love our city and want to build a platform for sharing ideas, expanding conversation and inspiring action.”

The theme of Upcycled Thinking fit perfectly into the idea of combining ideas for a greater understanding or work. “We create our theme each year from an idea harvest to identify an organically arising, common theme in talks from the previous year’s event,” Romney says. “I see Upcycled Thinking as taking current ‘materials’—theories, systems or products—and transforming them into something better.” This cooperation allows a flow from one year to the next and a way for speakers from differing years to interact and share ideas across time.

Salt Lake City is such an exciting and inspiring place to be for our generation, and Horman sees that as a valuable influence on his work and this TEDxSaltLakeCity event. “I love how [TED has] combined elements of design and science, and to have an event of this type on such a high-caliber level in my hometown is exciting,” he says. “I have been traveling for years, and I truly think no other city in America right now is moving further, faster. I believe this is a very scientifically fertile ground and a fascinating place to be,” he says.

September is a month of adaptation, and this TEDx event will mark yet another change in our collective Salt Lake City knowledge bank and interactive intelligence. Horman hopes for everyone in his collective group to “relax in a shared moment” and to be able to appreciate what it means to be part of a community in this gorgeous city we call home.

Find out more about TEDxSaltLakeCity at