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Episode 48: Organizing a TEDx event in the U.S-Mexico border with Mark Lovett

Level: Advanced
Accent: North American (U.S)

Mark tells the story about organizing TEDx Monumento 258, a unique event, first time in history, at the border between the U.S and Mexico. He tells us how special it was to unite these two nations in one event and how he overcame all the challenges to be able to make this event happen, in the actual border!

If you’re here, it means you’re listening to our podcast Into the Story, and you’re ready to take your English to the next level while you learn something else about life! Below, you’ll discover incredibly valuable learning materials to take the most of this episode to improve your English

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[00:00:00] Bree: Hello hello. Welcome to you Into the Story, the podcast where you learn English through true stories. I’m Bree, your host, and I’m so glad you’re here. If you’re already listener, then welcome back. And if you’re new to the podcast, well, a big hello to you. We have a really interesting story today, So let’s get started.

[00:00:45] Today’s storyteller is Mark Lovett. Now back in the early 1980s, Mark began working with computers, at a time when the personal computer was just starting to become popular. He worked at a startup that made customized industrial computers. For very big industries like the military Over a couple of decades. Mark’s career evolved and changed, he was in different roles, like managing operations and being the chief of marketing. And even becoming C E O.

[00:01:28] Bree: . Mark’s story then took a fascinating turn. When he discovered the world of TEDx. TED of course is the platform where experts and innovators give short talks on different topics to share important ideas. Mark’s passion for storytelling and the power of ideas led him on a remarkable journey that ultimately crossed borders quite literally. As he attempted to set up a binational TEDx event right on the US-Mexico border. I know what you’re thinking: the US-Mexico border is a really tense and controversial area to host a TEDx event and your totally right.

[00:02:18] Mark: On the US side, there was no internet, there was no electricity, there were no facilities, no running water, nothing. And I went to the border patrol and I said, I have to have electricity to power our cameras, our audio, our video equipment. And they said, there’s no power here. So that was threatening the entire existence of the event.

[00:02:40] Bree: I think you’re going to love this one. There are challenges, creative solutions, and a lot of determination. Mark story shows us the incredible impact of storytelling to share ideas and connect the world, which as the host of this podcast, I absolutely love.

[00:03:00] Hey, just one more thing. If you’re here, you know how incredible listening to stories is to improve your English. So if you like into the story, why not share it with a friend, just click the share button and send it on over to them. And thanks.

[00:03:19] And now it’s time for six words and expressions that you can learn from Mark’s story.

[00:03:30] The first is to come up with. So to come up with is to think of, or to create something like an idea or maybe a plan. For example, I need to come up with a new recipe for dinner tonight. Or she came up with a brilliant solution to the problem. To come up with.

[00:04:01] Next. The expression. It’s all on you. So if someone says to you, it’s all on you, it means that you are completely responsible for something and everything depends on you. For example, if you want to succeed, it’s all on you to work hard. Or the success of the project is all on you now. It’s all on you.

[00:04:34] Next to be messed up. So to be messed up means to make a mistake, or cause a problem. For example, I messed up my presentation by forgetting the main points. Or don’t worry if you mess up, we all make mistakes. To be messed up.

[00:04:59] And the next expression. to dodge a bullet. So if you Dodge a bullet, it means that you just escape a very big problem or danger. This phrase comes from the idea of people physically dodging or moving away from bullets in real battle. For example, imagine you’re walking and a car comes close to hitting you . You can say, I just dodged a bullet there. That car could have hit me. Or if someone makes a bad investment, but changes their mind just in time, they might say, “I dodged a bullet by not putting my money into that company”. So to Dodge, a bullet means getting out of a tough situation and feeling really relieved that you didn’t get hurt or have a big problem.

[00:05:55] Next, in today’s story. You’re going to hear Mark talking about a stage. You’ll hear him talk about tearing down the stage or taking down the stage and putting up a stage. So to tear down and take down means to disassemble or remove a stage. Whereas to put up means to assemble or set up the stage. For example, after the concert, they quickly tore down or took down the stage. And before the concert, they put up the stage.

[00:06:33] And finally elation or a sense of elation or to be elated. So this is a very strong feeling. Of happiness or joy. For example, winning the game gave us a sense of elation. Or she felt a sense of elation when she achieved her goal. Elation a sense of elation or to be elated

[00:07:05] And as always, if you want to look at the transcript. See an extended vocabulary list, and to test yourself with a listening comprehension quiz, then you can visit our website. We’ll leave you a link in the show notes. All right, it’s that time let’s get into the story.

[00:07:24] Mark had been working for over 20 years in this fast paced, exciting world of technology. And he eventually became the CEO.

[00:07:38] Mark: it was exciting, but it was stressful because you have to meet, meet deadlines all the time. and some of our customers were very large companies, so they put a lot of pressure on us to make sure that we delivered the product, that the product was exactly what they needed.

[00:07:55] But I discovered this magic, which was how to grow a good team of people around me who were smarter than me in their own particular expertise. And together as a team, just like a sports team, We were able to accomplish a lot of amazing things So this has gone on for a couple of decades and I figured I needed to do something on my own.

[00:08:21] Bree: to keep

[00:08:22] Mark: So I left the normal corporate world and I started consulting.

[00:08:26] Bree: it bigger.

[00:08:26] Mark: And one of those clients who was running a digital agency, this was back in 2009, and we were having lunch one day, and he tells me about this brand new program that the TED organization had just come up with, called TEDx.

[00:08:41] And TEDx meant that you could run a TED like event in your own city. And they were going to allow individuals to… run their own show.

[00:08:52] Bree: Mark’s client has a license to organize Ted X events in the city of San Diego, California and he invites mark to go to an event. The day arrives and he’s sitting in the audience,

[00:09:06] Mark: and I thought it was amazing to see people get up on stage and tell these short stories, they were on incredible topics. They were talking about climate change, they were talking about the health of the oceans, they were talking about how to live your life differently.

[00:09:24] And I thought, this is really a fascinating way for new ideas to be presented to the public.

[00:09:31] Bree: Mark is completely amazed by what he experienced at the TEDx event. And then Mark’s client, the organizer of TEDx San Diego. Approaches mark one day asking for his help. In organizing next year’s TEDx event.

[00:09:50] Mark: And part of me said, don’t do this. It’s too much work. But I ended up just saying yes, it felt like there was this opportunity to become part of the storytelling process.

[00:10:01] Bree: and

[00:10:01] Mark: it was at the end of that event that the organizer had decided to go off and start another company of his own. He said he didn’t have time to run TEDx San Diego. So he asked me if I wanted the license.

[00:10:16] Bree: And once again, part of me says, No, don’t do it. This is way too much work. But I ended up saying yes. Now Mark has the license for TEDxSan Diego. Now he needed to build a team, something that he was good at thanks to his tech industry experience. The events started small.

[00:10:37] But after a while, He began thinking about doing something new and different.

[00:10:43] Mark: So we had a long term relationship with the organizers of TEDx Tijuana.

[00:10:48] Bree: this related to the electricity or is that a

[00:10:49] Mark: For those not familiar with the geography, San Diego sits in the very bottom corner of the United States in the Southwest. And directly across that border is the city of Tijuana, Mexico. And so these two cities have shared their culture for centuries, basically, when there was no border.


[00:11:13] And Borders are an interesting concept.

[00:11:17] in this particular case, thousands of people every day cross the border in both directions. Musicians would come from Mexico into the United States. Artists in the United States would go down and collaborate with artists in Tijuana. So these cultures were constantly mixing. And at the time, I hear they’re building a new wall, unfortunately, but at the time there was just a fence, and you could see through that fence.On the Mexico side, it looks like a beach resort. There are restaurants, there are mariachi bands playing, people are drinking piña coladas, they’re on the beach, they’re having a great time.

[00:11:57] Bree: I mean, I, I tried

[00:11:57] Mark: On the U. S. side, they actually put up a second fence, maybe a hundred yards away from the first fence. And so that became what I would call a no man’s land. It was completely controlled by the Border Patrol of the United States.

[00:12:13] what was interesting is that on the Mexican side, there was a monument right near the fence. And that monument signified

[00:12:21] this separation, And that monument inspired us to create this event called TEDx Monumento 258, So the idea was to have speakers in two countries.

[00:12:34] And something like this had never ever been done in the history of TED or TEDx. Nobody had ever tried to do a bi national TEDx event.

[00:12:47] Bree: Together with the team at TEDxTijuana. They begin to plan a special by national event. That they are going to call. TEDx Monument o 258. They will feature speakers from both the United States and Mexico. Speaking, both Spanish and English. There will be a stage in Tijuana and a stage in the US.

[00:13:13] And it specifically the U S side, that’s going to be difficult. Because the stage is going to be in between the two borders, in the place that they call a no man’s land.

[00:13:25] Mark: So in the United States, that whole border area is controlled by the Border Patrol,

[00:13:32] And so we knew that we had to have permission to be in this space that was heavily guarded, surveillance cameras, and all of that.

[00:13:40] So we went to the office of the border patrol

[00:13:45] and told them what our idea was. And so we got their approval to put on this event. B ut we also had to get approvals from the mayor’s office in San Diego and

[00:13:55] I happen to be introduced to the woman who was the binational liaison for the mayor’s office. So she was tasked with managing all affairs between the two countries

[00:14:07] And so I tell her my idea She sets up a meeting, says, come back next week for this meeting. So when I went back to that meeting, there were three women in the room and it was herself. It was the liaison from the mayor’s office in Tijuana and the liaison for all of Baja, California.

[00:14:26] I explained what we were trying to do: the two stages with the two countries and the three women said, we will solve whatever problem you come up with.

[00:14:37] Bree: Mark and the team at TEDx Tijuana have the support from both cities. There are three women in positions of power who say they will do what ever it takes to make this event happen. But now Mark is beginning to see that there are also some logistical probl ems

[00:14:56] So on the Mexico side, as I mentioned, it’s a resort town. So they have electricity, they have internet, they have everything you would expect of a normal city. On the US side, because we were in this no man’s land, there was no internet, there was no electricity, there were no facilities, no running water, nothing. And I went to the border patrol and I said, I have to have electricity to power our cameras, our audio, our video equipment. And they said, there’s no power here. I said, well, I’ll just bring in a gas generator. They said, no, you can’t have any generators because there’s gasoline and that could be explosive and we can’t allow that in this controlled area. So that was threatening the entire existence of the event. There’s no way we could put it on if we didn’t have this power.

[00:15:45] So he goes to the place where they want to host the event. And that’s when he notices something. So it turns out that right next to this no man’s land is a small California state park. They just have some benches. It’s on the ocean. You can have a picnic there. Very simple, but they had a bathroom.

[00:16:10] And how are you feeling at

[00:16:11] Mark: And when I went into the bathroom, I noticed that next to the mirror on the wall, there was a power outlet, one in the men’s and one in the women’s.

[00:16:20] So I said, well, there’s my power. So I went to the local representative of California State Parks, told him what I wanted to do, and he said, sorry, that’s not possible. That power can only be used within the park itself.

[00:16:38] Bree: Mark had found a way to get power to the event, but he wasn’t allowed to use it. And that’s when he remembered what those three women at the mayor’s office in San Diego had told him. If he had any problem, they would solve it. So he went down to the office and told them what was going on. They said, thank you. And they would get back to him.

[00:17:01] Mark:

[00:17:01] And about a week later, I get a phone call from that same gentleman at the park service who said I don’t know who you’re connected to, but you’ve been given permission to use this power in the park.

[00:17:14] Bree: tell me about,

[00:17:15] Mark: It’s all on you. We will not have a technician there. If you blow a circuit to all the power, it’s going to be dead. It’s just totally your responsibility, but you can do it.

[00:17:27] Bree: So Mark is feeling good, they have power. But now they have to solve the problem of the internet. There is no internet in the no man’s land and they need to live stream the TEDx event. So they need to run a fiber optic cable. But the border patrol says no way. They have a rule: nothing is allowed to go through the border fence.

[00:17:54] Mark: And I went back to them and I said, all I need is a quarter inch cable, a single cable that can go through just for the length of the event. Luckily, they finally said yes. And they wrote that into the contract so that we could have this one cable.

[00:18:10] So at various points, we kept thinking the event is dead But somebody either changed their mind or somebody worked behind the scenes.


[00:18:19] By the time we got to that night before, the whole focus was on what do we need to do? every camera, every cable.

[00:18:29] Bree:

[00:18:29] Mark: And then the next morning we got there at sunrise,

[00:18:35] Bree: Usually in a normal TEDx event, they take a couple of days to prepare, But they only had one morning to get everything ready. They really weren’t sure if it would all work.

[00:18:47] Mark: There’s so many ways this, this can go wrong.

[00:18:51] In fact, it felt as though there was only one way it could happen and a thousand ways that it could not happen.

[00:18:58] So just when we thought everything was ready to go, I get a call on my phone from the woman who’s the first speaker of the day.

[00:19:05] And I said, where are you? We’re going to start in a couple of minutes. I’ve been looking for you. Well, this area, as you can imagine, is remote, and you have to drive down a dirt road for a ways to get to this location. And she had taken a wrong turn and got her car stuck in the sand. So now I’m thinking our whole show is messed up again, our speaker can’t even make it here. But she had called her husband, her husband came, picked her up and brought her, and so she got to the stage one minute before showtime.

[00:19:38] So this whole event is, the whole event is outdoors. So there are no buildings, the sky is above you, It’s what I like to call the Wild West of TEDx. the wind’s blowing in everyone’s hair and they’re sitting right under the sun.

[00:19:53] And we’re a couple of speakers in, and we hear this noise. And if you’ve ever heard a lawnmower, a gas powered lawnmower, or even a motorcycle, when they’re in the distance, it has this rumbling sound. And as they get closer, that sound level increases, of cou rse. And we look up in the sky and here’s this hang glider flying across the border and the border patrol agent who was my contact runs up to me and says, is this something that you’re doing? You know, cause you never got approval for this. I said, no, I have no idea who this is. And he says, well, we’re going to have to shut the event down. Because this guy could be carrying drugs, he could have weapons, he could have a bomb, we don’t know who he is, it’s illegal to cross the border that way.

[00:20:44] And so I said, we can’t stop the event, we’re right in the middle of it. And he says, you don’t have a choice.

[00:20:49] I need you to shut down and get all the people in their cars and get them out of here. And right at that moment, the hang glider makes a U turn, goes back over the fence. It starts heading back into Mexico. So the sound of that motor gets quieter and quieter, and my contact just looks at me and says, y ou dodged a bullet on this one. Go ahead and continue with the event.

[00:21:14] Bree: Mark is feeling very relieved but then he hears something. And this time it’s not a noise but words that are threatening the event. The US-Mexico border is a very politically sensitive topic And the speaker on stage has made a negative comment about the border

[00:21:38] Mark: And so my contact came up to me and says, Hey, you’re not allowed to talk about this area that way. You know, this is where we work. We’re proud of this. And he went and called his supervisor and said, there’s some comments on here on the stage that we don’t agree with. And by the time the supervisor got down, the last two talks of the day were about art and food and wine. So you can’t get too controversial talking about paintings and glasses of wine. So he was okay. He said, Hey, this sounds good. I like these speakers, they’re fine. So again, what could have been an opportunity to shut everything down, everyone got calm.

[00:22:24] Bree: The border patrol agents allow the event to continue.

[00:22:28] Mark: And then the end of the day happened, the last speaker got on, we got the applause, we closed down the event. But then the truck that was coming to pick up the stage, the driver got lost.

[00:22:42] And the border patrol saying, you have a hard deadline to get this stuff out of here. we couldn’t wait for the people who put it up to arrive and take it down themselves. And what was beautiful was that we realized how long it was going to take to tear down the stage So my team and the border patrol agents all got out their wrenches and we took the stage apart together as a team so that when the truck arrived, we could just put all of the items on the truck. And we got out with one minute to spare.


[00:23:16] Mark: In that moment there was this sense of elation. there were so many challenges between the two countries. There were laws, there were fences, there were different governments, but each person who did their own part collectively made it happen.

[00:23:38] Nearly all of the people who were interested in this event felt that we were better off collectively sharing our culture,sharing our wisdom, sharing our knowledge . And sharing your experience so that other people can understand the world differently.

[00:23:55] Bree: After the hugely successful US-Mexico border event,Mark continued organizing TEDx events. He worked with volunteers to organize an event in state prisons, giving inmates a chance to share their stories, It helped them feel heard when they usually aren’t. Mark now coaches TED speakers, and also helps people from all different backgrounds tell their own stories. if you would like to know more about Mark and his work, you can visit his website, storytellingwithimpact.com. And if you would like to see some photos of this binational TEDx event, including a photo of Monumento 258, the border fence, and some of the speakers, then you can visit our website. We will leave you a link in the show notes. And that is all for this episode of Into the Story. If you enjoyed it then, follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you’d like to support the show, then please leave us a five star rating and review telling us what you love about Into the Story. Okay. Until next time, I hope that you have good time, or at least a good story to tell.

Quote of the episode

“It’s that sharing your experience so that other people can understand the world differently”

– Mark Lovett

Words & expressions of the episode

In order of appearence in the episode.

* Key vocabulary mentioned in the episode


Fast Paced: Something described as “fast-paced” means it moves quickly or happens at a high speed, often without much delay. Examples: “A fast-paced action movie has lots of exciting scenes and doesn’t have many slow moments.” or “The chef works in a fast-paced kitchen, where orders need to be prepared and served rapidly to meet customers’ expectations.”


*Come up with: To think of or create something, like an idea or a plan. Examples: “I need to come up with a new recipe for dinner tonight.” or “She came up with a brilliant solution to the problem.”


Surveillance: Refers to the act of closely watching or monitoring someone or something, often for security or information gathering purposes. Examples: “A security camera outside a store records and watches for any suspicious activity, like shoplifting.” or “Police officers keep surveillance on a suspect to gather evidence and ensure public safety.”


Liaison: A person or entity that helps to facilitate communication or cooperation between different individuals, groups, or organizations. Examples: “In a school, the teacher acts as a liaison between parents and students, helping to convey important information.” or “An interpreter serves as a liaison during international meetings, ensuring that people who speak different languages can understand each other.”


Power outlet: A power outlet is a place in the wall or on a device where you can plug in an electrical cord to get electricity for things like charging your phone or using appliances. Examples: “The power outlet in my bedroom is next to the desk, so I can plug in my laptop there.” or “Don’t forget to plug your phone into the power outlet before you go to bed, so it’s charged in the morning.”


*It’s all on you: You are responsible for something; everything depends on you. Examples: “If you want to succeed, it’s all on you to study hard.” or “The success of the project is all on you now.”


To blow a circuit: means that the electrical system in a place or a thing stops working because it gets too much electricity, so a safety switch turns off the power to prevent damage. Examples: “When too many appliances were plugged in at once, the circuit in the kitchen blew, and all the lights went off.” or “If you use too many devices at the same time in your room, you might blow a circuit, and you’ll need to reset the breaker to restore power.”


*To be messed up: To make a mistake or cause a problem. Examples: “I messed up my presentation by forgetting the main points.” or “Don’t worry if you mess up; we all make mistakes.”


Border Patrol: The group or organization responsible for monitoring and protecting a country’s borders. Examples: “The Border Patrol is in charge of keeping the border secure.” or Border Patrol agents help control who enters the country.”


Affairs (between two countries): Matters or issues related to the relationship and interactions between two countries. Examples: “Diplomats handle affairs between our country and others.” or “They discussed trade affairs during the international meeting.”


California State Park: A designated area in California for public enjoyment and outdoor activities, such as hiking and picnicking. Examples: “We had a picnic in the California state park last weekend.” or “California state parks offer beautiful natural landscapes.”


To approach someone: To come near or go up to someone, usually for communication or interaction. Examples: “You can approach the teacher if you have questions.” or “He decided to approach his boss about a promotion.”


Rumbling: A deep, low sound, often associated with things like thunder or heavy machinery. Examples: “The thunder’s rumbling scared the children.” or “The rumbling of the train could be heard from afar.”


*To dodge a bullet: To narrowly avoid a dangerous or problematic situation. Examples:

“I really dodged a bullet by missing that car accident.” or “He felt lucky to have dodged a bullet and passed the difficult exam.”


A hard deadline: A strict and unchangeable date or time by which something must be completed. Examples: “The hard deadline for submitting your assignment is tomorrow at noon.” or “We need to meet the hard deadline for the project’s completion.”


*Tear down/Take down/Put up (a stage):

  • Tear down: To disassemble or remove a structure or stage.
  • Take down: To bring down or dismantle something.
  • Put up: To assemble or set up something.


  • “After the concert, they quickly tore down the stage.”
  • “We need to take down the decorations after the party.”
  • “Let’s put up the tent for our camping trip.”

Wrench: A tool used for turning bolts and nuts, often with an adjustable jaw. Examples: “I used a wrench to tighten the loose screw on the chair.” or “You’ll need a wrench to fix the leaky pipe.”


*A sense of elation: A strong feeling of happiness or joy. Examples: “Winning the game gave us a sense of elation.” or “She felt a sense of elation when she achieved her goal.”

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Episode images

Monumento 258 TEDxevent Mark Lovett speaking

Mark Lovett speaking at the event. U.S side.

Monumento 258 TEDxevent Mexico side speakers

The event was happening at the same time in both sides of the border. Here, speakers on Mexico side.

Mark’s journey eventually led him to become a speaker coach, helping individuals from various backgrounds tell their personal stories effectively. He works with clients worldwide, assisting them in sharing their experiences and ideas through storytelling.
In conclusion, Mark’s passion for storytelling has not only enriched his life but has also transformed the lives of those he has touched, from inmates to young students and people from diverse backgrounds. His coaching continues to empower individuals to convey their messages effectively through the art of storytelling.

Thank you, Mark, for sharing your story journey with us. If you’d like to learn more about Mark and his work in storytelling, you can visit his website at storytellingwithimpact.com. There, you’ll find valuable resources and insights on the power of storytelling