John Spence is recognized as one of the top business thought leaders and leadership development experts in the world and was named by the American Management Association as one of America’s Top 50 Leaders to Watch along with Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. As a consultant and coach to organizations worldwide, from startups to the Fortune 10, John is dedicated to helping people and businesses be more successful by “Making the Very Complex… Awesomely Simple.”

Kaitlin Applegate is studying Journalism at the University of Florida. Her passion is writing and people. When the two unite into storytelling, real change ignites. She lives with her adorably weird dog and attends Gator Christian life. Colossians 2:14.

Linda Olson is a sought-after Speaker, Story Expert, and Founder of Wealth Through Stories. She is known as the Go-To-Expert to help others take their story to reach millions. Her own powerful story and her passion to empower others led her to write, Your Story Matters, which became an International Amazon Bestseller in 7 countries in the first 5 days. Her mission is “To Impact a million people a year through story.” Linda and her husband, Rick, reside in sunny California. They enjoy their two married daughters, spouses and 5 adorable grandchildren who are the best part of her story.

Jim McKenzie holds an M.Ed. from the University of Florida. He has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels and worked in both public and private schools. He currently serves as the Headmaster of The Rock School, a K-12 Christian school in Gainesville where he has worked since 1999. Jim is also a speaker and consultant and has presented at numerous schools and conferences across North America. He has published work in The Elementary School Journal and Teachers of Vision. He was a finalist for SECME’s National Teacher of the Year Award for his work in developing an elementary STEM program aimed at reaching minority students. Jim currently serves as the marketing & enrollment consultant for the prestigious Van Lunen Center, an organization that provides world-class executive management training for heads of Christian schools. Jim serves on the board for two local organizations, Sira Gainesville and Foster Florida. He and his wife, Hannah, have been married for 18 years and they have 5 children.

Heather Young Sarkis is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with over 15-years’ experience in different roles within the psychiatric and mental health field. She is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Nursing, and recently graduated from a Fellowship in Integrative Medicine from the University of Arizona. Ms. Sarkis is the co-founder of the Sarkis Family Charitable Foundation, a grass-roots effort with the goal of reducing stigma related to mental illness through community education and engagement. She is also a member of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association and an active member in the Junior League of Gainesville.

Shaneequa Cannon is the rebel teacher. Five years into her 13-year career as a public school Language Arts teacher, she realized students needed more than just literature lessons; they also needed lessons about life. They didn’t need to hear about their potential; they needed help seeing and achieving it. This realization spawned a change in her teaching, causing her to bring back play in the classroom in order to reignite their imagination and curiosity. She used their life experiences to connect deeper with the literature and to rekindle their love of reading for more than a state assessment. When Shaneequa began meeting with clients as a business consultant and a story coach, she saw exactly the same need. Clients forgot how to play, to believe in themselves, and to appreciate their experiences. After publishing her own books, Giving Yourself Permission: Reclaim Your Life after Sexual Assault and Manifest: A Guide to Living the Life You Truly Want, Shaneequa now teaches others to embrace, share, and write their own stories. The world is now her classroom.

Invited Speakers

Antonio Farias joined the University of Florida in 2018 as its first chief diversity officer and senior advisor to the president. He oversees university-wide efforts to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion and to establish a new standard of inclusive excellence. He was previously vice president for equity and inclusion at Wesleyan University and, before that, the inaugural chief diversity officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He has also held positions at Mercy College, Hunter College, and Colgate University. Farias has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master of fine arts from the University of California, Riverside. He believes trail running, fly fishing, and big dogs soothe the soul.

Mary Alford is a Gainesville native and a sixth generation Floridian. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Florida and an alumni of the University of Florida with a Masters of Engineering, with an undergraduate degree in Environmental Engineering and with additional background in Urban and Regional Planning and Process Engineering. She worked for Gainesville Regional Utilities in the Water/Wastewater Department and worked for Progress Energy in environmental compliance, power plant management, and project management. Observing first hand the environmental cost of energy production led to a career change to energy optimization and sustainable building practices. She partnered with local architect Jennifer Langford to form the Sustainable Design Group over ten years ago and has been a proponent of smaller homes since “before it was cool”. The Sustainable Design Group has designed affordable, sustainable and beautiful homes built as emergency housing, homeless housing, tiny houses on wheels and historically sized homes for urban infill. Current affordable housing projects are located in Augusta, Georgia; Florence, South Carolina and Atlanta. Mary serves on multiple boards – she is the current Chair of Gainesville Regional Utilities Advisory Board, on the Alachua County Code Enforcement Board, on the Executive Committee of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, and the board for the Cultural Arts Coalition. She is a past president of the Heart of Florida Chapter of the US Green Building Council and past Chair of Alachua County’s Environmental Protection Advisory Council.

Pastor Gerard Duncan is the Senior Pastor of Prayers By Faith Ministries and President of Innovative Dads Inc. He is a Social Entrepreneur and Civic Engagement Advocate for Children and Families. Pastor Duncan is a native of Andros Bahamas and raised in Carol City, Florida. He is passionate about the well being of Alachua County communities and families. Pastor Duncan through his Church community outreach, recognized the need of the community and the disconnect between organizations with resources and the community families. Pastor Duncan has been instrumental in developing programs for Fathers, reentry, mentoring programs for at-risk youth and their families and parent engagement workshops and seminars. He has organized and collaborated with many organizations for community engagement events that targeted at-risk youth and engaged them with recreational and educational activities. He and a group of young men he mentored through his fatherhood training program, Innovative Dads, work to help revitalize communities and to create measurable outcomes for sustainability. Pastor Duncan is a member of the Black on Black Crime taskforce, past Chair of the Family/Jobs Committee Gainesville4All. Current member UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Advisory Committee. UF Strategic Jury Award Committee, City Of Gainesville Strategic Planning Committee. Dept. Of Juvenile Justice Faith Network. Sante Fe College Community Advisory Board.

Master of Ceremonies

Brandon West founded PHOS at the age of 26 out of his home office with the vision to be an anomaly inside of an over-promising and consistently underwhelming industry. With a strong commitment to culture and strategic planning, Brandon has led his team to become the highest rated marketing agency in North Central Florida, the 2016 Greater Gainesville Chamber’s Best Tech Company of the Year, the 2018 Employer of the Year, and, most recently, was honored as a 2019 Gator100 recipient for being one of the top 100 fastest growing Gator-led businesses in the world. When Brandon’s not leading the team, networking with other business executives, or assisting in a strategic initiative with clients, you’ll find him out on a date with his wife, playing a game with his sons, jamming on his guitar or piano, scuba diving in a cavern, or leading a group at his church.


Ganga Sheth has immersed herself in the core aspects of South Asian Sacred Dance for over 15 years, studying intensively under the direct guidance of the most renowned Odissi gurus of our era. Choreographing, performing and teaching in over 10 countries across five continents, Ganga enriches her art by combining the sacred disciplines of Odissi, yoga and the Bhakti tradition into which she was born. She is dedicated to offering both her audiences and her students a unique, holistic approach to Odissi by bridging Eastern and Western techniques and exploring the spiritual and physical philosophy behind the dance. She has committed herself to preserving the art of Odissi by continuing to expand her understanding and appreciation of the body as a sacred space. Ganga is a graduate of Odissi studies and a certified yoga teacher, currently working towards her degree in Dance & Movement Therapy at the University of Florida.

Simone Seely is a classically trained, bi-lingual violinist who is also at home playing Celtic, Americana, and orchestral music. She has won the official Florida State Fiddle Contest as well as numerous other awards -including the State concerto competition and the regional Long Leaf Pine Fiddle Contest. As a two time Future Music Makers scholarship recipient, she is excited to share her musical expressions with the TEDxGainesville community and beyond. When she is not making music, she enjoys video editing, cooking her favorite recipes, and taking care of her pets.

We are looking for ideas that

  • inspire and invite conversations
  • challenge our conceptions of what is possible
  • expose us to cutting edge ideas and solutions
  • reflect new voices that may not have been heard before
  • represent diverse speakers by demographic, ethnicity, background and/or topic

We will reject ideas that

  • vague or underdeveloped or unsupported by data
  • purely motivation or personal in nature
  • already ubiquitous
  • are motivated by or seek to promote corporate, political, or religious agendas

Interested? We invite you to apply as a speaker or performer.  Applications will be accepted through Friday, December 14, 2018. Please follow the link to the survey below.

TEDxGainesville Speaker/Performer Application