Leslie Belknap Loves Ideas Worth Spreading and Loves Nashville

Leslie Belknap lived in Chattanooga until she was 16 years old when she moved to Washington. She graduated from high school in Spokane and then lived in San Francisco, Cali., Knoxville, Tenn., and Tucson, Arizona before settling in Nashville.

Today, Leslie, 33, is the program director of TEDxNashville.

On the board of the organization for several years and previously serving as co-chair of the speaker’s committee, Leslie accepted a new leadership position with the nonprofit three months ago.


“I have a really strong passion for TED and TEDx because some of the videos have had a really positive impact on my life,” she said. “When I talk to people about TED and TEDx I find that most people have had a similar experience where there has been an idea or a message in a video that has impacted them and stayed with them over a period of time. It’s a beautiful thing to see people come together and share messages and ideas.”

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a group of conferences all around the word. Their theme “Ideas Worth Spreading” focuses on sharing inspiring messages on different topics ranging from influences of pop culture to science, history, the creative arts, and more. TEDx events are local independently organized events in cities and communities globally.

Leslie said what she loves about TED and TEDx is that it connects people to ideas easier by simplifying ideas and talks to 18 minutes.

“People can listen to talks on their commute, while they’re walking their dog, or on their lunch break,” she said. “They don’t have to read a lengthy magazine article or read a book. It’s something that can be consumed easily. [TEDTalks] make that awareness and enlightenment more accessible for people who are busy.”

In 2013, Leslie worked with a presentation and design company that trained speakers. At the time, her company was approached to train speakers for TedxNashville that year.

When the agency decided to discontinue that community service the following year, Leslie chose to take on that opportunity personally and joined the board.

“It was a great fit for me,” she said. “I loved working with speakers, and within the organization, I think that’s where my heart is most. It’s such a rewarding and fun process to work with such brilliant people but to also have the honor and privilege to refine this gem of an idea that is within them.”

“It’s not the easiest thing to hold up a mirror to ourselves and say this is my brilliant idea so sometimes we need someone to hold up that mirror for us. It was just such a cool thing to be that person for these amazing people.”

Leslie said Sally Taylor’s talk on “The Beautiful Dilemma of Our Separateness” and Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight” are some of her favorite talks and ones she always recommends.

“There are talks like those that just blow my mind,” she said. “It’s like why don’t I already know about something like and why aren’t people talking about this?”

She said with so many good talks out there it all depends on what someone is interested in but said there’s something for everyone. She said it’s fun to see ideas spread on their own and people have light bulb moments when they hear or see something new.


Before moving to Nashville in 2014, Leslie was a professional house sitter in Tucson, Arizona and all over the Southwest.

“The best part about it was that it was a self-selecting, in that, people who were using the site typically had large, beautiful homes,” she said. “It was something a 20-year-old would do.”

She said now she probably watches too many 20/20 and Dateline episodes to do it again but said at the time she was wonderfully naïve, and it was an amazing way to travel the world.

After house sitting, Leslie went back to live in Tucson for about eight years. She went to college at Prescott College in Arizona and began working on a documentary photography series in Northern and Central Mexico about the indigenous Tarahumara people of Copper Canyon.

Leslie said she loved Arizona and would have probably never left, but a few things changed in her personal life, and she decided she wanted to come back and be closer to her family in Chattanooga.

“I loved Chattanooga and loved Atlanta, too, but I didn’t want to move there,” she said. “I picked a spot close by and thought about Nashville. The goal was to get closer to my family but also find adventure while doing it. I love Nashville, and I feel like I’ve found my place here working with TEDxNashville.”

Leslie recently bought a house in East Nashville.

She said whenever she thinks about a new coffee shop or new cool thing opening she gets excited.

“This is my home. I love walking my dog and riding my bike,” she said. “I want to be able to walk and ride my bike to different cool places. It helps my home have good value, so I welcome most of the development.”


“[A community is] a group of people who are brought together by shared interests and goals, and share a sense of connection to one another.”

She said the TEDxNashville community consists of the TEDxNashville board, partners, sponsors, and volunteers as well as TEDxNashville audience members.

“The TEDxNashville community shares a passion for great ideas, innovation, and positive change.”

She said from her limited experience and knowledge of what’s happening, she said she wished she saw more thought going into green spaces and active living that supports a healthy lifestyle.

“Having moved from Tucson with nature smacking you in the face with huge mountains and big open skies, I crave a city that wants to let nature reclaim some of it for the health of its citizens, so I’m split on it,” she said. 

She said she loves seeing the new businesses and loves to see the homes get renovated, but she said she doesn’t see enough trees being planted or sidewalks being built.

Leslie said her family and friends are always her top priority, and that she is excited to be able to focus on TEDxNashville full-time.

To see videos of TedxNashville 2016 click here!

Thanks for reading Nashville!