Wood sculptors, environmental lawyers and postcard collectors inhabit the Sarasota-Manatee area, drive down the same roads and shop at the same stores, but focus so much on their chosen fields and creating their own spheres of influence that their paths never cross. Curious about what might happen if professionals from various circles came together to share their work and ideas, architect and Sarasota resident Michael Halflants created the 10x10 speaker series in 2009. During this fast-paced event, 10 speakers each have five minutes to present 10 slides to the audience and leave a lasting impact. The event ran through 2020 but went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This past January, Halflants reintroduced the event at the Sarasota Art Museum, uniting members of the community eager to share a slice of their lives from the last two years.

Born in Belgium, Halflants has a great affinity for the public speaking culture of the United States, which inspired the 10x10. “The United States has an incredible history of speeches that other countries don’t have,” he says. “In Europe, you try to fit as many facts as possible into the speech, but in the United States, you want the speech itself to have an impact, so you think more about combining content with delivery.” 

The 10x10 represents a challenge for leaders and innovators to move the audience by sharing a small glimpse into their work and lives. Like choreographing a dance, the speakers must balance the pace of their speeches with the information that they wish to convey in a seamless manner. “There’s a certain energy in the pace and performance of presenting in 300 seconds,” Halflants says, deconstructing the ways in which speakers choose to highlight various aspects of their work. Some presenters zoom in on one particular project that they’ve been working on, like Chelsea Bruner, a professor at the Ringling College of Art and Design who recapped the work her students are doing to transform a historic home owned by a prominent Black family from Sarasota into a cultural center. Others, such as painter Lisa DiFranza, showcased a different work of art on each slide, weaving them together to share her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This event brings us out of our bubble,” adds Halflants, “and I find it fascinating to hear how people are carving their own lives within the same area where I live. To talk to someone doing something entirely different from you is refreshing and puts what you do in perspective.” 

The 10x10 speaker series will return in April and October of 2023. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit 10slides10speakers.com.