Locals + Culture

If you’ve spent any time at a local coffee shop, market, park, or any water cooler-type spot in the last few months, you’ve probably heard of something called the Wasatch Speaker Series. If you haven’t, we’ll give you the short and sweet of it, because this is a salty new staple worth getting acquainted with. The series, which kicked off last October, has brought a dazzling array of heavy-hitting speakers to our very own Abravanel Hall (think: Joe Biden, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Sanjay Gupta). And, though housed in one of our grandest concert halls, the events have a welcome air of intimacy. This is perhaps due to a few contributing factors: 1) Attendees must purchase a package to attend all speakers, so there’s no playing of favorites, 2) Each event ensures a small portion of seats is reserved for high school students from an array of socioeconomic communities in the SLC area, 3) Time is reserved post-speech for a few Q's and A's, and 3) There is no photography or video recording permitted. Ever.

Gary and Rob Lauer, the father-son duo responsible for bringing this ace lineup of experts-in-their-fields to SLC, both boast successful backgrounds in tech. Lured from Silicon Valley in search of world-renowned powder, the two soon realized how quickly the tech boom was expanding west and reckoned they’d start their own company based in Salt Lake. But rather than joining the tech party, the two decided to help curb a growing appetite for mental stimulation while simultaneously giving back to the community--they created what would become the much talked-about and wildly-successful Wasatch Speaker Series.

But it wasn’t an easy start. When the Lauers first began pitching the idea around town, they ran into a few roadblocks, and understandably so (after all, it's a pretty radical concept). But, with some tech savvy and a touch of tenacity, they were able to gain momentum and support in equal measure. They had sponsors. They had a venue. But how do you get some of the most accomplished people in their given fields to come speak in the greater Salt Lake area? By giving them a safe space to speak their minds, of course.

The goal: to allow humanism back into the discussion.

The platform the Lauers were trying to create was designed to allow an unbiased, candid approach to presenting freely and openly. The “no cameras” rule was implemented from a sense of wanting their guests to be able to speak sans fear of being taken out of context, and the other aforementioned standards were set with the intention of getting as many ears on a speaker as possible. Rob and Gary wanted to make sure they had a well-rounded roster of speakers, touching on as many subjects as possible with as diverse a group as they could gather. The Lauers wanted to encourage attendees to open their minds and hear speakers they might not have otherwise listened to.

Their overall goal was to create a fun, stimulating, provocative, and educational experience to open people’s minds and inspire future generations. The duo aimed to have the Wasatch Speaker Series be the preeminent speaker forum in the country, and hoped to put SLC on the map. And, if you had a chance to attend any from last season—or have had a look at next season’s line up (set to include Madeleine Albright, Steve Wozniak, and James Comey, to name a few)—we think you’ll agree they’re on the right track.

We were thrilled to have been invited to attend and photograph last season's evening with the venerable Dr. Jane Goodall, so we can COLLECTIVELY attest that the Wasatch Speaker Series is well worth the price of admission.

Tickets are going fast--click here to purchase.

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