TED Talks and TED Conferences

George Drivas Function Leave a Comment

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.

A TEDx event is a local conference of live TED live talks by influential speakers under the “Ideas worth spreading” umbrella”. They are independent gatherings planned and coordinated by the community they address. Their aim is to offer a diversity of topics from many disciplines avoiding any political, commercial or religious bias or agenda.

Why are TED talks so popular?

PART A: According to https://reva.edu.in/blog/why-ted-talks-are-so-popular/ there are at least 8 reasons why:

  1. Freely available– Earlier attending a TED conference was a luxury as ticket prices were quite expensive, however in 2006, executives pulled all these TED’s archived talks online for free. With this, the popularity exploded, and the freely available videos were streamed across the world.
  2. Go beyond classrooms – Regular classroom does get boring and these presentations help students to explore ideas and inspire career paths that they might not haveknown before. Since students don’t get opportunities to discover new topics during school, these TED talks challenge them to think outside of the box and seek solutions to complex ideas.
  3. Can happen at a college campus – This non-profit organization has expanded and now offers TEDx, TED-like events organized and run by independent organizers which include MNCs and colleges. These talks are centered towards local issues and concerns that interest students.
  4. Discussion on specific topics–One of the major reasons behind their popularity is their strange ability to bring attention-grabbing topics to connect with the viewers. Isn’t it wonderful to know about amazing discoveries that you have never explored before? Whether it is about jaw-dropping ocean exploration or training rats to sniff out landmines, these presentations will leave you awestruck.
  5. Diverse speakers – TED speakers include influencers, award-winning authors, inventors, prodigies, military strategists, beatboxers, feminists and many more. Not only they are eclectic, but they challenge and inspire you to bring change in the society. If you are interested in cybersecurity or want to know how to spot a liar, these speakers are experienced and have an in-depth knowledge of their subjects, thus making the presentation informative and entertaining.
  6. Short duration– These presentations won’t take more than 20 minutes of your time. You can listen to them while commuting to the office or watch a TED talk during your lunch break. Curated especially for millennials, these talks are “long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”
  7. Fascinating and focused– In a TED talk, one speaker drives the presentation, so you are more focused towards the topic with no panel discussion, Q&A segment to bring down the narrative. More like scripted stories, they are fun to watch and help in piquing the interest of the listener.
  8. Appeal to the global crowd –Today’s younger generation connect with others via social media channels. As students follow global and political events online, TED talks fuel this demand to become aware and educated about an unexplored topic, thus making them connected global citizens.

PART B: According to Tomer Eldor from https://towardsdatascience.com/data-reveals-what-makes-a-ted-talk-popular-6bc15540b995 the following characteristics emerge as the most prominent in the research of relevant data (his comments):

What are features of a popular talk with high number of views?

  1. High number of comments (naturally).
  2. Translations in many languages (also, naturally).
  3. The combination of many comments and many translation languages yields a much higher view count than expected by each of them alone.
  4. It shouldn’t be too short. Duration didn’t have a big effect at all, but if any, it was positive for longer talks. The most popular talks were between 8–18 minutes.
  5. Higher number of tags, ideally between 3–8.
  6. It would be uploaded on a weekday, preferably a Friday!
  7. You may see some funky occupations yielding much higher than average views for their talks, such as: Neuroanatomist, Quiet revolutionary, Lie detector, Model, beatboxer, Vulnerability researcher, or Zen Priest. This isn’t representative, but they did yield the highest number of votes combined (which is an unfair game, but hey).

What is the impact of TED Talks and format?

According to Hanna Brooks Olsen in How TED Inspired a Whole Generation of Public Speakers (https://www.creativelive.com/blog/rise-of-ted-talks/)

Talks also play into a cultural desire and possible need for inspiration, something that is both positive and, as the late Stella Young pointed out in her talk, sometimes misguided. There’s been some research (and much hand-wringing) about the negative impact of social media on our emotions. Dubbed “the Age of Rage” way back in 2011, the digital era has some internet users feels extra-unhappy — which could explain our clamoring for something to offset the negativity. Inspiration is a science, and TED Talks and Creative Mornings lectures have tapped into it by offering information that is both educational and has a feeling of support and community. The messages, even when they’re about extremely grave or sad subjects, feel hopeful, as if there’s a solution to nearly any problem.


TED Talks have spawned a number of books like Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo   (see detailed review at http://www.allthingspresentations.com/talk-like-ted/ and How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations by Jeremey Donovan (see detailed review at http://www.allthingspresentations.com/how-to-deliver-a-ted-talk/).  Furthermore, specialists like communications expert Nancy Duarte were called in to work on improving TED Presentations (check slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte at http://www.allthingspresentations.com/books-worth-reading-slideology/) .

Olsen argues that: TED Talks and other lecture series may not save the world, but the popularity of this medium as a method of communication definitely tells us something that we probably already knew, but also tend to forget: That as much as we like to talk, we also really like to listen and learn.

What does the opposition say?

Not everybody is a fan of TED Talks and TEDx Conferences. There is a lot of hype associated with them and the subsequent, occasionally unavoidable self-importance can be a turn off for the novice layman. Take Julie Bindel, for instance, at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/23/ted-talk-smugness-presenters-embarrassing where she claims that “The rehearsed smugness of the presenters puts me off the content – which is all about making the simple sound profound”.

She paints the following picture which is not far from truth: Picture this. A darkened auditorium, an attentive, cult-like audience staring ahead expectantly, hardly daring to breathe; a huge screen on which there is an image no one can decipher. And then, the person everyone has been waiting for strides confidently on to the spotlit stage, wearing a headset and carrying a PowerPoint remote, dressed immaculately and sporting a brand-new haircut. You can hear a pin drop as the presenter begins, “You think the world is round, but I am going to tell you to begin to believe it is actually square.”

Her allegations are pretty serious when she claims that: TED makes some pretty big claims: according to its website, its aim is to “foster the spread of great ideas, [by providing] a platform for thinkers, visionaries and teachers … Core to this goal is a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea.” It’s difficult to know how it will change the world when style appears to be given a hundred times more thought than content. I imagine speakers rehearsing before the audition, checking hand gestures in the mirror in front of a bemused cat. Why do they all seem to perform identical gesticulations?

What is the Business behind the Brand?

Nilofer Merchant in her articleWhen TED Lost Control of Its Crowd” which can be found at the Harvard Business Review site at https://hbr.org/2013/04/when-ted-lost-control-of-its-crowd argues that TED has benefitted from the ‘open’ business model: The benefits of open innovation are clear. Yet many companies still worry about an approach that involves collaborating and sharing power with many. Openness is indeed risky, as the TED example clearly shows. TED’s army of volunteers has extended its reach to more than 130 countries. But because TED allows nearly anyone to contribute, it no longer completely controls its content or its brand.

Nilofer Merchant goes on to indicate that: When it was founded, in 1984, TED (which stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design”) brought together a few hundred people in a single annual conference in California. Today, TED is not just an organizer of private conferences; it’s a global phenomenon with $45 million in revenues. She even mentions that from 279 Tedx events in 2009, they increased to 2,733 in 2012

Further on: “Leaders might wonder whether the rewards of openness are outweighed by its risks—especially when they have a public company to run and predictable results to deliver. To gauge the trade-offs, you first need to understand that “open” does not mean “easy” or “free.” Second you need to know how to get a crowd working with you and not against you. That will mean adopting new practices: listening harder, aligning through shared purpose, and opening your organization in the ways that matter.”

How Open Is Open?

TED has different approaches for different contributors and audiences.

  • Access to TED.com content
  • TEDx attendance
  • Opportunities to present at TEDx

TEDx licensees choose the presenters. Videos of presentations are posted on TEDx’s YouTube channel. TEDx attendees may be charged a small (less than $100) fee to help cover conference costs.

  • TED conference attendance
  • TEDx licenses

TED conference attendees undergo an application process and pay a fee. TEDx licensees are vetted by TED.

  • com contributions
  • Opportunities to speak at TED conferences

All content is selected by TED staff (but translated by volunteers whose work is peer-reviewed).

If you have attended a TEDx event then some (or all) of the comments above may sound familiar. If you are planning to attend a TEDx event in your area then you may find that certain aspects of the event need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

All Things Presentations
George Drivas

George Drivas

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I consider myself as innovative and strategic, motivational, discreet and amicable, thorough and effective. Sometimes I think I try too hard!

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