TED Talks: What We Can Learn About More Effective Communication

Approaching ideas and presentations with the same creativity and intensity as your favourite TED Talk.

There are many reasons that TED Talks are so incredibly popular. We’re examining why these presentations have become a cultural phenomenon and sharing some of our favourites from the TED archives.

Established in 1984, TED began as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged. Today, the ubiquitous online videos cover virtually every topic conceivable - from politics to feminism, science, personal development and anything and everything between. Nobel Prize winners have presented, as have politicians, academics, celebrities, scientists and creatives from all walks of life. What began as a small, annual conference is now a globally recognisable brand responsible for large-scale conferences, a podcast, awards, education series and more. However, the ethos and ideology of TED remains very much unchanged, and as a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation the agenda remains; ideas worth spreading.

Talk Like TED

There is plenty to be learned from TED, not only in terms of content, but methodology. Speakers are given just 18 minutes to disseminate often complex ideas. The most successful and engaging speakers show us their passion for a single idea by using minimal, creative visuals and democratic language. Reflecting on the last time you presented to colleagues or clients, could you say the same? In 2016 TED released a video by Chris Anderson, the series curator who has coached and produced some of the most famous TED Talks. Anderson speaks specifically about how best to approach public speaking, identifying important attributes for delivering a memorable presentation. As he explains, the end goal is to build the idea you are describing for someone else. Anderson emphasises that ideas are the most powerful force shaping culture, and you should limit yourself to discussing just one major idea. Of course, at work, this is not necessarily possible, however, this point speaks to the fact that a focused presentation is beneficial to both you and your audience. It is not enough to assume your audience knows what you are talking about - make it rich and vivid for them by sharing examples, building on familiar concepts and making sure you use language that everyone understands.

A Numbers Game

One of the most important factors in the popularity of TED Talks? They are free to watch online. As of January 2018, there were 2600 talks openly available online and as of November 2012, TED Talks had recorded 1 billion views. The talks are inspiring and educational, and the sheer breadth of content means there is a talk to suit everyone, every mood, and every curiosity. A TED Talk is digestible and focused, and acts as an opportunity for personal development.

Todd Liipfert, TEC’s Development Director and frequent public speaker explains that the inherent focus of a TED Talk is a key learning that can be applied when presenting at work. He goes on to say that starting from a single thesis, building all subsequent arguments from this point and giving your ideas context is crucial to delivering a thoughtful and compelling presentation. Understanding your audience, that is, what they already know, what they need to know and why is also fundamental to successfully sharing information. Todd points out that the rule of 3 or 5 is a surefire way to ensure the information you are sharing is memorable to your audience. People tend to remember information in patterns and by organising your material into 3 or 5 key points, your audience, be they clients, team members or external stakeholders are more likely to retain critical information. Finally, keep things brief. Talking about something more isn’t necessarily going to make it better. Set a time limit and focus on clarity as opposed to length.

Popularity Contest

The popularity of TED Talks are a testament to the diversity of content. A surefire way to generate lively discussion is to ask for recommendations or propose a favourite. People are passionate about what they love and why. Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and TED speaker explains “The robust conversation that videos can inspire, both online and off, recognises a central principle of adult education: We learn best from other people.” In light of this, we invited members of our Global Marketing Team to share some of their favourite TED Talks.

From our Global Marketing Director, Chelsea Perino:

I think there is much more to learn from being wrong than there is from always having the right answer. Creativity is about exploring and not being afraid – the journey is the most exciting part because you never know what you will uncover!

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Sir Ken Robinson is absolutely the most inspiring presenter that I have ever seen and this presentation is spot on. What a dangerous future awaits when schools actively discourage creativity.

This talk emphasises that the way you see the world is made up of every moment in your life, every conversation, every experience - what a beautiful and exciting thing and the best foundation for creative innovation.

From our Global Content Lead, Lucie Marceaux:

Rory Sutherland is just incredible. He's been a Chairman and Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather UK for many years and is an expert when it comes to behavioural economics, which makes him so fascinating. He's also just a very funny - and very British - character.

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I love how this woman talks about stress. Everyone experiences stress in their work environment and we all share a curiosity and desire to address this.

Our culture is obsessed with happiness, but what if there's a more fulfilling path? I like this one because this is so true, what if having a purpose IS being happy?

From our Global Art Director, Jessie Lee

Jamila is amazing on camera and in person. She explores the complicated history with present-day identity. I’m drawn to this as an individual who is first generation born American-Asian.

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Sarah Kay has been doing spoken word since she was 14 years old. She talks about her journey as a poet, how to tell a story, and how she came to start her own organisation.

I love Lemon as a human being. He’s a hilarious individual who is also from New York and this just reminds me of home. He explains how much he loves poetry and how he wants to share it with the world.

From our Global Marketing Coordinator, Matilda de Kantzow

Such an articulate, and at points poetic explanation about the power of language. It made me really consider the responsibility and power of the words we use.

Such an insightful and open ended introduction to thinking critically about ourselves and not taking our surroundings for granted.

From our Global Copywriter, Kellie Eminson

I love this talk and the book that inspired it for giving us all permission to uphold our beliefs imperfectly. Collectively, small movements in the right direction might just be enough to enact change, and sometimes, it's ok to fall short.

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Watching the father of Malala Yousafzai affirm his commitment to the cause of equal education opportunities for all children after the trauma his family has suffered? Truly inspiring.

TED Talks are inspiring, eye-opening and thought-provoking, and one is never enough! They bring people together, make the world seem at once knowable but immense and provoke questions you may never have thought to ask. Where to start? Anywhere. There’s no limit to what you can achieve with a good idea.