Why TED Talks Matter

Yesterday’s post was about TED Talks as a platform for big ideas and John Spencer’s observation that, as a platform, TED Talks don’t leave much room for critique or response. TED Talks are idea packages, tailor-made to get an idea out into the world. They aren’t a platform for actually vetting those ideas and figuring out how and if they should be used. That kind of work happens someplace else. Or doesn’t.

I was captured by the plain truth of Spencer’s observation, but I can’t leave it there. Yesterday’s post was about what TED Talks are not. We need to talk about what TED Talks are.

I love TED Talks. The world needs TED and, I believe, the world is a better place for the kind of sharing that takes place there. TED is like a giant Enlightenment-era salon, where smart people get together and trade smart ideas and work to understand some kind of idealistic truth and then return to their daily lives feeling refreshed and inspired. That’s part of what TED is.

Today I watched Amanda Palmer’s talk about the art of asking. You should watch it. Her basic idea is that music companies (and presumably other media companies) should stop trying to figure out ways to force people to pay for music and, instead, figure out ways to allow people to pay for music. People love music. People connect to music and, by extension, their favorite musicians, on a deeply personal level. Those people want to pay to for music. You just have to let them. You have to know how to ask. It really is an interesting and inspiring talk.

Watching Palmer’s talk, I was struck once again by something very essential to the TED Talk experience. TED Talks are about storytelling and how stories connect people to ideas. Good stories do more than illustrate ideas. They create visceral, emotional connections to ideas, concepts and goals. Stories are how we get people to do things. Stories are how we get people to help us change the world.

My friend Daryl mentioned that TED Talks really are sales pitches more than they are lectures. He’s right. Maybe there are other places where big ideas go to get vetted and improved. Maybe the unique gift of TED presenters is their very powerful grasp of how story connects people to ideas and motivates people to want change. Maybe that’s what we need TED to be, a place to find stories that motivate and inspire us to want to change or try something new. Maybe TED isn’t really only about big ideas. Maybe TED is about connecting people to each other with story. If so, that may just be enough.

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7 thoughts on “Why TED Talks Matter

  1. Hmm. TED as narrative non-fiction. I think you may be onto something there. TED isn’t really a conversation, it’s a collection of stories.

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  2. Good post! My child’s Middle School teachers have the kids listen to TED talks and then discuss them. It is an awesome idea and the kids get a lot out of it. And so do I because they bring the information home to the dinner table! A win/win all around!

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    1. My daughter is in kindergarten. We have some great conversations already but I can’t wait to share TED talks with her and get her perspective on Ideas That Matter. So glad your family shares stuff like this at the dinner table. That time is very important, IMHO.

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  3. I love TED talks too, use them in my speech classes all the time. They bear more resemblance to talks that address real-world speaking situations than a whole battalion of politicians or preachers, which is the usual model for most students. I’m looking forward to watching Palmer’s video–thanks! I’m in Dallas for the League for Innovation Conference, and I’d much rather watch this than mindless TV (which I wouldn’t do anyway). Come to think of it, I’m going to use an excerpt of a TED talk for a presentation tomorrow on PowerPoint CPR! Great Minds Think Alike, you know. 🙂

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    1. Ha! Politicians and preachers, in my experience, very often prejudice style over substance. The sound of the thing becomes more important than the thing that is being said. Most TED Talks strike a balance with style and substance. I admire your work, Donn, and your passion for helping people par their words down to find the authentic idea. Have fun in Dallas.

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