Last Updated on January 18, 2022
In a world of mass communication, 24-hour TV, wall-to-wall entertainment and the ever-increasing vastness of the internet, it gets harder and harder to find high-quality viewing amongst the oceans of mediocrity. Against this background, the TEDTalks website shines like a beacon of excellence.
‘TED’ originated in 1984, promoting ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’. Video site TEDTalks was later introduced to show inspirational talks to the widest possible audience: as it proclaims, it’s all about ‘ideas worth spreading’.
Anyone who hasn’t yet encountered the wonders of TEDTalks is in for a surprise – and a treat. It’s nothing short of a phenomenon, offering a stunning collection of informative, educational, erudite – or sometimes simply entertaining – material, all completely free.
Two annual TED conferences, one in California and the other in Edinburgh, attract some of the most brilliant ‘thinkers and doers’, with the remit of talking about their lives or work – and doing so in no more than 18 minutes. Some manage in far less. And the compelling results can be seen on TEDTalks, along with other videos, mainly from the many TED events that are now held around the world.
All talks are fully searchable, and you can sort the results by various different criteria. Only got six minutes and want something that other viewers have found ‘jaw-dropping’? No problem: there will be a talk to fit the bill. Or have half-an-hour or so to while away and fancy something less mind-numbing than a soap opera? Just enter a length of time and your viewing preference – perhaps something informative, perhaps funny – and a playlist will be generated for you.
It’s a good idea to start off gently, and investigating the most viewed three-minute videos gives an indication of the potential.
Bobby McFerrin plays… the audience!
Number one, with 4,082,981 views at time of writing, is ‘Bobby McFerrin plays… the audience!’ Filmed at the World Science Festival in June 2009, musician McFerrin has infectious fun with the pentatonic scale, revealing some surprising aspects of human anticipation and expectation. It’s a joyful clip, and impossible to watch without a smile.
8 Secrets of Success
Number two (3,127,633 views) is ‘8 Secrets of Success’, filmed at TED2005. Analyst Richard St John spent many years investigating why some people succeed and others don’t – and then distilled a decade’s research into a mere 8 keywords, relayed in 3½ minutes. In just 210 seconds he conveys more inspirational information than an entire shelf of self-help books.
Try something new for 30 days
Number three (2,617,457 views) is Google engineer Matt Cutts at TED2011, asking his audience to ‘Try something new for 30 days’. It’s a recipe for effective change – a light-hearted but persuasive call to action. Anyone wishing to break one habit or start another would do well to invest a few minutes of their time listening to this advice.
How to start a movement
Number four (2,090,931 views) is musician and entrepreneur Derek Sivers at TED2012, on ‘How to start a movement’. He explains how it’s the followers who make a leader, not the actual leader – however charismatic he or she may be. As he says: “It’s the first follower who transforms a lone nut into a leader.” And he has a wonderfully funny video to prove it.
Keep your goals to yourself
And at number five (1,611,739 views) is Derek Sivers again, this time from TED2010, explaining why it’s wise to ‘Keep your goals to yourself’. He demonstrates the proven – and disappointing – consequences of telling family and friends about your ambitions; it sounds counter-intuitive, but after three minutes you’ll be convinced.
But these five are just by way of introduction to TEDTalks: there are far, far more, and once you’ve discovered them they’ll provide hours of enriching fun. You can seek out your own ‘top five’, selecting the criteria and devoting however much time you choose.
It’s astonishing how much knowledge, enthusiasm and sometimes beauty can be conveyed in such succinct presentations. Watch ‘Symbiosis’ by Pilobolus: it’s gorgeous, even if you didn’t think you liked modern dance. Be intrigued as colour-blind artist Neil Harbisson explains how his “eyeborg” allows him to hear colour. Be moved as Stacey Kramer reveals how a frightening experience turned out to be a priceless gift, giving her life new meaning.
It isn’t all contemporary. Material from TED’s early days has been digitised and put online. And there’s a rare pre-TED 1972 clip of the legendary Viktor Frankl talking about humanity’s search for meaning in life.
If anyone wants help in their own search for the meaning of life, they could do worse than listen to TEDTalks. There is great wisdom, and some exceptional entertainment too. If everyone spared just a few minutes a day to listen to a TEDTalk, they’d feel individually enriched. And the world would probably be a better place.
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