9 Talks That Are a Great Introduction to TED

Since I started My Year of TED in 2011, I've found myself explaining TED quite a lot. Last week I had to do this again, and I was reminded of a blog post I did in 2012. I thought I'd share it with you here -- noting that there have been hundreds of new talks since this time, but I think these still hold as a great introduction to TED.

It's not easy to convey just how fantastic TED Talks are and how life changing they have been in my life. So I thought that I should do a post for people who may not be familiar with TED, a post that points you in the direction of what I think are the best talks for you to start with. I would almost guarantee that after watching this small selection you will be hooked.

There are about 75 talks referenced on My Year of TED site, many of which I used in my project. To make it easier to know where to start, below is a list of nine talks that I think would give someone new to TED a great introduction to the type of talks and inspiration you can take from the site.

  1. Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius - if you are a creative person at all then this is a wonderful talk for you. It's a plea to re-frame the way that we conceive creativity, that it is only something that is on loan to us. So that if it fails us it is only that our muse has forsaken us, and not a flaw within ourselves. This has always been one of my favorite talks, and it is a great indication of a number of the talks on TED about how we think about ourselves and how that can sometimes be very problematic.
  2. Barry Schwartz: our loss of wisdom - this is the sort of talk that makes you stop and think about how we need to change the way we do things, how we think of each other in such limited ways and we don't really foster humanity. Barry explains the concepts of moral will and moral skill, which were new concepts for me and completely struck a chord. This one of many talks that I believe all leaders should listen too, even though it is about more than leadership. He's recently done a follow up TED Talk about how we think of work that is worth watching too.
  3. Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days - I thought that I should include one of the short talks. There are a number of talks under 6 minutes on the TED site that cover very simple but powerful ideas. This one formed the basis of My Year of TED, so of course I would have to think it was a great idea, and a great talk to include in this list.
  4. Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability (or Brené Brown: Listening to shame) - There is not a single list that I could make about inspirational TED talks that did not include a talk by Brené. I would recommend watching The Power of Vulnerability first, since the second talk does assume that you have seen the first. This talk, and her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, changed a lot of things for me, as I'm sure it has for thousands of other people around the world.
  5. Ze Frank: My web playroom - there are a lot of talks on TED that about technology, the internet, gaming and how all of these things have the ability to connect us. Ze's may not be the greatest example of this, but it is bound to make you smile and make you think. This is why I have included it, since it is a great talk to watch as an introduction to the technological aspects of TED talks.
  6. Rory Sutherland: Sweat the small stuff - like technology, design is a major topic in the TED world. How to design things better, how it works to make us happy and discussions about problems with design. This talk is a plea for a Chief Design Officer for all government organisations, since design can make or break the ability for people to interact with the services they provide. That improving the design of things in understated and inexpensive ways is often the better option.
  7. Susan Cain: The power of introverts -- this is another talk that I could not leave out of this list because of how much it resonated with me, and many people around me. It is one of the classification of talks that I call normalising talks. This means that it takes a personal attribute that you might have always been judged poorly on and says "you aren't alone and you are perfectly ok." Since I have often found that I have been negatively judged on my introversion this talk speaks volumes to me, and her book even more so, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
  8. Aimee Mullins: The opportunity of adversity - this is a great example of the subset of talks that are simply inspirational. Aimee has a number of talks on TED, but I think that this one is the best partly because of the storytelling but mainly because of the message. It was hard to pick just one inspirational talk to include in this list, there were so many that I could have selected, but I think this talk has something very special in it.
  9. Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? -- this last talk is the most watched talk on TED, and is part of a very important topic on TED, education. Personally this isn't the most innovative talk on how we need to change education on the site, but it is a very powerful talk challenging the underlying premise of how our education is organised and how we suffer because of the lack of value that is placed on creativity in that system. It is a wonderful talk, a great example of storytelling and it is completely understandable why it has been so popular.

I found it extremely hard to limit this list, there are just so many amazing talks full of incredible ideas and inspirational stories. There is one other talk that I would include in the list except that it is not actually a TED Talk (it is a curated talk), and it is over an hour long. It is the talk that I was Stumbled onto, the talk that led to me discovering TED many years ago. It is Randy Pausch: Really achieving your childhood dreams, a truly inspirational talk that has a bit of everything. Watch this, it will change your life, even if it's only for a little while.