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Cup of Copy: TED Talks

So after perusing my Netflix account for a couple of hours and getting about 10 minutes into a handful of boring movies I came across an intriguing suggestion. I’ve heard the name before and have seen various Facebook statuses on the topic so I thought why not give it a try. Little did I know, I’d spend the next four hours watching several episodes and learning more than I did in over a decade of schooling. Today I want to talk about the mass appeal of TED Talks.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 5.57.17 PMOver 6 years ago TED Talks was pitched to BBC in hopes of getting picked up and aired in the homes of millions around the world. Unfortunately, BBC rejected TED Talks because they deemed it too intellectual. If you compare TED Talk’s Facebook likes (2.4 million) compared to BBC’s best show, Downtown Abbey, (1 million) you can see that BBC  may have jumped the gun with this denial. So what are TED Talks and why are they so encapsulating?

What is TED?

TED is an intellectual and emotional conference held regularly in Monterey, California. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and features short, engaging speeches from some of the world’s most influential people. To date, some of the more famous speakers include Bono, Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Peter Gabriel to name a few. TED Talks cover a range of topics, from how to effectively run your business to how to tie your shoes the right way. The beauty of TED Talks is not what it is but how and why they are effective.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 5.58.27 PMWhy TED?

So why did I spend my Saturday afternoon watching TED Talks?  And even more importantly, why did it not feel like a complete waste of time? When deciding to write about TED Talks, I began to realize that the latter question was a compelling realization. I actually felt productive when I watched these speeches.


When I turned on the first speech I had no idea what or who this TED character was. However, as the camera zoomed in, I did recognize the person giving the speech – J.J Abrams – and he was talking about his passion for mystery.  Ah ha! The brand TED has now gained some credibility and I start developing trust.


Another very effective tool utilized in all of the speeches was support. Every conclusion was drawn by giving examples, evidence, and research. This plays into credibility, because the vivid backing provides substance to the speaker’s topic.


The great thing about TED Talks is that there are relatively no guidelines for subject matter. Some people talk about business, others talk about personal endeavors, and some just give personal life tips. Each speaker talks about something that they are truly passionate about. What I began to see is that I was less concerned with the topic, but rather the speaker’s passion for the topic.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 6.02.47 PMBrevity

What I believe to be one of the more interesting aspects of TED Talks is the shortness of each presentation. Most hover right around 18 minutes and some are shorter or longer. The interesting fact about this time frame is that the average student holds an optimal focus attention span for roughly 10-18 minutes. Seeing as we are engaging in a learning experience this seems to be a parameter that ensures perfect engagement.

What I Have Learned

After watching TED Talks and delving into some research about the effectiveness, I began to question whether these talks were not just perfectly executed content marketing strategies. I’d recommend looking at this study conducted about the true effectiveness of TED Talks. But in short, I realized that I was less interested in the information as much as the presentation itself.

When it comes to content, TED Talks knows what they are doing and maybe we should all take away their strategy. Of course, we cannot necessarily get the superstars that TED does, but we can gain credibility through strong support. You can also keep the content short so you do not lose your audience who has a seemingly shorter and shorter attention span. Finally, make the content something you have passion about and it will be rewarding to yourself and your audience.

Take some time to watch TED Talks, you can learn a lot more than just the topic of discussion.

About the author

Derek Miller