TED talks are a global set of conferences which are dedicated to ‘ideas worth spreading’. The talks have seen scientists, academics, celebrities, business people and even former presidents step on stage and discuss a wide range of topics. Through lectures and presentations, TED talks have reached out to a global audience and every single one of them is guaranteed to make you think. Some people use the opportunity to openly challenge and reflect on some of the most pressing issues affecting the world today while other speakers set out to captivate and inspire through their own personal experiences or uplifting life stories.
10. David Blaine – How I held my breath for 17 minutes
David Blaine seems like the last person anyone would ever expect to give a presentation at a TED talk, but in 2009 the magician/illusionist took to the TED stage to talk about he how broke a world record by holding his breath for more than 17 minutes. Even in the lecture hall environment Blaine’s personality comes across as elusive and enigmatic as ever, but he does offer a candid ‘behind the curtain’ look at his process and the thought and preparation he puts into his unique brand of showmanship. It’s a surprisingly scientific look at the limits the human body is capable of, but Blaine still manages to weave in how these types of endurance stunts fit into his repertoire as an illusionist.
9. Jill Bolte Taylor – My Stroke of Insight
Euphoria and nirvana are not terms you would typically hear from someone who is talking about how it feels to have a stroke, but they’re the words neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor uses to describe how she felt when she woke up one morning and started suffering from the effects of a massive stroke. Taylor had a clot the size of a golf ball removed from her brain by surgeons and she spent a long time recovering from the massive trauma that she suffered, but the experience seemingly changed her life for the better. Taylor reveals shocking scientific insight about the human brain and truly challenges our concept of consciousness and who we think we are.
8. Jon Ronson – Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test
Although journalist Jon Ronson took the opportunity to appear at TED to discuss the notion of ‘psychopaths’, his talk isn’t a grisly analysis of some of true crime’s worst criminals. Instead, Ronson is more concerned with the psychology behind what he describes as a ‘mental anomaly’ and he looks at how people – whether they are hardened criminals, powerful businessmen or journalists like himself – fit into the boxes of the ‘psychopath test’ developed by criminal psychologist Robert D. Hare. Ronson transforms his talk with animation and music and he creates a deliberately uneasy atmosphere which is very suitable for the subject matter. However, Ronson’s talk is made all the more remarkable by the fact that even though the concept of the psychopath test is undoubtedly engrossing and fascinating, by the end of his presentation he manages to completely turn the subject on its head and implores the audience to question even the most rigid scientific tests.
7. Mary Roach – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm
Writer Mary Roach is well-known for tackling taboo subjects with some matter-of-fat humour, and she certainly accomplished this when she stepped on the TED stage to teach the audience a thing or two about orgasms. Delving into some weird medical cases and discussing anatomy, the brain and the history of medicine, Roach’s talk is an entertaining and funny look at the endlessly surprising capabilities of the human body.
6. May El-Khalil – Making Peace is a Marathon
Although TED is typically better known for its scientific insight and discussion, many speakers also talk about social, economic and political issues. Talking about her experience living in her home country Lebanon, May El-Khalil explains how she would find escape from the day-to-day violence through long-distance running. Tragically one day while she was training, El-Khalil was hit by a bus and was hospitalised for nearly two years as she underwent dozens of surgeries to help her walk again. When she finally left the hospital, El-Khalil was determined to organise a national marathon in Lebanon to bring people together and reflect a desire for peace and harmony through running. Like the best TED talks El-Khalil’s passion and optimism shines through and the journey she took to create the biggest running events in the Middle East is truly inspiring.
5. Jamie Oliver – Teach Every Child about Food
Jamie Oliver may have started out as just another TV chef in his native Britain, but in 2010 he attracted global attention with his ‘Food Revolution’. In his TED talk Oliver makes an impassioned plea to start treating obesity – namely childhood obesity – as the powder keg catastrophe it really is. Talking about his time in Huntington, West Virginia where he filmed a TV series on obesity, Oliver succinctly explains how fast food, processed products and convenience meals have all become ingrained in our diets. Oliver’s presentation is shocking but it’s also engrossing and optimistic, and he demonstrates how a few simple changes in the home kitchen and in school cafeterias could effectively save an entire generation from obesity.
4. Amy Cuddy – Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on ‘power poses’ is arguably the most effective piece of advice any person can immediately implement into their life (and it’s also the second most-viewed video on the TED website with over 19 million hits). Body language is a fascinating subject but many people underestimate the power it has and fail to realise how the human brain subconsciously reacts to even the slightest changes in a person’s posture, stance, etc. Social psychologist Cuddy argues that adopting ‘high-power poses’ which convey authoritativeness or dominance (for example, the hands on hips “Wonder Woman pose” or sitting back in a chair with your legs on a desk and hands behind your hand) for just a few minutes at a time can drastically increase a person’s self-confidence, even in stressful situations where they may not be feeling as assured as they normally do, i.e. at a job interview. However, this isn’t baseless pop psychology as Cuddy talks about controlled tests where subjects did these poses for two minutes before a high pressure, simulated situation. The results showed that these high-power poses can positively affect the levels of cortisol and testosterone – steroid hormones which control how we feel stress – in the brain. Like some of the other outstanding TED talks, the presentation is made all the more inspiring as Cuddy shares her own ‘fake it until you make it’ story from her personal life and career.
3. Sir Tim Berners-Lee – A Magna Carta for the web
With recent talk about net neutrality, fast lanes and web surveillance, it’s clear that the future of the Internet is at a very important crossroads. What was once seen as the ‘wild west’ of open, free information is at risk of government and big corporate intervention, and it is the end user who will suffer the most from these planned changes. Who better to talk about the future of the World Wide Web than its creator? Sir Tim Berners-Lee returned to the TED stage in 2014 to instigate a “crowdsourced Magna Carta for the web”. Berners-Lee brings up important points that all web users should be concerned about, and he closes his talk with a poignant message as he asks everyone to fight for the web in his name.
2. Bobby McFerrin – Watch me Play … the Audience!
Musician Bobby McFerrin perfectly demonstrates how our bodies are fundamentally wired to understand and replicate music with this short 3 minute presentation on the pentatonic scale. McFerrin takes different positions on the stage and instructs the audience as to what different notes they should produce based on where he is standing. McFerrin then starts bouncing left and right as the audience sings back corresponding notes in a big, unrehearsed group sing-along. It’s a brief performance but it is an entertaining way to effectively demonstrate just how quickly and easily the brain can pick up and reproduce musical patterns.
1. Ken Robinson – How Schools Kill Creativity
Education is forever under scrutiny and discussion about the modern state of schooling invariably turns to talk about the effectiveness of teachers, school performance levels, the practicalities of exams and qualifications, and many other issues. However, few critics really look at what children are learning in school. Ken Robinson takes aim at the universal idea of the education system where maths and language is at the top and arts at the bottom, and he argues that the way these subjects are hierarchically ordered not only squanders children’s ‘capacities for innovation’ but that it also essentially devalues academic worth. Robinson’s argument that the education system needs restructuring and revaluing is an impassioned wake-up call, and it’s no wonder why it is the most popular TED talk of all time.