This past Thursday, I was surprised to discover that less than a third of my leadership club students had heard of TED talks. Okay, not surprised – shocked stupid. Maybe I was overreacting. But I love TED talks. Near religiously. I want to name my first child TED, even if she’s a girl. (Is my wife reading this? I didn’t mean that.)
But WHY? Simple. I know that watching TED talks over the last two years has really supercharged my development as a leader.
1. TED talks introduce me to the top thinkers of today.
TED is elitist. There, I said it.
I went to a U2 concert a long time ago. No Doubt opened. Epic show – and it cost over forty bucks a ticket for nosebleed-awful seats.
TED? It costs more than a hundred times more. Oh, and one cannot simply “sign up” for a TED concert. You have to be chosen.
This is elite.
Anyway, these are no ordinary speakers and thinkers, ladies and gentlemen. These are the rockstars of the thought world. There’s a reason why this thing is so expensive.
I’m indebted to TED.com, though, for giving us everyday folk a chance to hear the talks for free. And they’ve introduced me to thinkers I’d never heard of.
Sir Ken Robinson. Seth Godin. Brene Brown. Susan Cain. Hans Rosling. Simon Sinek.
I never would have known about any of these people without TED – and I’m a better person for finding out about them.
2. TED talks are 20 minutes long – at most!
The best talks are like bottled lightning: Massively affecting (ZAP!) and extremely compact. At less than twenty minutes, there’s no room for filler. A good lecture is like a cup of coffee. A TED lecture is like a double shot espresso. (and let’s not ask about the average math lecture at my university.)
Every now and then you’ll start a talk that you don’t really like. Or don’t get. No worries – even if you watch the whole thing, it’ll cost you less than twenty minutes.
3. TED talks teach me how to make a better Powerpoint presentation.
You’ll rarely see a TED talk where a guy opens up Powerpoint to a slide with more than twenty words. It’s all economy of space and words. It’s all design – gorgeous, impactful, powerful. Some of these presentations really zip along too – check out Scott McCloud’s slide-a-second bursts!
4. Heck, TED talks teach me how to make better presentations, period.
Oh yeah – it’s not just Powerpoint that they use. It’s Prezis. It’s video. It’s just a ridiculously interesting talk with NO visual.
5. TED talks are funny.
Do you know that there are The Ten TED Commandments? (They is serious stuff.) Commandment number eight is “Thou shalt remember all the while: Laughter is good.”
TED speakers literally make a joke every thirty seconds or so. And they’re not lame. Mostly.
6. TED talks help me understand the world.
I’m an awful ignorant dork quite often, but thanks to TED I’m not as ignorant as I was. Some people even say I’m smart now. I know about drug cartels in Mexico, the origins of our modern school system, and how motivation works. I get how play fuels creativity, how billions of dollars to help Africa didn’t help so much, and how painting buildings pretty colors can literally change a nation.
Besides all that, fortune cookies aren’t Chinese. THEY’RE JAPANESE. LIKE ME.
Told you this stuff was important.
7. TED talks teach me how speak better.
I am convinced that listening to TED talks was kind of a turning point in the way I talk to groups of students. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think just listening to my first talks helped me internalize (without thinking!) something about how to speak with more passion and skill.
Later, my dad gifted me Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like TED. From that book I intentionally grew as a speaker from what I’d seen in TED talks.
8. TED talks spark my creativity.
These people are ridiculously creative. The artists among them are amazing. Sarah Kay’s spoken word, for example, or Tom Thum’s beatboxing in Sydney. Or while we’re at it, there’s guys like Sal Khan, who literally flipped the way school is taught in Oakland. And geniuses we all know, like Bill Gates… opening a jar and sending hundreds of mosquitoes into an audience.
9. TED re-introduces me to people in surprising new ways.
It’s really great fun, though, to see people that I already know say extraordinary new things. Rick Warren speaks on his experiences writing a mega bestseller that opens with the words “It’s not about you.” Ebert (who I didn’t know had jaw cancer) gave a moving talk… without talking. Tony Robbins giving Al Gore a high five – and a piece of his mind – from the main stage.
10. TED talks teach me how to tell a great story.
TED commandment eight is to joke. TED commandment four is “Thou shalt tell a story” – and these people tell some killer stories. Like Malcolm Gladwell’s exploration of David and Goliath.
11. TED talks practically change my life.
Best example: Matt Cutts of Google’s idea that I ought to do thirty-day experiments to start new habits. This is how I kicked off my exercise habit – and he laid the framework not just for a number of other new habits and life changes, but even the first book I’d ever written!
12. TED talks move me.
Above all, it comes down to this. These talks push change for the better – intellectually, creatively and practically. And it’s not just all-stars on the stage – there’s a lot of everyday folk who just came up with fantastic ideas as well. People like you and me – and this gives me motivation and hope to throw myself back into my work.
Jim Rohn says that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I’d add that spending time with TED people has will give that average a kick in the pants.
And if you haven’t watched a TED talk yet, stop reading this and get over there already. You’ll thank me later. Let’s have lunch – tell me what you learned. And you’re buying – you owe me, remember?