TED Talks. A Critique

Is it time for TED to walk the talk?

I watch occasionally on YouTube a TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk which claims to “challenge our core beliefs in search of deeper truth, while we celebrate the thinkers, dreamers and mavericks who dare to offer bold new alternatives.”

“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world,” says the TED mission statement.

There is a determination on part of the TED organisation to spread ideas through the format of a short talk, usually lasting up to 18 minutes. The organisation has sanctioned around 25,000 talks, addressing a wide variety of social, scientific and global concerns since it started in 1990.

The TED speakers have inspired around a billion clicks worldwide on YouTube to view around 1900 talks currently available online. There is much to appreciate in terms of the noble work and dedication of TED speakers.

Despite a few hiccoughs, TED has sustained its original intention of inviting thoughtful people to speak in a public forum. These speakers find themselves tightly constrained to the TED format in order to get their message across to a large audience.

TED works well because the invitation only audience will feel good about themselves for attending this forum of ideas. Cost to join and listen to a TED talk/forum amounts up to $6000 per person. There is satisfaction in thinking of oneself as belonging to a privileged group shaping the future of the world.

There is a general lack from the speakers of spontaneous communication, bold critique or any radical determination to address bluntly with audience participation what’s wrong in our world. Far too frequently, TED comes across as a series of sugar-coated talks mostly unsuitable for the global crisis facing humanity.

The TED talks sound more and more like those word perfect business presentations. The speaker in the TED format seems to be selling an idea not dissimilar to the presentation format of selling a product to a business.

Same Style of Speaking

I find myself uncomfortable listening to the same style of speaking from one TED speaker after another. They consistently come across as very agreeable, very positive, and sometimes, frankly, rather lightweight. The speakers have submitted themselves to the speaker style that TED demands. This style consists of a series of friendly, short, simplistic sentences, clearly rehearsed numerous times and memorised. A TED talk mostly lacks any political punch or depth of psychological/physical inquiry into causes and conditions for suffering.

I also find myself uncomfortable listening to TED speakers, who far too often seem to revel in their own successful perceptions and stories around what they do. It is as if they give their speech to provide the opportunity for the listeners or viewers to applaud their services and remind us how wonderful they are.

The TED format seems to have become ill suited for the ongoing global crisis driven through scientific/political/corporate/educational incompetence. As a species, we face a depth of moral corruption, a spiritual crisis and an unwillingness to demand fundamental change of ourselves and others.

The TED format of selling of an idea to gain attention and recognition may win applause from the audience at the beginning and end of the talk but does little to change realities, even if wealthy donors step forward.

There is no addressing the greed, aggression and corrupt practices of the powerful, political, corporate or military. There is no freedom to name the companies that lie, cheat and deceive the public to maximise profits and power. There is no freedom to question the failings of capitalism or question widespread addiction to consumerism. TED talks seems to suffer from their terror of offending the powerful with far too many speakers coming across with a cap-in-hand mentality.

Past TED speakers include such improbable ‘mavericks’ as Bill Clinton (US President), Al Gore (former US vice-president), Gordon Brown (former UK Prime Minister), Richard Dawkins (Oxford based scientist), Bill Gates (Microsoft billionaire), Bono (rock singer) and Google founder Larry Page.

It is time for the TED organisers to sit down and start a new format. The organisers have organised some 25,000 sugary coated talks since 1990. It is now a case of “been there, done that.” It is time for TED to walk the talk.

Are there any TED organisers who are ‘thinkers, dreamers and mavericks’ who dare to offer bold new alternatives to the current TED format? Or is TED doomed to come to mean Trifling Entertaining Deliveries?

Scroll to Top