Has a TED talk ever changed your life or views?

Maybe not recently - it’s been eight years since a similar topic was addressed. Well?

Yes. I watched a TED talk on Modern Stoicism that was recommended to me by someone. It changed my view of the world dramatically.

Not only has a TED Talk not changed my life, about nine talks out of ten don’t even offer a useful or coherent insight. They’re like the infomercials of public informational lectures, in part due to the format and the lack of actual qualifications one needs to demonstrate to be a speaker. I spend a lot of time watching lectures and video essays from the Royal Institution and The Leakey Foundation to Dan Carlin and CIDRAP, and TED Talks are basically at the bottom in terms of content per unit time even with qualified speakers.


Interesting. Could you elaborate?

I would agree with @Stranger_On_A_Train. I think that maybe they used to be good but, for a pretty good while now, they’ve turned from being an educational forum to something more like a self-help book. It’s all just people who are good at sounding like they’re saying something when they’re not actually saying anything and entrepreneurs selling vaporware.

Their main business seems to be grooming people to put on presentations, given how similar each speaker sounds in tone and flow. It seems implausible to me that you would find so many discrete people who all sound so similar, without behind-the-scene coaching in precisely that technique. The other comparison that I might make, beside self-help books, is “reality tv”. You cast for good looking folk who seem entertaining and then use professionals in making TV entertainment to turn those folk into objects of entertainment. With reality TV, they mostly do it by recruiting good looking extroverts and using creative editing to fake in a storyline. With TED, they use a tiered process to recruite people willing to write inspirational/futurismistic essays, train them in their presentation style, and bubble them up to higher tiers as they get good at the technique.

But, no, no life changing encounters with them.

If there are any talks you really liked, TED or ‘tother, would be interested to read about it.

I have a medical condition that I have no control over, and Stoicism says that you shouldn’t worry about things you have no control over. It does no good to worry and instead, you should focus on things you do have control over. It’s a simple idea that has really helped me since I had wasted a lot of time and energy worrying about something I can’t do anything about it. The TED talk got me to learn about Stoicism which is something I was completely unaware of.

The weird thing is even when I see a TED Talk with someone who is normally a great public communicator, such as Aoife McLysaght (a geneticist and science communicator from University of Dublin), there is something about the time and narrative flow of a TED Talk that makes it seem trivial and stripped of content. They’re very showy talks with moody lighting and the presenter often looking for a ‘catch’ to surprise the audience as opposed to something like an RI lecture which is often just plain, long format lecture but one in which the speaker goes into greater depth. Perhaps it is the longer format, or the fact that the speaker will be challenged to answer questions at the end, or just that RI speakers are generally recognized experts in their fields so the focus is on the content rather than the presentation, but I find TED Talks just gratingly superficial, like reading a Popular Science article after plowing through an issue of Nature or even Scientific American.


The “serenity prayer” seens good advice but I am not in your shoes or situation. Have faith, but when I use the term “faith” I am not usually limiting it to religion. There are lots of great Roman authors and philosophies - but a TED talk would have to be good to briefly summarize them well. Glad they helped you.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to hijack your thread with a tangent on my opinion on TED talks; my apologies.

It’s not a talk per se, but Carl Sagan’s Cosmos impacted me greatly as an eight or nine year old. It fundamentally framed a rationalist view of the world in contradiction to all of the religious indoctrination or casual indifference I experienced around me and made science and the scientific approach seem very appealing and logical. Oddly, I find Sagan’s diction and delivery borderline irritating and some of the theatrics of the show kind of tiresome (and now very dated) but the content and presentation of individual fields and accomplishments of science in the context of a larger, integrated view of the world enthralling.

The only single lecture I can think of that changed my view of something was about public key encryption by some mathematician I cannot remember. I went into the lecture thinking that encryption was just something you used to protect email communications from government snooping (as if the NSA really cared about my college communications) but then when I understood both the clever mathematics and the breadth of applications it completely changed my understanding of its utility.

Beyond that, I tend to read more than listen to lectures, and the written word is a better way to express truly paradigm-altering ideas (I’m dubious of any speaker who claims to be able to convey truly reality-breaking concepts in a sixty minute lecture) so most of my strong views are more informed by what I’ve read than watched or heard, which is not to discount the power of oratory or its influence in general.


I read a great deal. I enjoyed Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden when young. I am now reading Emotional by Leonard Mlodinov. It studies very recent advances in affective psychology, how emotion changes thought. The idea of a brain divided into reptillian (instinct), limbic (emotion) and neocortex (rational thought), proposed (in the form of horses abd a charioteer) by Plato and popularized by Sagan is easy - but almost certainly wrong, even from an evolutionary view.

Amazon, they say, moved away from vacant PowerPoint presentations and insisted all ideas be summarized in three pages of writing. The ideas were not better but the rationale and thinking were far clearer.

People tell stories. There is nothing wrong with improving ones skills at that. A great talk is a wonderful thing. But relatively rare. The simplicity which might define a good business idea might be obvious when describing sociopolitics or reduced to absurd when describing complicated science. I like reading too, but that does not mean there are not excellent talks available.

The closest I can think of is a TED-X talk where a guy pointed out that folding a paper towel even just once significantly increases its ability to sop up liquid.

There may have been others, but then it was like school, where you often absorb the information without remembering where you learned it.

That said, I didn’t watch them for that purpose. I just see them as entertaining and/or informative.

There was one on procrastination I think could really help me improve my life, but I need to go back and finish watching it when I have more free time.

Absolutely. Why would they typically? Like most non-fiction books they are brochures.

MasterClass, save for physical skill classes like cooking and sports, are not ‘revealing secrets’ … else MasterClass would be having IMBD style ratings.

The TED talks on productivity and ADHD have some good info. Also

The mathematics of weight loss | Ruben Meerman | TEDxQUT (edited version) - YouTube

10 ways to have a better conversation

For me, this one:

I don’t think it was a Ted Tal but it was similar. One statement I heard completely changed my life from that day forward. " People fall in love because of the way they feel about themselves when in the presence of that other special person". I had just gotten divorced because my wife had fallen out of love with me. I was all ears. I knew I heard something special and I was able to apply that in all of my future relations, professional, family, social, and romantic. In less than a year I felt like a different person leading an entirely different life. That was 32 years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t apply that somehow.

I love Ted Talks. Not all of them. In fact, I don’t view them very often any more but that’s because… squirrel.

Okay, I don’t really watch them for self improvement. I do love to learn about technology and education, especially having worked for many years in the corporate training environment. When I do learn something I can use, I try to use it. At work, my ideas often get shut down because the person who hired me doesn’t want to hear new ideas, they just want the work done. Sometimes, I am able to put the ideas into place and see whether or not I, and/or the company wants to keep using them. Mostly, I watch because I love to learn.

Ha, I was about to say the only impact on me was a guy saying that, if you shook your hands over the sink twelve times before drying, it should only take a single restroom paper towel to dry both hands thus cutting down on paper waste. I usually make a point of doing that now (and it generally works)

Thanks for this. I cane across a copy of Factfulness at a used book store. It is a wonderful and convincing read.