The best TED Talks make you think, leave you inspired and, very often, make you laugh as well. We’ve been watching Ted Talks evolve and grow over the last 15 years and have come to treasure the nuggets of wisdom they impart.
But if you’re just discovering Ted Talks for the first time – or feel like you’ve missed a bunch throughout the years – we want to help you dive head-first into the heady lecture series with a round-up of our absolute favorites: What you’ll find below is a collection of personal picks from the TechRadar team that we feel best exemplify what a Ted Talk can be.
Not seeing one of your favorite talks below? Drop me an email and I’ll try to add it to the list.
How to gain control of your free time by Laura Vanderkam
There’s a certain irony in watching a YouTube video on how to save time, but Laura Vanderkam’s talk is worth the 10 minutes of your life. It’s all built on the basic idea that shaving 5 minutes here and there from your favorite activities isn’t really going to give you more control of your life – rather, you need to set priorities for yourself and then build a schedule around those priorities.
The hilarious example Vanderkam offers is that, instead of skipping commercials to save eight minutes of every half hour of TV you watch, maybe you could just watch a little less TV and do something else with your time. The message is simple, effective and engaging, all the hallmarks of a good TED Talk.
What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness by Robert Waldinger
“Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.” That’s the results of a landmark study of happiness conducted by more than four generations of researchers over the last 75 years, tracking hundreds of participants and measuring every facet of their lives.
This Ted Talk takes awhile to get to the juicy details but the story of this preternatural study on happiness illustrates the lengths the researchers have gone through to get this invaluable data that shows us what makes people happy at the end of their lives. The results sound simple – almost infuriatingly so – but the lesson here is that anyone can be happy with the right relationships in their lives.
Gamers, it turns out, are pretty awesome. They’re committed to saving virtual worlds and with the right skills and focus they might be able to save the physical world, too. McGonigal, a game developer and author, has spent years creating different apps and games that use in-game rewards to push players to solve real world problems.
The talk, which is a bit long at 20 minutes, walks the audience through her previous experiences creating these games and the research data that she uses to get gamers engaged before diving into Superbetter, the app she developed to make everyone who plays it live better, fuller lives.
The art of asking by Amanda Palmer
Former busker-turned-successful-musician Amanda Palmer has a key lesson for everyone: don’t be afraid to ask. Society puts an inherent shame on those who ask – whether that’s for financial help or security, emotional help or even basic requests like where to find something – when, in fact, asking for help is one of the best things we can do. Asking, Palmer says, is inherently human and powerful, it allows us to create connections and leverage those connections to do more. That was evident when she wanted to crowdfund her band’s next CD, asking for $100,000, and raising over a million dollars instead.
The point here is that next time you look down on someone asking, instead view them with compassion and make a connection – because in the long run that’s more powerful, more effective and, well, more human.
The first 20 hours — how to learn anything by Josh Kaufman
Have you ever heard the old adage about needing to spend 10,000 hours to learn a skill? Good news, it’s wrong. As it turns out, the research that factoid is taken from was studying experts in their respective fields, and not, say, the average trombonist.
In this talk, new father Josh Kaufman walks us through how long it actually takes to learn a skill – which, incidentally, is only around 20 hours. Now sure, 20 hours of practice isn’t going to make you the next Bobby Fischer, but it will be enough time to teach you the basics and, most importantly, how to auto-correct yourself when you’ve done something amiss. If you’ve ever felt like the ship has sailed on learning a new language, playing an instrument or learning a new skill, this talk is for you.
Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong by Johann Hari
Journalist and author Johann Hari (Lost Connections, Chasing the Scream) offers a wide-ranging look at addiction in this 14-minute talk, whether that’s addiction to hard drugs, alcohol, or the endlessly-updating feeds on our smartphones.
We tend to think of addiction as a problem caused by the substance itself. We say that phones are addictive, or heroin is addictive – but Hari makes a case for a more nuanced understanding, one that sees how social circumstance affects our propensity for addiction, and the difference that strong bonds to those around us can make.
The power of vulnerability by Brené Brown
With over 47 million views, Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched Ted Talks of all time, and for good reason.
In this 20-minute presentation, Brown shares what she’s learnt about the nature of shame, and how our fear of vulnerability prevents us from being able to fully embrace ourselves. As a researcher trained to “control and predict” phenomena, she shares her difficulty accepting the idea that to live fully is to stop attempting to “control and predict” at all.
An incredibly powerful talk that shows you – rather than just telling you – what it means to be vulnerable, and explores what a world that embraces vulnerability might look like.
Meeting the Enemy: A feminist comes to terms with the Men’s Rights movement by Cassie Jaye
What filmmaker Cassie Jaye does here that’s so special is that she walks us through an immense period of growth in her life thought-by-thought. At one point a stringent feminist, Jaye began a documentary about the Men’s Rights movement that asks for the acknowledgement of certain, specific issues that men face – a movement she thought ran counter to the central points of feminism.
What she learned in over a hundred hours of interviews with men’s rights activists is that these men didn’t want fewer rights for women, but some of the same care and devotion to some of the issues impacting men like veteran care, suicide, disproportionate parental control, length of prison sentences and others that do well and truly impact the life of men. The evolution of Jaye’s thoughts and the admission of her own preconceived notions is enthralling from beginning to end.
If you don’t have time for the excellent – but nearly two-hour – documentary Free Solo, check out this 10-minute Ted Talk by legendary rock-climber Alex Honnold who did something many thought to be impossible – or at least incredibly dangerous – when he climbed El Capitan, a sheer rock face in Yosemite National Park without ropes.
Honnold’s Ted Talk gives a great overview of the climb, as well as his previous experiences leading up to it. Listening to Honnold describe certain parts of the trek are legitimately sweat-inducing and his experiences post-climb are both hilarious and heart-warming. It’s well-worth the watch.
This is what happens when you reply to spam email by James Veitch
Not all Ted Talks have to be heady ventures to the core of who we are. They can, in fact, just be funny and lighthearted, too. There’s no better example of these kinds of talks than the ones given by James Veitch (yes there’s more than one) wherein he takes annoying-but-easily-ignorable situations like unsubscribing from an email chain and turn them into absurdly funny matches of verbal wit between two utterly committed individuals. If you need a laugh after all this profound introspection, Veitch’s talks are the best bet.
BONUS: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale
OK, while this one technically isn’t a Ted Talk, it has the spirit of one and includes Bobby McFerrin, which really just sells itself.
Just try not to sing along, it’s impossible not to.