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Spot the difference: TED vs ‘dead’ talks

Ginger Leadership Communications

TED talkers are not usually speaking gurus but are innovators in their fields, usually in the fields of research and technology. Usually professionals doing really cool and interesting work. TED audiences expect innovative and interesting ideas – hence the tagline “Ideas Worth Spreading”.  Any “good” talk is one that at least meets audience expectations.

But for a TED or TEDx event, the message not only needs to be original and simple: it also has to be relevant to the discerning room full of intelligent innovators that usually comprise a TED audience. In other words, the TED talker has to capture attention from the very beginning.

As a spot of fun, let’s look at two categories, very popular in public speaking. See if you can guess which speeches are TED… and which are “dead”.

Answers below

A. Education related talks

  1. Inspiring innovation through learning solutions.
  2. What we learn before we’re born.
  3. Working in Partnership to Make a Difference for Schools
  4. What do babies think?
  5. Towards Collaborative Leadership of a Learning Community
  6. 5 Dangerous things you should let your kids do

B. Sales related subjects

  1. How to start a movement
  2. Your 6 figure business
  3. Selling condoms in the Congo
  4. How to get more clients
  5. The tribes we lead
  6. What physics taught me about marketing


TED or DEAD? The answers…

A. Education related talks

  1. Inspiring innovation through learning solutions.

DEAD. Full of clichés, this title doesn’t really mean anything. Too conceptual.

2. What we learn before we’re born.

TED! Science writer Annie Murphy Paul talks through new research that shows how much we learn in the womb — from the lilt of our native language to our soon-to-be-favorite foods. It’s weird, interesting and promises to answer a question that I haven’t asked myself before.

3. Working in Partnership to Make a Difference for Schools

DEAD. Blerg. No passion, no idealism, just the same-old-same old. I imagine a bunch of suited policy makers and head teachers being bored for an hour.

4. What do babies think?

TED! Ok, I’m interested again. It’s simple, fascinating and has human interest. Excellent. “Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species,” says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play.

5. Towards Collaborative Leadership of a Learning Community

DEAD.  I want to poke my eyes out thinking about this talk. I can’t see anything, it’s just long, jargonny, conceptual words. Where’s the life?!

6. 5 Dangerous things you should let your kids do

TED! Here’s the life. This title is great, it creates tingles and also resistance – ‘yikes, wait, what do you want me to do with my kids’? And it gives permission for an incredible, brave talk. Unfortunately Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School’s TED U talk doesn’t quite live up to the promise. If you’re talking about danger, you should model it a little with your talk, which he doesn’t quite manage to do.

B. Sales related subjects

1.  How to start a movement

TED! With help from some surprising footage, Derek Sivers explains how movements really get started. (Hint: it takes two.) This great little title is deceptively simple and also interesting enough to click on. Great ‘click bait’ without being pushy or overly dramatic.

2. Your 6 figure business

DEAD.  It might be simple, but it’s been done to death. The speaker needs to find a more unique or personal way to speak about this subject in language that is theirs rather than someone else’s.

3. Selling condoms in the Congo  

TED! HIV is a serious problem in the DR Congo, and aid agencies have flooded the country with free and cheap condoms. But few people are using them. Why? “Reformed marketer” Amy Lockwood offers a surprising answer that upends a traditional model of philanthropy. This TED title immediately points to a story and a problem. It evokes a time and a place with colour – and possibly danger. Interesting.

4. How to get more clients

DEAD.  No, no, please, no more! Whilst this title is simple, it’s utterly devoid of personality, innovation, or anything to recommend the speaker. You can do MUCH better than this if you just take a risk or two.

5. The tribes we lead

TED! Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. This title gives an interesting spin on the jargon-filled territory of marketing and reinforces the language Seth Godin has claimed as his own. Popular and interesting sounding, though of course many people will be drawn to this title because of Seth Godin being the speaker.

6.  What physics taught me about marketing

TED! Physics and marketing don’t seem to have much in common, but that’s precisely why Dan Cobley’s talk is enticing. Weird combos are often great. He brings these unlikely bedfellows together using Newton’s second law, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the scientific method and the second law of thermodynamics to explain the fundamental theories of branding.

Just by looking at the titles you can see what is “same-old-same-old” and “WOW”. In order to be an innovative public speaker, these examples show us that you have to have some “teeth” to be cutting edge.

Dead‘ talks are boring, unadventurous, cliched, impersonal, laboured, uninspiring, long, convoluted and full of jargon.

In contrast TED titles are daring, weird, risque, curious, specific, provocative, human, simple, appealing and playful.

Ginger Leadership Communications

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