May 14, 2013
I am totally over TED talks. Here's how I got here.
Several weeks ago my friend and journalism colleague Manoush Zomorodi wrote a post about how to give 'TED-like talks' that capture an audience. Manoush is a longtime TV reporter and has written an e-book about how to be camera-ready, so she really knows her stuff. I like her advice for budding speakers, but as I read the post it reminded me that I'm less and less impressed with the TED talks I view online. I then forgot about the topic until this week when I came across this post by marketing professor Dr. Dawn Edmiston. It extolls the virtues of the TED talk as a teaching tool. As you can see, she and I interacted under her post. The problem is, TED talks are everywhere. They've become so common they're no longer special in any way. Their impact has been massively diluted due to the sheer number of ideas discussed - there just aren't that many 'ideas worth spreading'. Almost everything now seems worthy of a TED talk. Except it isn't. These talks fired people's collective imagination and curiosity for a while, but I can't believe I'm the only one who now finds them dull and formalaic. They come off as too rehearsed, too glacially paced, and with no element of surprise. Yet TED continues to roll them out.
Of course there have been TED talks I've enjoyed. Like Dr. Edmiston, I loved Harvard professor Amy Cuddy's talk on the the power of body language (I am desperate to book her on The Broad Experience - no luck so far). More recently I enjoyed Dan Pallotta's talk on why the way we think about charity is wrong. And I can't leave out Laura Overdeck's powerful TEDxWomen talk 'Allergic to Algebra' on little girls, women and math anxiety, which I watched live back in December. But too many TED speakers these days aren't compelling and the ideas discussed are so flimsy they don't merit the time allotted. I signed up for the weekly TED email several months ago, so each week I get an email from TED with links to recent talks. I'm usually disappointed.
This 2012 piece by Nathan Jurgenson in The New Inquiry is a much more eloquent disquisition on the topic, and specifically focuses its criticism on TED for being exclusionary and out of touch. I love the second line:
"When did TED stop trying to collect smart people and instead collect people trying to be smart?"
I think TED has stretched itself too thin. Does anyone else agree?
Since I first wrote this post a couple of days ago I've been pointed to this Harvard Business Review piece by Umair Haque, 'Let's Save Great Ideas from the Ideas Industry' - well worth reading.