Virginia Heffernan’s Confessions of a TED Addict:
A TED talk begins as an auditorium speech given at the multidisciplinary, invitation-only annual TED conference. (This year’s 25th-anniversary conference takes place next week in Long Beach, Calif.) TED then creates videos of the speeches and puts them online so they can find a broader audience — and usurp my life. There are around 370 speeches and counting on TED.com. A new one is added every weekday.
TED (which stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”) was founded in 1984 by the architect Richard Saul Wurman and his partners. Their first conference included one of the first demonstrations of the Macintosh computer. In 2001, TED was acquired and is now run by Chris Anderson, the new-media entrepreneur who started Business 2.0, among other magazines and Web sites. Giving a TED talk has become an opportunity for name-in-lights speakers to throw down, set forth “ideas worth spreading” and prove their intellectual heroism.
TED talks were made streamable for the Web in 2006. Sponsors are marqueed at the beginning and a post-roll ad runs if you wait. No annoying preroll ads. The player has handy chapter markers, video quality is excellent and you can rate, email or embed.
Heffernan warns, “don’t make the mistake I first did. I started with the 10 most popular.” Find your niche interest. Something good is bound to be there:
Once you start watching TED talks, ordinary life falls away. The corridor from Silicon Alley to Valley seems to crackle, and a new in-crowd emerges: the one that loves Linux, organic produce, behavioral economics, transhistorical theories and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Even though there are certain TED poses that I don’t warm to — the dour atheist, the environmental scold — the crowd as a whole glows with charisma. I love their greed for hope, their confidence in ingenuity, their organized but goofy ways of talking and thinking.
TED supplies its speakers with strict guidelines. “Start strong” is the most obvious one, and there is virtually no throat clearing or contrived thanking. Instead, speakers blaze onto the stage like stand-up comics, hellbent on room domination. Some consult notes and stay close by their audiovisual equipment — PowerPoint is used for emphasis, but it never directs the talks — while others pace, spread their arms wide and take up space. No one apologizes for himself. No one fails to make jokes. The appreciative room roars at humor, when they’re not literally oohing and aahing at insight.
Clickthrough for lists of favorites and recommendations.