Why TED Talks Suck

Published November 11, 2017 in Marketing - 0 Comments

“When I was three years old, my pet squirrel died. And it taught me… ”


A friend of mine and I were driving to a barbeque lunch in downtown Baltimore. We were mocking all the seminars we’d attended in the weeks prior, where every presenter made the exact same kind of speech. First, they gushed about some childhood or parenting experience, then droned on about how it helped them learn some lesson.

A child’s discipline problems led to learning how to look deeper at things. A death in the family at an early age led to appreciating life.

So we figured talking about the death of a pet squirrel would make for a great opener. Call it an Anti-TED Talk. (I also suggested a TODD Talk or a TIM Talk but Anti-TED Talk seems better.)

We never got around to what wisdom the squirrel would impart

“I want to know the guru gathering all these guys together and teaching them this model. He must say something like ‘alright start with some heartfelt story, and then choose one self-help point to drive home…’”

I wonder if it’s the same guy teaching marketers selling from the stage to put too many slides in their presentation and then speed through a select few, claiming “I don’t have time to go through all this with you.” You’d think after so many years, they’d get their timing down. Hmmm.

Anyway, whoever this guy is, he either taught all TED Talk speakers, or learned from them.

Because TED Talks are a prime example of what I call “learn porn.”

And much like ogling food porn or watching classic regular porn, you’re not actually doing it

The stories in TED Talks are designed to engage your emotions – which shuts down your reasoning and critical thinking.

The time is kept short to cater to cratering attention-spans.

Not only that, but reading the book TED Talks gave me an interesting window into the bias they present. Like a talk espousing how charities should not necessarily be condemned for lavish CEO pay and low margins, if they’re more effective as a result. No mention of how a charity’s effectiveness is measured, or its negative knock-off effects on the entrepreneurial economy.

Perhaps the book’s best part, was breathlessly describing how Al Gore’s irrefutable evidence of global warming was sometimes ignored… because of political preferences within the audience.

Never mind the ice shelf-sized presupposition of that statement

Perhaps it’s time for Anti-TED Talks to trend. Their concept is simple:

  1. Open with a story (just like a regular TED Talk – see I’m not trashing them completely)
  2. Teach something – however long it takes to do so effectively – with no regard for some 18-or-whatever-minute timeframe
  3. Instead of bloviating while basking in the spotlight, get the audience involved – if you truly want to challenge them and change their views, then see how what you’re presenting applies to them in real-time
  4. Instead of giving just one talk, set up a series and include projects and experiments and tests in-between
  5. Watch as the crowd who loves TED Talks stampede for the exits because they can’t face actually doing something, rather than sitting and watching and getting off on learn porn

This isn’t to say TED Talks are entirely worthless

I think they’re excellent vehicles to help sell a book. Or solicit donations. Or funding. Basically, they’re fantastic for selling. Which is why they follow an excellent format for selling.

  1. Attention-grabbing opening
  2. Emotional story
  3. One thread
  4. Answer objections
  5. Close ‘em

Learning and growth? A handy, occasional side-effect.