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The 7 Types of TED Talks

By Dr. Steven Hayward

When it comes to TED talks, the first thing most of us think of is the “big idea” talk that has become the bread and butter of the platform. They focus on getting across the kind of knowledge that can turn your world upside down, transformative concepts that challenge conventional wisdom and provoke serious rethinking. These “big ideas” address global issues, scientific breakthroughs, or propose innovative, often counter-intuitive approaches to long-standing problems. An example--and one of our favorites-- is Amy Cuddy’s “Your body language may shape who you are.” If you haven’t seen it, check it out--and while you’re at it, sit up straighter! 


Due to the widespread popularity of big idea talk and the way it’s come to be identified with the platform, there’s a tendency on the part of those trying to land talks to forget about the many other kinds of talks that you can present on the TEDx stage. There are actually six other kinds of TEDx talks, so for this dispatch I thought it might be good to shine a light on these other, lesser known avenues to consider as you make your way to the TEDx stage.


Technology Demonstrations

These talks showcase cutting-edge inventions or new and emergent technological advances. Speakers not only explain the technology but show how it works. As you might guess, the hot topic in this area is AI and all it can and can’t do--and how it works exactly. A great example is this talk from OpenAI cofounder Greg Brockman, after which he sits down for an interview and discussion with TED head Chris Anderson.


The Performance 

These talks introduce you to the work of emerging or established artists and musicians, and in the process TED provides them with a platform through which they can reach a global audience. There are a lot of amazing examples out there, including this talk about Hip Hop and climate awareness, or Sougwen Chung demonstrating how she taught her own artistic style to a machine


The Artist’s Statement

These talks take you into the mind of an artist with the aim of giving perspective into the how and why they do what they do, and what inspires them. In addition to getting new work out there, these talks leverage the unique power of the TED stage to provide the deeply personal connection that so often is at the heart of our experience of art. Check out Dustin Yellin’s portrait of himself as a young artist, or Raghava KK take on how the twists and turns on which his life has taken him ended up fueling his multiple reincarnations as an artist. From our perspective here at GoodOne  Co., we don’t think artists are thinking in this direction often enough, and if that’s you, we’d love the opportunity to help you take your work to the next level and the global audience it deserves.


The “Dazzle with Wonder”

Just like Louis Armstrong tried to tell us years ago in that classic song about trees of green, red roses, clouds of white and babies crying, experiencing a bit of awe on a regular basis has been scientifically shown to be good for our health. That’s precisely what these talks, like this one about the dance of the dung beetle (watch it before you judge!) seek to provide. They’re quick, captivating, and aim to blow your mind.


The Small Idea

“Small idea” is the name that TED gives these talks but we think it can be a little misleading because it can make you think that there’s something inconsequential about these talks. Nothing could be further from the case, but a better way of thinking of them is that they are more narrowly focused than the Big Idea. Which is what makes them so cool. Not everything needs to be earth shattering--sometimes ideas worth spreading have to do with how to use a paper towel, tie your shoes, or connecting everyday objects wirelessly.


The Issue Talk

The core of the “issue talk” is informing--usually introducing--people to a particular question or problem. As is the case with the “small idea” talk, the idea here is to see the TEDx platform as one that provides an opportunity to connect a general audience with a specialized or niche topic. These can range from behavioral economics to the laws governing intellectual property to using vultures to fight crime

As vast as you may have thought the world of TEDx to be, the truth is that it’s more expansive, more wide ranging than you might expect. Compelling and new--and big ideas--come in all shapes and forms, and as you embark on your TEDx journey, it’s useful to keep in mind these different types of talks--or schedule a free brainstorming call and we’ll find the one that’s right for you together.


If you're ready to land and deliver your TEDx talk, write and develop your signature talk, or just need coaching on your upcoming presentation, schedule a brainstorming call with us here.

- Dr. Steven Hayward is our head writer, an English professor at Colorado College, national bestselling author, award-winning filmmaker, TEDx Speaker, and has a great head of hair.


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