Since the TED Organization launched more than forty years ago, TED and TEDx Talks have become increasingly popular. Whether you’re among business professionals, high school and college students, or professional speakers – like us – you’re sure to hear at least one Talk recommended, either for its unique approach to a common topic or its motivational message. In either case, there are thousands of presentations to choose from. The only thing you have to decide is which to watch first, leading many first-time viewers to ask, “What’s the difference between TED and TEDx Talks?
Essentially, TED Talks are aimed at a global audience while TEDx talks are designed for smaller, local audiences. While the former take place at the globally-known TED Conference, the latter are organized independently by regional groups, resulting in speakers and topics tailored specifically to the community in which the event takes place.
That said, despite these differences, both TED and TEDx talks are incredible sources of inspiration, regardless of your profession or personal interests.
With that in mind, let’s dive into some additional details behind TED and TEDx events. We’ll also share a few of the most-watched TED and TEDx Talks. That way, even if you’re new to the TED world, you can start with the best of the best.
Who started TED Talks?
Founded in 1984, the TED Organization was created by architect and designer Richard Saul Wurman and his colleague, broadcast designer Harry Marks. At that time, Wurman and Marks invited a small group of people to California for a series of “talks” on the subjects of technology, entertainment, and design (hence “TED”). Although modest compared to today’s TED events, the conference featured a presentation by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot about fractal geometry as well as a 3-dimensional graphics demonstration from Lucasfilm.
Today, Wurman and Marks’s legacy continues with the annual TED Conference in California. Owned and operated by the TED Foundation, the goal of this event – and all TED and TEDx Talks – is “to provide a platform for thinkers, visionaries and teachers, so that people around the globe can gain a better understanding of the biggest issues faced by the world, and feed a desire to help create a better future.”
What’s the difference between TED And TEDx Talks?
In meeting this mission, TED and TEDx Talks ultimately tackle the two greatest challenges of sharing new ideas. The first of these challenges is sharing the biggest ideas with a global audience. For this, TED Talks, delivered at the annual TED Conference, focus on messages and stories suited to a worldwide audience. This includes issues such as climate change, human trafficking, or mental health.
The second challenge is the opposite, namely sharing ideas applicable to a local audience. This is where TEDx comes in. For these events, local organizers select speakers and topics relevant to issues or changes in their area. If you’re in a diverse community, for example, your city’s TEDx Talk might focus on highlighting the challenges that come with that, like incorporating diverse perspectives in education or community events.
In short, although TEDx Talks can include global issues, most center on the specific needs of the surrounding community. Unlike TED Talks, they also tend to feature less well-known speakers. So, if you’re reading this as a professional speaker, unsure that you can compete with speakers like Bill Gates, rest assured that TEDx Talks are still an amazing starting point.
Are TED and TEDx speakers paid?
Speaking of speakers, another common question about TED and TEDx Talks is “Do TED and TEDx speakers charge anything?” Surprisingly, all speakers affiliated with TED events speak completely for free. This is largely because of the clout that comes with giving TED or TEDx Talks. However, it’s also because of the free marketing you gain as the TED Organization promotes your presentation in their library of Talks.
In other words, because giving a Talk automatically positions a speaker as an authority and they don’t have to lift a finger for it to be shared around the world, all speakers are expected to speak pro bono.
Is TEDx credible?
Another common TED-related question is, “Are TEDx speakers credible?” To put it simply, considering the credentials and experience of the vast majority of TED speakers, TEDx Talks are considered to be highly credible. For science or mathematics-based Talks, for instance, organizers typically select speakers based on their exceptional education in the field. Likewise, for any Talk topic, the speaker usually has a great deal of related life experience, so you know they don’t just preach about their message. They’ve lived it, too.
Between TED and TEDx events, when it comes to speaker credibility, however, speakers for the annual TED Conference tend to be a little more prestigious. As I mentioned before, this generally means speakers on par with Bill Gates or Elon Musk, since it’s more competitive to speak there and it serves a much wider audience than the average TEDx event.
Top 5 Most-Viewed TED Talks
So, when it comes to the annual TED Conference, what Talks have been the most successful? To answer this, rather than talking about it, let’s dive into the Talks themselves, starting with the five below! As of this blog’s publication, these are the top five most popular TED Talks from the TED library. Hopefully, you find them as insightful and inspiring as I did (and the millions before me). 🙌
“Do Schools Kill Creativity?” with Sir Ken Robinson
As part of the 2006 TED Conference, this TED Talk comes to us from creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. In it, Robinson argues that our current education systems around the world ultimately limit children’s creativity, saying, “kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go… And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.” He also goes on to say, “We stigmatize mistakes… And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities”. Ultimately, both of these statements culminate in his argument that creativity should be treated as equally important to math, science, and the other common subjects in lower and higher education. Only then will adults retain that creativity and fully thrive in their professional lives.
“Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are” with Amy Cuddy
As a social psychology professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy knows a thing or two about body language. In this Talk, she shares several of these ideas including how you can use your own body language to improve your self-perception and self-confidence. In her words, “Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.” That way, even if you’re initially just faking your confidence through body language, you’ll eventually come to believe it, too.
“Inside The Mind Of A Master Procrastinator” with Tim Urban
For many people, procrastination can be an overwhelming, debilitating problem, and solutions can seem hard to find. But, in order to solve the problem, you have to understand it. Here, in his 2016 TED Talk, writer and illustrator Tum Urban does just that in sharing his experiences as a self-proclaimed “master procrastinator.” Using illustrations of a “Rational Decision-Maker,” an “Instant Gratification Monkey,” and a “Panic Monster,” he also explains how to rein in the mental tendencies behind procrastination, so the next time you have a deadline, you can meet it with ease rather than waiting until the last minute.
“How To Speak So That People Want To Listen” with Julian Treasure
Although the bulk of the speakers in this list are not speakers by profession, Julian Treasure is one of the exceptions. In this TED Talk from the 2013 TED Conference, Treasure explains some of the simplest things you can do to ensure people listen when you speak. Summed up by the acronym “HAIL,” Treasure explains that by using these cornerstones of speaking – honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love – you won’t just garner attention while on the stage. You’ll also leave a lasting impression. Plus, once it’s a habit, you’ll be able to positively impact others with your speeches wherever you are. Win, win!
“The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready” with Bill Gates
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have resurrected this 2015 TED Talk from Bill Gates. In it, Gates shares his experiences in working with healthcare professionals and to aid in the control of ebola during the 2014 outbreak. He also stresses the importance of preparedness and preventative action, saying, “There’s no need to panic. We don’t have to hoard cans of spaghetti or go down into the basement. But we need to get going because time is not on our side”. As you’d expect, the entire Talk focuses on similarly direct messages, characteristic of Gates and supported by scientific evidence.
Top 5 Most-Viewed TEDx Talks
In addition to TED Talks, don’t forget about TEDx Talks! As in the previous section, below are the top five most popular TEDx Talks from the last twenty years. From familiar speakers, like Simon Sinek, to more obscure ones, like Robert Waldinger, each of them shares a similarly motivational and perceptive message. Hope you get as much out of them as I did. 🤔
“How Great Leaders Inspire Action” with Simon Sinek
As far as professional speakers go, even the newest additions to the speaking industry know Simon Sinek. Here, in his 2009 Talk for TEDxPuget Sound, Sinek explores the concept of leadership as well as the commonalities between some of the greatest leaders in world history, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs. He also highlights how each of these leaders focused on the question “Why?” To hear him tell it, “We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”
“The Power Of Vulnerability” with Brené Brown
Next up is one of the most famous TEDx Talks in this list, the 2010 TEDxHouston Talk from Brené Brown. In this 20-minute speech, as a researcher on the topics of courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, Brown shares her insights into how vulnerability can help facilitate authentic human connection. Throughout her Talk, she argues for “daring greatly” and that “When we work from a place, I believe, that says, ‘I’m enough’ … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.” What’s more important than that?
“My Philosophy For A Happy Life” with Sam Berns
Many TED and TEDx Talks share miraculous stories of overcoming hardship. But, even so, few are as touching and poignant as that of Sam Berns. Born with progeria, a rare genetic disorder that causes premature aging, Berns was only 17 when he spoke for TED, and although he died only a year later, he left behind a message that is hard to forget. Here, for TEDxMidAtlantic in 2013, he speaks about finding happiness, surrounding himself with quality people, and fulfilling his dreams. He also shares the three personal philosophies that helped him accomplish those goals so that, regardless of the obstacles in your own life, you can work towards your goals, too.
“What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From The Longest Study On Happiness” with Robert Waldinger
The question, “What makes for a worthwhile life?” is a long-contested one and the answers vary widely. Here, for TEDxBeaconStreet, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Robert Waldinger shares his theories, gleaned from his decades of experience as the Director of the 75-year long Harvard Study of Adult Development. These include logical conclusions drawn from the study itself. However, they also include “practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life,” all in less than 15 minutes to drive home his main conclusion to this age-old question: A good life comes from good relationships.
“Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me, I’m A Model” with Cameron Russell
Last but not least of the most-viewed TEDx Talks comes from 2013’s TEDxMidAtlantic event. In this short and sweet presentation, runway model Cameron Russell explains the biggest lessons she’s learned from 10 years on the runway, including her own insecurities with her self-image and will the “legacy of gender and racial oppression” that has crafted society to view women like her as the physical ideal. She also stresses the importance of recognizing “the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures.” That way, for our next success or failure, we can remember what truly matters: who we are.
For more information about TED and TEDx Talks, check out our previous blog, “What Is A TED Talk?” For upcoming TED speakers, specifically, please refer also to our guide, “How To Write A TED Talk Outline From Scratch.” 👍