The power of words: TED talks


Discover and motivate

Alanna Wallace

My favourite TED talks instil a sense of urgency about the world around me and my place within it.

With a quick glance at my list it is clear to anyone that the lectures I tend to watch on repeat are those that touch me on a number of different levels.

I enjoy lectures by intellectuals on international subjects and on the evolution of our populations, may they be foreign or domestic. Most of all, I marvel at the way some speakers can alter my perception of the world issues I’ve learned inside the classroom. This is something integral for my favourite TED talks – they have to be about big ideas that subsequently change the ideals I hold in a big way.

Which brings me to my second kind of favourite TED talk: those that inspire me.

Whether it’s a discussion on diplomacy, motivation or about how to live one’s life, I like to be given information that will inspire me to do great things.

I hope the following nine TED talks will help you discover new ideas and motivate you to evolve with the changing of our world.

Stacey Kramer: The best gift I ever survived

Motivational in every way, Kramer’s short three-minute video is a must-see. Using a cryptic message to tease the audience, she explains how a situation filled with uncertainty and fear can enlighten any individual.

About seizing the moment and making the best out of every situation, Kramer’s lecture will surely inspire you to see the silver lining.

Best quote: “The next time you’re faced with something unexpected, unwanted and uncertain, consider that it just may be a gift.”

Hans Rosling on HIV: New facts and stunning data visuals

For most, statistics are the furthest thing from a stimulating experience. But with Rosling’s animated powerpoint presentations, any TED talk he performs becomes an incredible experience.

Breaking down the barriers that surround our thoughts on HIV/AIDS and the continent of Africa it affects most profoundly, Rosling explicitly demonstrates that we know very little about the HIV epidemic and who it affects.

Best quote: “It’s this terrible simplification that there is one Africa and things go on in one way in Africa. We have to stop that. It’s not respectful and it’s not very clever to think that way.”

Randy Pausch: Really achieving your childhood dreams

Although it’s simply been “adopted” as a TED talk, as it was originally a lecture at Carnegie Mellon, Pausch’s lecture-turned-book was my first experience with TED talks.

Likely the most motivational of any of the TED talks I’ve picked, Pausch faces his imminent death by describing to the audience how he achieved his childhood dreams and how they can, too.

Best quote: “It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Turning everything we know about traditional rewards and how we run our businesses on its head, Pink explains why the reward and punishment approach often doesn’t work and often does harm in the 21st century business world.

He calls attention to the changing of the business world in terms of right-brained, creative, conceptual kinds of abilities.

The whole lecture will make you re-evaluate your leadership skills and how you view yourself in the business world in years to come.

Best quote: “There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep

We’ve become a society where sleep is undervalued. But when the co-founder of the Huffington Post tells you to get more sleep — you best perk up and listen. She claims that not only would we be more productive if we caught more “Zs,” but that we would also make better conversationalists at dinner parties.

Not only is Huffington hilarious and charismatic on-stage, her advice for the women of the world to get more sleep in order to be more productive is something our fast-paced society should really be taking to heart.
Best quote: “We are literally going to sleep our way to the top. Literally.”

Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders

Every woman (and man) looking to motivate our generation of businesswomen should watch this lecture by the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook.

Sandberg examines the sad statistics of women in the workplace and gives three very important ways that women can succeed in the workplace. The best part of this lecture for me is how applicable it is to our age group as those who are about to enter the job market.

Her funny, innovative lecture will motivate both men and women to reach for their full potential in whatever avenue they decide to pursue.
Best quote: “I think a world that was run where half of our countries and half of our companies were run by women, would be a better world.”

Diane J. Savino: The case for same-sex marriage

Another talk that was one of TED’s specially chosen web talks is New York Senator Diane J. Savino’s speech defending same-sex marriage. Her well-articulated argument that heterosexual couples have ruined whatever sanctity marriage possessed could win over anyone.

Well-balanced between humour, real-life assertions and emotion, Savino makes a heartfelt stand for a current issue that has Americans split between two camps. If you’re on the fence about same-sex marriage, this is the woman who will change your mind.

Best quote: “If there’s any threat to the sanctity of marriage in America it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right and we have abused it for decades.”

Richard St. John’s Eight secrets of success

Seven years in the making, St. John’s lecture brings together the ideas of TED lecturers after he conducted 500 interviews with TED fellows.

He provides a short but insightful presentation of the eight secrets he discovered through attending years of conferences.

Every tip is just as important as the last and St. John cites the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates to exemplify his point.

My favourite part is that St. John highlights the fact that those who are successful love what they do and should strive to work at something for which they have a passion.

Best quote: “They’re not workaholics, they’re workafrolics.”

Madeleine Albright: On being a woman and a diplomat

As former U.S. secretary of state, Albright brings an interesting perspective to the role of women in international relations.

She discusses the role of women in politics and the important part they can play in women’s issues around the world.

Her anecdotal accounts of working at the UN while surrounded by men on the Security Council are both funny and enlightening.

I love that Albright considers the economic and societal roles of women a security issue and if you don’t agree, she’ll convince you otherwise.

Best quote: “It doesn’t mean that the whole world would be a lot better if it were totally run by women. If you think that, you’ve forgotten high school.”

Design and creativity

Wade Thompson

The idea that really drives my interest in these TED conferences is the ingenuity behind furthering the creative mind.

It is inspiring to me to know that there is a forum in which great right brain thinkers can clearly express and explain their personal innovations through original thought.

As a person who constantly strives to find outlets to articulate my own creativity, I find these talks to be beneficial in the utmost way.
They help communicate an understood promise that we can continually develop new and exciting ideas, some of which will help us greatly in future generations.

Bruce McCall on faux nostalgia

Canadian illustrator and humourist McCall takes us on a tour of his vast portfolio, putting on display his unique artworks that re-imagine history with a completely new perspective.

This talk isn’t great because it’s inspiring, or because it has some deep message.

It’s great because it’s simple: an artist putting his work on display to speak for itself. McCall provides the perfect deadpan accompaniment for his slideshow, allowing the audience to see original thinking at its best, as opposed to just hearing about it.

Stew says “Black Men Ski”

This talk features one of the most unheralded musical talents working today, performing a song that encapsulates his prominence as an artist. Stew sings the very dry and satirical “Black Men Ski” in which he brings forward numerous misconceptions about race but is able to do so in the form of a ridiculously masterful movement.

The rather short performance by the Tony-award winning artist demonstrates TED’s ability to acknowledge largely unknown talents and give them a stage to prove they need to be heard.

Ursus Wehrli tidies up art

Swiss comedian Wehrli provides his intrigued audience with a brand new perspective on how to view modern art.

Using two easels to display the before and after, he breaks down famous paintings and prints to their most basic forms, making formerly “messy” works clean and organized.

This talk is more than a little bit funny as Wehrli demonstrates how easy it is to see things in a (very) new light.

Tim Brown on creativity and play

Tim Brown’s lecture on the connection between creativity and our ability to play is fantastic. Basically, he surmises that we should take much more from the way children interact in order to develop our creative instincts.

He provides examples of how role playing, building and exploration all benefit the circumstances in coming up with new ideas.

Providing first-hand instance from his own design firm, he asserts that “we think playfulness helps us get us to better create solutions, helps us do our jobs better and helps us feel better when we do them.” It’s hard to word it more convincingly than that.

Nellie McKay sings “Mother of Pearl” and “If I Had You”

Another pure performance “talk,” but it is really indicative of TED’s eye for creative talent. McKay begins her first song with the immortal line “feminists don’t have a sense of humour” and everything takes off from there.

Her subtle, stirring voice is on display throughout all of her songs, meshing nicely with her wit and sense of humour. A really, short, upbeat addition to TED talks.

Anand Agarawala demos BumpTop

A very short and sweet demonstration of a new perspective desktop for your computer. Taking inspiration from, what else, his actual desk’s top, Agarawala puts on display his new innovative computer interface where all files are individual pieces of paper on an actual desk.

You can crumple up certain unnecessary files. Hang important pieces on the desktop “walls.” Create piles and flip through them like a book or any number of ways.

Watch it and see how even the simplest of things can be redesigned to becomes something even cooler.

Sarah Jones as a one-woman global village

For her lecture, Tony award winning performer Jones molds herself into a gaggle of original characters, fading so far into their skins that Jones herself gets lost and it begins to feel as though her fake people are instead giving the talk.

She goes from a geriatric old Jewish woman, to a fast talking Dominican grad student living in New York, to just about everywhere else around the globe in just her allotted time.

Jones’ overall point is about the gift of creation and her interest in the “invention of the self.”

Willard Wigan: Hold your breath for a micro-sculpture

Wigan is an artist who creates sculptures so small they are done on the head of a pin. He talks about having to slow his heart rate down so that he can work in between the beats, so as not to allow his hand to slip while carving his tiny models.

He also deals with controlling his breathing as to not blow his work away from right underneath him. This talk is a great example of discipline and originality coming together to produce a truly unique work of art.

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

The first TED talk that I ever saw was also the most inspiring lecture that I have ever seen. Sir Ken Robinson provides a hilariously insightful examination of creativity in society today and how, as children, we are taught out of our passions by the adults around us. He attains that “we have to rethink the fundamentals of which we are educating our children.”

Honestly, Robinson is a voice to be heard. He quite vividly understands that TED stands for the “celebration of the gift of the imagination”. So, if you’re looking to be inspired by anything at all, drop this paper, and fire up this talk. You won’t be sorry.

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