TED Talk Smile
Cynics suggest that all the top TED Talks hew to a formula calculated to maximize manipulation: first introduce some doom and gloom, then suggest a possible solution, and finish with a call to action.
Having listened to hundreds of talks, in my experience this is not the case.
Instead, some of the most memorable performances find a way to my heart via my funny bone. Their only ask of me is to reflect more deeply on what it means to be human. A little wit and laughter can go a long way, and I treasure the moments of TED that make me smile.
Here are six great ones.
Julia Sweeney: It’s time for “The Talk”
A very funny talk about having “The Talk” with your kids.
It would be easy to regard this performance as just a story full of laughs told by a proud (and insightful) mother. But pay attention to Sweeney’s exquisite sense of timing, her body language, the arc of awkwardness she builds to structure the mirth that makes this talk so memorable. Here is a masterclass in storytelling, from one of the best.
How might you borrow elements of Sweeney's Talk for your next talk?
Billy Collins: Two poems about what dogs think (probably)
Your dog thinks a lot about you, you know. Those thoughts may surprise you: Are you scratching them in the right place? Did you realize that they write in poetry?
Who better than a Poet Laureate to show us how careful choices around vocabulary, tempo, and flow lead to extremely effective communication?
Sarah Jones: What does the future hold? 11 characters offer quirky answers
Improvisation. Her perspectives on subjects as diverse as Google Glass, 3D Printing, and being homeless are all the more remarkable given that their structure, content, and delivery is cooked up on the spot. Sarah Jones weaves deep social critique that makes you think as it makes you smile.
She has a stunning ability to slip into utterly convincing personas in an instant. Can hours upon hours of training, practice, and preparation make you better at thinking on your feet? Absolutely.
Bruce McCall: Nostalgia for a future that never happened
Autogiro jousting! Wing dining with Hemingway!
The inimitable Bruce McCall paints a version of the world we live in, but this one is built on a bedrock of serious nonsense and what he calls “hyperbolic overkill”. As McCall puts it, “My work is so personal and so strange that I have to invent my own lexicon for it.”
It’s a visual feast—his paintings are humorous because of the unexpected connections they make. McCall captures the essence of creativity; it’s not so much about thinking outside the box as it is about connecting different boxes.
Reggie Watts: Beats that defy boxes
The work I do relies on a lot of people—engineers, designers, marketers—bringing world-class talent to the table. My view on extreme talent is that you know it when you see it, and that in giving in to the temptation to parse it, you risk breaking the treasure you behold.
Reggie Watts has that kind of talent. He is astounding. I can’t even pretend to summarize his performance. A quote will have to suffice:It's not so much, as so little as to do with what everything is. But it is within our self-interest to understand the topography of our lives unto ourselves. The future states that there is no time other than the collapsation of that sensation of the mirror of the memories in which we are living. Common knowledge, but important nonetheless.
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