Technology. Entertainment. Design. That’s what TED stands for. But it’s only the beginning.
TED finds the smartest, most unique, most inspiring people around the world and gives them time to speak about whatever they want to. Then they post them on the internet so anybody can see.
J.J. Abrams, the creator of the TV shows Lost and Fringe and director of Star Trek and Cloverfield, said in his 2007 speech, “When I talked to the kind rep from TED, and I said, ‘What should I talk about?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just be profound.’”
The incredible part is that most of them are. Hundreds of people have spoken at TED conferences, and while not all of them are great speakers, most do have something for everyone to take away from what they say.
The TED conference has grown since it began in the 1980s and is now held annually. TED2010 featured 50 speakers over four days. A companion conference, TEDGlobal, has been hosted in India and England.
TED’s lineups have included some of the smartest and most successful people on the planet, but you don’t have learn anything to be inspired by William Kamkwamba, who as a 14-year old in Malawi, TED went to his local library and used plans from a book to build a windmill to power his house.
Some speakers are well-known, like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (who’s 2005 commencement speech at Stanford was selected to TED’s Best of the Web series). Neither one speaks about computers nor how they became rich and famous. They focus on something audience members can actually do in their lives.
David Blaine’s reputation as magician has led to critics saying that his feats have been mere illusions, but watching him explain how he held his breath for 17 minutes, might change some minds.
What keeps TED interesting is the variety of topics and how they are presented. Some people talk about their own adventures, like Mythbuster Adam Savage or Steven Levitt in his talk, “Why do crack dealers still live with their moms?” Speakers, like author Malcolm Gladwell and musician Derek Sivers, tell what they have learned from others. Arthur Benjamin takes the Entertainment part of TED to a new level.
TED2010’s lineup includes comedian Sarah Silverman and movie director James Cameron. Sir Ken Robinson and Bill Gates will each return to give their second TED speech. Gates will be followed by educators Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, whose KIPP program was discussed by Gates at last year’s TED.
Originally published on February 6, 2010.