9 Reasons TED Talks Are So Popular

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How many professors could tell stories about students falling asleep during lectures? Or how smartphones have become a big classroom distraction? Students today are often (fairly or not) painted as quick to lose focus and hard to teach.

Yet, with all the buzz around students losing focus, one lecture method has become insanely popular with this group: TED Talks.

These talks have exploded in popularity. The nonprofit that runs the conference and video series was born in 1984 as a format for professionals in technology, entertainment and design (hence the name) to share their innovative ideas, but it struggled to make money up until 1990. Now, there are over 1,500 TED Talk videos and thousands of events held across over 150 countries.

TED went from nearly failing as a business to becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Here are nine reasons they’re so popular with students:

1. They Are Available Online for Free
10 years ago, you couldn’t find any TED Talks online. Attending a conference was a luxury with a high ticket price (as it still is today) and there was no way to view the speeches outside of the actual venue. Professionals could pay thousands to hear the talks or miss out.

In fact, many of the producers behind TED wanted to keep things that way. They didn’t believe the organization could survive by letting just anyone watch a conference.

“People worried that it might capsize our business model because we were running an expensive, somewhat elite conference,” June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, told CNN. “Conventional wisdom would tell you that if you have sort of a luxury item, an expensive conference, you have to keep your prices high and your commodity scarce.”

Nonetheless, the executives decided to put all of TED’s archived talks online for free in 2006. Surprisingly enough, the reaction wasn’t fewer attendees at the luxury conferences. Wait lists actually grew longer and the organization was able to increase ticket prices.

More than that, the presentations finally became accessible to millennials on a budget, and the videos thrived by using a format that catered particularly well to the younger crowd.


2. They Discuss Specific Topics
One of the most distinctive aspects of TED presentations are their uncanny ability to connect viewers to an interesting topic they may have never explored before. There are few rules regarding topics at TED. Speakers have covered everything from deep sea exploration to how rats can be taught to sniff out landmines.


3.They Highlight Diverse Speakers
The presenters are just as eclectic as the people tuning in. Speakers include inventors, influencers, military strategists, prodigies, beat boxers and more. More than that, every speaker has a professional understanding of some topic that makes presentations particularly informative, especially for viewers with certain interests and hobbies.


4. They Go Beyond the Classroom and Office
Students don’t always take advantage of opportunities to explore new subjects during school, internships or work. These videos challenge students to think about complex ideas critically — not for a grade or a paycheck, but just for fun. And they may inspire new paths that they may not have been open to before.

5. They Are Short
Speeches can only last up to 18 minutes. For critics that say millennials lose interest quickly, TED chose a speech length specifically for fickle viewers. TED curator Chris Anderson enforced an 18-minute maximum length because it was “long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”


6. They Are Focused
One speaker drives each talk. Panel discussion, audience participation and Q&A segments don’t drag down the narrative. TED speeches are more like scripted stories meant to draw the listener in.


7. They Are Shot Like Movies
Simply put, these videos are fun to watch. It would seem that TED’s videographers take the same cues used by crews shooting Netflix programs and blockbuster movies. The lighting, set design and visual graphics are used to build drama. Videos are edited between several camera angles to highlight these characteristics.


8. They Appeal to Global Citizens
The younger generation is more open to following global and political events and is more capable of connecting with individuals from around the world via social media and the Web. TED Talks fuel this need to become educated, connected global citizens. They share an authentic and intelligent perspective of an unexplored topic. Oftentimes, TED Talks can be a way for viewers to learn about a problem specific to a region of the world they know little about. The videos make becoming a little more informed and a little more sympathetic as easy as watching an 18-minute presentation, and that’s exactly what students want.

Read more about how today’s students are redefining society.


9. They Can Take Place on Campuses

The nonprofit has also expanded to offer TEDx, TED-like events run by independent organizers — including colleges. These talks often highlight local issues and experts that are of interest to students.

Learn more about Bentley University’s TEDx event.

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About The Author

Bentley University, where your education prepares you for a life of interesting challenges and even more interesting ideas and answers. From your first day on campus, you’ll study what makes the world work – fundamentals of business and markets – AND what the world thinks – the broad perspective of the arts and sciences. It’s a powerful combination with limitless opportunity.