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Technology, Entertainment, Design = TED

TED Talks: Get Inspired

At a time when the world's problems can seem overwhelming, the TED conference offers a welcome dose of passion, optimism, and powerful ideas.

Growing the Audience

For the online presentations, in order to capture as much of the drama of the live talks as possible, they are filmed with multiple cameras. Dynamic editing cuts together tight close-ups, audience reaction shots, and full-screen shots of any visual aids used on stage. Even watching online on a two-inch screen, the talks are surprisingly engaging. “There's something really compelling about people talking and telling their stories,” Cohen says. "Viewers are really connecting to the speakers on a human level."

TED is strict with its speakers about the famous 18-minute time limit. One of the small pleasures of watching online is seeing men and women who aren’t used to being rushed hurrying to finish their talk in the allotted time. Another bigger pleasure is having the luxury of hearing a full 18 minutes worth of what people think, rather than the few sound bites that might make it onto a traditional news broadcast.

"When we first launched, the conventional wisdom was that the sweet spot for an online video was around two or three minutes," Cohen says, "but it turns out that people really want to watch the whole 18-minute talk."

It’s certainly proven to be a popular format. Viewers are finding many ways to use the videos—on their own, with friends and family, in classrooms, workshops, and conferences. Groups around the world are launching copycat conferences like the University of British Columbia’s newTerry Talks conference, which bills itself as a University-based conference built on the TED template.

Spreading Good Ideas

Not surprisingly, some of the ideas shared at TED are starting to have an impact, not just an audience: Hans Rosling, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders–Sweden and a researcher of global health and poverty, has presented two groundbreaking talks at TED using software he had developed to help visualize statistics. The talks ignited interest about the message (which suggests ways we can use existing data to prioritize and improve public health in the developing world) and about the medium (Rosling met the founders of Google at TED, and they were so excited about hisstatistical visualization tool that they bought the software from him). Sorry—meet-and-greets like that are one kind of benefit of TED that’s not available for download.

Researcher Johnny Chung Lee was already an Internet star before his TED talk appeared online. He began sharing his breakthroughs onYouTubewith do-it-yourself modifications to a Nintendo Wii game controller. Can’t afford a $3,000 interactive whiteboard system for your school? Lee will show youhow to build one with about $45worth of parts and his free software.

"I'm just a researcher in my lab with a video camera," Lee says in his TED talk, “and within the first week a million people had seen this work," adding that within days engineers, teachers, and students from around the world were already posting their own videos of themselves using his system or their own refinements of his work. “I hope to see more of that in the future and I hope online video distribution is embraced by the research community."

At the same time, TED is offering scholarships to make sure that interesting people who happen to be low on cash will be able to attend the conference. They’ve launched TED Global, a bi-annual international version of TED and are working on adding subtitles and translations to all of the videos to widen their audience even further. Since 2005 the TED Prize has offered change-makers $100,000 and a wish, which engages TEDsters (including those of us who have only joined TED online) to find interesting ways to help make the world a better place.2008 prize-winner Dave Eggers—a writer and publisher who launched 826 Valencia, a writing and tutoring center for kids in San Francisco—calls on the community to find1,000 ways to directly engage with public schoolsin their area.

"Good ideas, when they're presented by a passionate individual, will win," says Cohen. In a world where it is easy to feel overwhelmed by intractable problems, TED's passion, optimism, and faith that sharing good ideas can make the world a better place is exciting and infectious.

Jake Miller, the author of more than 40 books for young people, writes about the intersection of culture and technology. He is a regular contributor to Live & Learn.

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