I Don’t Like TED Talks

I realize I might be one of the few individuals in this country to not be in love with TED (and TEDx) Talks. It seems that people swarm to them on YouTube like ants to a summer picnic, but if I’m being honest, they generally don’t “do it” for me. I wish I were an English major and could more poetically articulate what it is that makes me want to cringe when I see a TED Talk in the line up of Weekly Resources in GEDI or when I see them slathered all over my Facebook news feed. Since I am not gifted in my ability to write gripping, page-turner text, I will attempt to highlight below what I ‘think‘ it is that irritates me about the TED (and TEDx) hype.

1. “Ideas Worth Spreading” – According to who? By simple invitation to/inclusion at a TED event the audience is already set up to assume that whoever is speaking it going to deliver something incredibly wonderful and unique which therefore must be passed along. What ‘ideas’ are deemed “unworthy” to be shared and therefore not spread by the folks in charge of TED events? Generally the ideas seem never to be very progressive or thought-provoking, but all remain in “safe” territory.

2. Format- Along with the slogan, the format really only allows for ideas to be spread from one “chosen” individual to the passive audience. How about an “Ideas worth discussing or debating” type set up. I don’t like that the format implies this person is correct and I should take what they say and run with it because some other people decided it was a “superb idea”.

3. Accuracy- I like science and hard data. I don’t like opinion pieces not backed up by rigorous experimental observation/design and peer-reviewed literature. TED talks are not always peer reviewed for accuracy and this is dangerous. It simplifies complex scientific mechanisms down to quotable snippets that average-joe’s with no context specific background take and run with as fact. Because of that we risk spreading half-truths and inaccuracies. Evidence provided at TED talks tends to be along the lines of “I once had this experience” and therefore allow me to generalize and bash our entire education system.

4. Joining In- Like most new fads and trends there seems to be a need to get wrapped up in it just to be part of the group. This only serves to contribute to a sheep-like, follow the leader, don’t think and analyze for ourselves mentality. Are all ideas worth spreading? No. Do all talks deserve to end in a standing ovation? NO …yet the vast majority at TED do. Probably a few people stand and then out of social pressure/instinct the rest stand whether they originally thought the talk stand worthy or not. Folks watching these videos for free later on the Internet maybe just don’t like one or a talk doesn’t resonate with them – yet the carefully planned audience panning shows members of society being so engaged, nodding along, giving the speaker a standing ovation, etc. that they may start to think – hmmm, maybe I just don’t “get it”. “Better pretend I also think this is one of the greatest things ever so I can fit in.”

I’m sure there might be more, but that is how I can best verbalize (err, write) what it is that just doesn’t have me jumping for joy about TED talks. I do see some good from TED talks, so please don’t think I am bashing their entire existence. TED talks serve as great videos to study and attempt to emulate from a professional presentation stand point. It is also nice to listen to a person who is knowledgeable on a topic and articulate give an entertaining presentation on it. However, as someone who tends to gravitate towards the null, I would rather see the data and papers backing up their claims rather than just taking their “ideas” at face value.

Does anyone else not find themselves captivated by TED (TEDx) talks? Why or why not?


About tanyamh

A PhD Student at Virginia Tech. This blog was created as a class requirement for Contemporary Pedagogy - Spring 2013.


  1. While I generally love TED talks and watch them fairly regularly, I have issues with them too, but not necessarily the same ones you have. Unlike the more opinion-based talks you seem to refer to, I’ve seen a decent number of talks that were oriented more around a person who had developed a novel strategy or system to solve a problem, and they were sharing their info and how their idea worked. I like those talks because they can both be informative but also inspiring – they can give insight into the way a non-conventional thinker thinks.
    That being said, I agree with you about other talks from “experts” that are little more than inspirational with little hard data or info to back up claims made. Often there are calls for change with little suggestion or ideas for how to make change. (Sometimes there aren’t solutions and just identifying or framing a problem clearly is worthwhile, but I prefer when people have at least an inkling as to how to address a problem!)
    My biggest beef with the TED talks is related to the format – I don’t like how many seem to oversimplify complex problems. This really struck me while watching the recent PBS TEDtalksED show…how can you meaningfully address the complexities of problems with the public education system in a 15min talk?!? Even 10 X 15min talks? Jeez, we spent a semester studying it (and mostly just higher ed at that) and I still get the sense we only scratched the surface. This actually reminds me of the “Is Google making us stupid” article – we like our info and our problems presented to us in nice, simple, no longer than 20min snippets, whether or not it actually fits into that framework. It gives us a false sense of simplicity and also satisfaction that we are thinking about the “hard problems” when in reality, passively watching a TEDtalk isn’t a meaningful way to engage with a problem. However, it can be meaningful if it inspires someone to tackle a topic in depth and actually do something, and I think that’s where the strength of the TEDtalks lies – in the dissemination of introductions to ideas, much like the web. It’s up to us whether we do something more useful with them.

  2. You are nit alone my friend, I also have some issue with some of the Ted Talks but I must admit that there have been some great talks added to their YouTube channels. But I hate how they have some average performers and they just call them genius. But some talks are really informative like the Ken Robinson talk on education system was awesome.

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