13 All-Time Best TED Talks

Hello and welcome to my TED talk.

You probably know what TED is already – one of the most popular conferences worldwide, offering inspirational lectures on a broad range of topics… does that ring any bells?

While some associate conferences with dull, stale and business-y individuals talking about boring things on stage, TED is as far from that as you can get. It has a charming heart, fueled by passion and made up of exceptional individuals who strive to make a positive change in the world. With so much content produced by TED, though, which of these are the best TED talks?

As a religious follower of TED over the past few years, I decided to dig a bit deeper into the topic and lay them out for you. Chances are these will inspire your next great idea and convince you that nothing is impossible – given you approach something in the right way.

By the end of this article you will know:

  • What are the best TED talks?
  • What are the best TED talks of 2020?
  • What is TED conference?
  • Are TED talks worth it?
  • What does the acronym TED stand for?
  • And much more curiosities

Which are the most influential TED Talks?

As I dove deep into uncharted Internet territory, looking far and wide to answer this question, I stumbled upon some curiosities regarding TED. There is a chance that you, like myself, are interested in whimsical trivia and statistics, so I will share some with you:

  • TED was established in February 1984, but became an annual conference from 1990.
  • An average TED talk is 18 minutes or under 18 minutes long – which is backed by strategy and neuroscience.
  • The conference covers a broad spectrum of topics – from tech, business and innovation, to culture, feminism and spirituality.
  • It produces content in more than 100 languages.
  • TED.com currently hosts over 2,400 talks, with new additions daily.
  • There are 3,400 Youtube TED talks on the official TED channel.
  • The TedX Youtube channel hosts over 90,000 videos, with new additions daily.
  • Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician, holds the record for the most TED talks given by a single person – a whopping 8.
  • There are more than 10,000 TedX events given out as of 2020.

Now that was refreshing, wasn’t it? With so many dazzling and insightfully good TED talks to pick from, one can get crosseyed and confused easily. This is why I took it upon myself to look into the creme de la creme of the best TED talks ever.

Ready? Hold your breath, because we are diving in.

13 Best TED Talks of All Time

TED talks are built on delivering fresh ideas, by original thinkers and writers, which aim to leave behind a better world. So out of all these inspiring talks, it is very difficult to compile a list of the best of the best. This is why I have focused on view count as a metric – the talks with the most audience surely have something in them that makes them stand out.

1. Do schools kill creativity?

Speaker: Sir Ken Robinson
Views: 65.9M
Category: best TED talks for middle school parents

All kids have tremendous talent. This is the main point that TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson argues for in one of the best TED talks ever made. In his eyes, however, education systems around the world are ruthlessly squandering that talent, which leads to its eventual death. Robinson is firm in his belief that creativity nowadays is just as important as literacy in the context of education, and should be cultivated the same way.

It’s no secret that math, science and literacy have been the focus of schools worldwide for the past who-knows-how-many-years. Children are discouraged from doing dance, art or theatre because “the money is not there”. But should this continue to be this way? If you ask Robinson – definitely not.

Through anecdotes and personal stories, the author and educationalist beautifully states that creativity is the freedom to willingly make mistakes, try out new things and be brave – which are all qualities that children possess. Children don’t lack creativity, but rather grow out of it, are educated out of it, he preaches with his soothing British accent. For me, this is the greatest speech on TED ever.

2. This is what happens when you reply to spam email

Speaker: James Veitch
Views: 60.2M
Category: best short TED talks

Do you know how much gold you’d need if you want to start running an illegal distribution business? 2kg? 9kg? How about 25kg? This, of course, is if witty comedian James Veitch and his alleged communication with the scammer Solomon is to be believed. Even if it’s not, this TED talk is cleverly funny and is bound to make your day a bit brighter.

That being said, spam makes up 45% of our emails. Of course, you rarely click on spam, unless you are above a certain age and want to check out that cool offer you got sent, only to find out that your laptop is now infected with viruses. Yes, I am talking about my dad. On average, spammers receive 1 response to every 12.500.000 emails. People often bash them, but at the end of the day, spamming is a tough and ungrateful job.

Curiously enough, this one is among the most popular TED talks, even though it’s entirely built on humour.

3. Your body language may shape who you are

Speaker: Amy Cuddy
Views: 58M
Category: best TED talks for motivation

Fun fact – using emojis in online negotiations can bring you more value. That is, if you know how to use them. 😉

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy uses this peculiar fact to introduce the broader topic of the importance of body language to the audience. According to her, our body language doesn’t only influence other people – it influences us as well. In fact, communication consists of 7% spoken words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language.

Cuddy’s experiment with low and high power body poses can be positively implemented in many fields – including tough job interviews. She has a “fake it till you make it approach”, which can impress others and give you the needed confidence to see difficult situations through. Cuddy also talks a lot about the connection between hormones, body language, and the importance of presence. This is a great TED talk for teens, who may be struggling with showing their confidence to the world.

4. How great leaders inspire action

Speaker: Simon Sinek
Views: 50.8M
Category: Best TED talks on leadership

Apple, Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers – what do these seemingly unrelated subjects have in common? It’s easy, they don’t think like you and I. They are innovators – they don’t get discouraged and have strong beliefs. They have dreams and the passion to see their dreams become a reality.

They start with Why?

Starting with Why? is the key component of the Golden Circle, a concept defined by leadership expert Simon Sinnek. It’s also the name of his bestselling book. The Golden Circle consists of three seemingly simple questions – Why? How? and What?, and is integral to making a company stand out from the rest. Everyone knows what they do, some know how they do it, very few know why they do it. And as it turns out, this is key. Sinnek explains all of this in one of the best TED talks for business there is.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. People are drawn to purpose, cause, and belief. To inspiration. That is why you have to show them why you get out of bed in the morning and why they should care about that.

5. The power of vulnerability

Speaker: Brené Brown
Views: 48.9M
Category: most inspiring TED talks

Brene Brown delivers an extremely touching and human TED talk which explores the importance of human connection. From a neurobiological standpoint (Brown is a researcher-storyteller), this is the meaning of human life.

Brown defines shame as the fear of disconnection. It is the question that each of us has asked ourselves at one time or another – is there something about me that other people will see that will make me not worthy of connection?

Some, however, don’t perceive vulnerability as a flaw, but rather as a necessity. Being vulnerable is the personification of strength and the ultimate courage to love with our whole hearts, even though there is no guarantee that we will receive anything in return. To call your doctor, to tell her you love her first, to surrender – and see what’s on the other side, head held high.

One of the best motivational TED talks of all time, you wouldn’t want to miss out on this one.

6. How to speak so that people want to listen

Speaker: Julian Treasure
Views: 42.8M
Category: best audio TED talks

Ever felt like you are speaking logically and soundly, but no one seems to listen? Julian Treasure is here to lend a helping hand and explain why that might be. In this brisk and practical talk, he outlines 7 habits to try and stay away from, if you want to have meaningful conversations, where you have people’s attention. He also pinpoints 4 powerful cornerstones that can enhance our speech further. They spell out the word HAIL – can you guess what each letter stands for?

Finally, Treasure opens the toolbox of our voice and offers some good ideas on keeping track of our register, timbre, prosody, pace, pitch, and volume. This is one of the most famous TED talks because of how practical and easy to implement it is.

7. Inside the mind of a master procrastinator

Speaker: Tim Urban
Views: 40.1M
Category: best TED talks for college students

Master procrastinator Tim Urban tells a tale of laughter and woe – in what is one of the funniest TED talks out there. He introduces the audience to the deities living in his brain – the Rational-Decision Maker, who tries to sail the ship and achieve goals within a set timeframe, by spreading out the workload evenly. And the Instant Gratification Monkey, which solely exists to have fun and take the easy way out. Naturally, these two are in a constant struggle, with the Monkey prevailing most of the time, which kind of works… occasionally.

Luckily, procrastinators have a guardian angel – the Panic Monster, which keeps the procrastinator out of trouble and allows for them to do a substantial amount of work in very little time.

Procrastination is a serious issue – according to some surveys, 85-95% of students have problems associated with it. This is why this talk can be deemed among the best TED talks for students. Urban thinks that everyone is a procrastinator, as we are all procrastinating something. However, we should see the bigger picture, since before we know it, we might have procrastinated our lives away.

8. The next outbreak? We’re not ready

Speaker: Bill Gates
Views: 36.3M
Category: best prophetic TED talk

Bill Gates should consider scratching a lottery ticket, because apparently he can predict the future. In this 2015 TED Talk he talks about how the next big thing that humanity should be scared about isn’t nuclear war – it’s influenza. Here, he is talking in the context of Ebola, which was a big thing in 2015 – it had a 50% fatality rate.

This is one of the greatest TED talks, as it shows how credible the organization really is. Apparently, Bill was very well aware of what would happen in 2020, because in his prophetic talk he warns us that the world isn’t prepared to handle an outbreak such as this, and we should be wary. Turns out governments shouldn’t have skipped this great talk, as his words, more or less, came true.

9. My philosophy for a happy life

Speaker: Sam Berns
Views: 35.1M
Category: best motivational TED talks

In this touching and inspiring talk, then 17-year-old Sam Berns shares his philosophy for leading a happy life. Sam is the star of the HBO documentary “Life According to Sam”, which was considered to be nominated in the Documentary Feature category of the 86th Oscars.

Berns suffers from progeria, an extremely rare autosomal dominant genetic disorder, but he doesn’t let it dictate his life. Of course, there are some limitations to what he can and can’t do, but ultimately he chooses what to focus on, preferring to look at the bright side of things, rather than the grim one.

Unfortunately, Sam passed away in 2014 due to complications of his illness, but he delivered one of the most inspirational ted talks to this date. His simple philosophy can inspire people everywhere – being brave isn’t supposed to be easy.

10. Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.

Speaker: Cameron Russell
Views: 34.7M
Category: best TED talks for women

Cameron Russell, a Victoria’s Secret model, is here to share that being superficial often yields nothing good. She answers some of the most asked questions she gets about her modeling career and builds up to the conclusion that even though models seem perfect on the outside, they are often some of the most insecure people on the planet.

58% of college-aged girls feel pressured to be a certain weight. This presentation is especially good for them to hear, as Cameron talks with conviction and passion, hoping that her message comes across as intended. No wonder this is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time – women and body image have a complicated relationship and social pressure isn’t doing them good – even though Russell says that all the images we see in magazines are simply a skillful construct.

11. What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

Speaker: Robert Waldinger
Views: 34.1M
Category: best psychology TED talks

What is the key ingredient to keeping us healthy and happy as we move through life? Many say that fame and fortune are the things that will greatly contribute to their happiness – but psychiatrist Robert Waldinger disagrees. In what is one of the most inspirational TED talks of all time, he explains the findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which lasted for 75 years and tracked the lives of 724 men.

As it turns out, the secret to living a long and happy life is quite simple – maintaining good relationships. Quality close relationships make us thrive, and it has been discovered that loneliness kills. Waldinger shares some insight on how to best implement the study findings in our own lives and ensure that we are living mindfully and rich – metaphorically speaking.

12. Why people believe they can’t draw

Speaker: Graham Shaw
Views: 32.6M
Category: highest rated TED talks

Many people believe they can’t draw – I am guilty of that myself. Graham Shaw, however, doesn’t agree and argues that that has to do more with your limiting beliefs than your actual skills. He proceeds to show several easy cartoons that anyone can replicate and that the technique for each gets coded within our memory for future use.

This is the best example of what a TED talk stands for – it’s positive, easy to replicate immediately in our lives, and inspires people to keep an open mind.

13. 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm

Speaker: Mary Roach
Views: 31.4M
Category: best curious TED talk

It’s a bit curious how this is one of the most watched TED talks of all time – but then again, who isn’t guilty of being curious about the mysterious orgasm? Mary Roach treads through the matter effortlessly with her signature wit and humorous nature – and it makes for an informative listen.

It’s a bit funny how this one made it into the top TED talks of all time, but who am I to judge? People like what they like and there is no shame about it. Be sure to watch this fascinating talk for some fresh ideas and funny stories.

5 Most popular TED Talks of 2020 (+ a bonus)

It should come as no surprise that the best TED lectures this year are dedicated to COVID-19. A speaker who appeared in the above list appears not once, but two whole times – can you guess who this influencer is?

And since this whole COVID talk is making us globally anxious, I included a small bonus at the end of the list, which is something different but still communicates valid and important points.

So, without further ado – let’s see which the Best TED talks 2020 are.

1. How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic

Speaker: Bill Gates
Views: 7.3M

Bill Gates is one of the most Famous TED talk speakers when it comes to viruses, and no, I don’t mean computer ones. Here he gives his insights into the COVID-19 pandemic and argues why self-isolation and testing are of the utmost importance. He also discusses which medical advancements are promising, and what the world has to do to end this crisis.

2. Why COVID-19 is hitting us now — and how to prepare for the next outbreak

Speaker: Alanna Shaikh
Views: 3.1M

One of the great TED talks regarding COVID gives a brief rundown on the virus – where did it come from, how did it spread so fast, and most importantly – what’s next? Global health expert Alanna Shaikh talks about all this and follows the spread of the virus, discussing why it’s not effective to restrict travel and highlights the much needed medical reforms worldwide to prepare for what’s coming. “We need to make sure that every country in the world has the capacity to identify new diseases and treat them,” she says.

3. What coronavirus means for the global economy

Speaker: Ray Dalio
Views: 2.1M

Another one of the top TED talks of 2020 is corona-related. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, offers wide-spectrum insights on the best ways to recover from the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – and use the opportunity to reconstruct the systems that help cultivate our economies. “I’m a capitalist. I believe in the system. I believe you can increase the size of the pie and you could divide it well,” he says.

4. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. Here’s what to do next

Speaker: Elizabeth Gilbert
Views: 1.7M

Fear and anxiety are common shared feelings amidst the pandemic. Author Elizabeth Gilbert offers a safe haven of understanding and hope by reflecting on how to stay present in the moment, accept negative emotions, and trust in the endurance of the human spirit. This is one of the more recent TED talks, and takes a different angle on the COVID-19 pandemic. “Resilience is our shared genetic inheritance,” Gilbert says.

5. How the pandemic will shape the near future

Speaker: Bill Gates
Views: 1M

Bill Gates is at it again with one of the hottest TED talks topics of the year, discussing the best and worst scenarios that COVID-19 could cause in the months ahead. He further explains what the challenges are to reducing virus transmission, speaks about promising vaccine candidates, and even takes a second to consider conspiracy theories revolving around himself. He also makes an appeal to fellow philanthropists, whose action is needed now more than ever.

BONUS:

6. The perks of being a pirate

Speaker: Tom Nash
Views: 2M

Harrr. I am so glad this one made it into the top TED talks of the year. DJ and self-proclaimed pirate Tom Nash is here to bushwack our hearts with his charm and humor, while pondering on how facing adversity due to disability welcomed pragmatism, patience and ambition into his life in enlightening ways. “We all have unique weaknesses,” he says. “If we’re honest about what they are, we can learn how to best take advantage of them.” One of the most popular TED talks of the year (which isn’t centered around COVID) will make you smile and reminisce a bit about life.

Some final words

The staggering combined view count of the best TED talks listed above is more than 550 million. I find it exhilarating that so many people are curious about the world that surrounds them and want to learn more and to feed new information into their brains. Knowledge is seductive and powerful, and in today’s day and age anyone can easily access it on the Internet. So make it count.

Which were your favorite TED talks from the list? Let us know!

FAQ

Q: What is the best TED talk ever?

A: If you ask me, Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do schools kill creativity?” is absolutely awe-inspiring and deservedly stands on top of the most watched TED talks of all time. If you want to watch something different, you can always check out this playlist – TED actually have quite a few handy playlists that collect videos on similar topics. It’s useful if you don’t know where to start, or have very specific interests.

Q: What TED talk should I watch?

A: Any pick from this list should be a good place to start. The talks listed here are among the best TED talks of all time, the ones which people found great worth and inspiration in. After you get acquainted with the different topics that TED showcases, you can browse here to find more personalized content, suited to your taste.

Q: Are TED talks worth watching?

A: Definitely. TED’s entire philosophy is based on delivering innovative and inspirational content that is meant to ignite creative minds and spark a flame in their hearts. There are so many TED talks topics that it is virtually impossible to not find something you like – you can start with the ones listed in the article, as they are the most viewed TED talks of all time. Furthermore, TED talk science states that 18 minutes is the optimal time to assimilate new knowledge – and you’d be lying if you say you don’t have 18 minutes to spend in your day.

Q: What is TED short for in TED talks?

A: TED stands for: Technology, Entertainment and Design. The conference’s early focus was mainly on technology and design, which was consistent with its Silicon Valley origins. However, given the conference’s 34-year lifespan, it has evolved and now welcomes a broad range of TED talk categories, including science, politics, culture and academia.

Q: What is a TEDx Talk?

A: TEDx talks are independent TED events which can be organized by anyone who obtains a licence from TED. As of October 2017, the TEDx archive surpassed 100,000 talks. TEDx events are quite versatile and can include films and live presentations as well. Understandably, TEDx talks 2020 are all held online.

Cite this article as: Jim Peterson, "13 All-Time Best TED Talks," in My Speech Class, October 28, 2020, https://www.myspeechclass.com/best-ted-talks.html.