TED Talks


Some time ago, I realized I need a post or page with links to those TED talks I have already watched and found interesting (those related to food, diet and health are listed under the pages for my dietician classes). I will keep adding to this post, so it will remain under construction. This is more a randomly structured review of talks I watched and liked. I tried to bring some order by adding categories. It is meant to give a little guidance into the vastness of choices, and as a reference for myself.

I remember one of the first TED talks I watched was Colin Stokes ‘What Netflix Teaches about Manhood’ and the only one I wrote about in one of my early posts. It is from 2012 and may be a little outdated in some respects, but that could be open for discussion.

The TED website itself, though extensive in what it offers, is very well structured. Besides an alphabetical index where you find all possible topics from A to Z, there are numerous playlists. They are mostly organized by topic, but one of them lists the most popular 25 talks and is a good place to start for anyone new to TED.

The leader of this list is the talk given by the brilliant Sir Ken Robinson in 2006. I have watched this talk with many, if not all my classes. Ken Robinson was a British educator who strongly fought for completely overhauling the way we educate our children in schools. He argues for radical changes if we want to truly enable children to develop not only their intellect, but also their creativity. We need to change a system that is still deeply ingrained in an industrial world of competitive selection that inadvertently squashes and squanders potential talents of various kinds. We need to rethink our traditional curriculum that does not do justice to the colorful variety of fields and areas alive in our societies.

This talk has always led to deep and intensive discussions. Ken Robinson also has a webpage that is worth visiting. He, sadly, passed away in 2020, but his website is kept alive.

New talks I have been watching (September 2023)

Peter McIndoe: Birds aren’t real

Monica Lewinsky: The price of shame

Art and music

A beautiful ‘talk’ about breaking up the traditional roles of leading and following in dancing: Liquid Leading. Great for all fans of dancing. And a possible follow-up to Ken Robinson.

Another music related ‘talk’ that is actually a performance, is just purely enjoyable: Sleepy Man Banjo Boys

Economics and society

Another one I have watched frequently is Richard Wilkinson’s ‘How inequality harms society’. From a language learner perspective this talk is rich in basic vocabulary and offers a various range of topics for discussion.

Our economic system is deeply flawed. It does not nurture the majority of our communities, but instead caters profits to a select few. The US alone now has around 500 billionaires who have way too much influence on politics. With their overproportionate share of the country’s finances, they can buy politicians whose politics are to their further benefit. This extreme level of inequality is undermining democracy. Watch the economist Kate Raworth’s TED talk where she describes the model of a sustainable economic sytem beneficial to more than just a handful of billionaires.

Work related: ways of working and leadership

Even before the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about new concepts of leadership. One TED talk we watched and discussed in many groups was Simon Sinek’s talks on the question ‘What makes a good leader?

More recent talks came up in connection with the special situation of the pandemic about leadership during a crisis. Here most notably to be mentioned are Patty McCord’s talks (see below), and Amy Edmondson’s How to lead in a crisis.

Recently added to this topic is the question of how we want to work. The forced situation of having to work from home has triggered many discussions on different or alternative concepts for making work time better than it has been for many. These are also the main issues of Patty McCord talks: 8 Lessons for making a company worth working for, and Four lessons the pandemic taught us about work and life balance.

A very interesting talk connected with ways of working and one I have now watched quite frequently (update March 2023) is Ricardo Semler’s talk on how worklife is organized completely differently to conventional business organizations in his company Semco. I have been reading his book The Seven Day Weekend, too. Highly recommendable.

Another issue that came up many times in discussions on ways of working was that of commuting. Not having to spend hours driving to work was one of the most mentioned benefits of WfH; a topic that is met in some of the talks below:

Climate Change and livable urban design

The topic of climate change is unavoidable, especially in June (note: written last summer 2022), with reports on heat waves all over the world.

Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol, talks about what can and should be done in cities.

Also check Noah Harari on the same topic.

The various talks on ‘Walkable Cities”, especially those by Jeff Specks, are definitely worth watching. Jeff Specks also wrote a book on the topic that is downloadable for free. Reading some pages of his book in addition to watching his talks can make for a highly rewarding lesson. (Second talk on the topic by Jeff Speck: Four ways of making Cities more walkable)

How to live a long and happily healthy life

One I had almost forgotten was about the largest happiness study conducted. For more read the article from The Harvard Gazette.

The talk on happiness links up nicely with Dan Buettner’s talk on Blue Zones.

Learning and forgetting – our brains

Interesting talk on memory by Lisa Genova: myths about the brain and the normality of forgetting (see also below Dr Lara Boyd on neuroplasticity). Lisa Genova’s talk is around seven minutes and followed by interview questions from listeners.

Also see the TED x talk by Dr. Lara Boyd on neuroplasticity.

Our knowledge of the brain is evolving at a breathtaking pace, and Dr. Lara Boyd is positioned at the cutting edge of these discoveries. In 2006, she was recruited by the University of British Columbia to become the Canada Research Chair in Neurobiology and Motor Learning. Since that time she has established the Brain Behaviour Lab, recruited and trained over 40 graduate students, published more than 80 papers and been awarded over $5 million in funding. Dr. Boyd’s efforts are leading to the development of novel, and more effective, therapeutics for individuals with brain damage, but they are also shedding light on broader applications. By learning new concepts, taking advantage of opportunities, and participating in new activities, you are physically changing who you are, and opening up a world of endless possibility.

For a lesson, this talk can nicely be combined with the text ‘10 Facts to Explain What is Normal Brain Aging‘.

And really fun: Josh Kaufman’s TED x Talk on learning new skills. When checking it out, see how many times it has been watched. Also could be placed under Art and Music


Intelligent Floating Machines (engineers class in mind)

An interesting talk in connection with industrial developments is Marco Annunziata: Welcome to the age of the industrial internet | TED Talk

And this one is about how to consider the real needs of people when designing technology for them:

What good is a sophisticated piece of medical equipment to people in Africa if it can’t handle the climate there? Biomedical engineer Tania Douglas shares stories of how we’re often blinded to real needs in our pursuit of technology — and how a deeper understanding of the context where it’s used can lead us to better solutions.


David Epstein’s Talk on the evolution of athletes’ performances over the decades is fun watching in connection with the topic of sports in general.


Under TED Ed you find a selection of mini lessons or short videos on educational topics.

One TED ED I watched was Matt Walker’s on how caffeine and alcohol affects our sleep. The good thing about these short 5 minute talks is that you can work with them quite intensively, especially if you have someone not so quite advanced. You watch once through first, clarify questions and summarize the main points. And if there are more questions, you have enough time to read the transcript and watch several times again. Pre-listening vocabulary exercises can be useful too, especially with talks you know contain special terms linked to the topic.

Getting Rid of 1000 Things is a TEDx Talk by Liz Right. I like watching and discussing it in connection with the topics of decluttering, consumerism, useless stuff etc. A follow-up topic are English accents and dialects. A really good quiz related to the topic is Guess the Accent.

Talk on procrastination by Tim Urban.

Here is a list of talks to help you become a better researcher.

Alan Smith Why you should love statistics. I like talks that present slides you can stop and discuss before you listen to the presenter’s analysis.

For Alan Smith’s talk I prepared some pre-listening vocabulary:

1. How would you define statistics?

2. What is numeracy?

Further vocabulary

  1. prompt
  2. hand-wringing
  3. inadvertently
  4. dichotomy
  5. immutable
  6. peers
  7. apoplectic

Match the words above with the definitions below

a) cause something to happen, trigger

b) people of a similar group, like e.g. the same age group, similar education background, similar    work etc.

c) a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different

d) the excessive display of concern or distress

e) unchanging over time or being unable to change

f) accidental, unplanned

g) overcome with anger, furious

In his talk, Alan Smith mentions Daniel Kahneman. Watch his TED talk on the Riddle between Experience versus Memory

Some talks I haven’t gone into more intensively yet, but might be interesting …..

John Green, A Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online

Zeyneyp Tufekci: We are building a distopia just to make people click on ads

TEd Ed lesson: The world according to cats

On a different note: Besides TED talks, the podcasts you find on the New York Times page, The Daily, are also worth looking into. I already listened and discussed one with my group:

Which Towns are Worth Saving?

Also interesting are BBC Reel videos for instance Kimberley Wilson’s talks on food and health:

The harmful legacy of poor nutrition – BBC Reel

The truth behind your favourite flavours – BBC Reel