Chris Anderson, curator of TED, speaks at the TED conference in 2013.

Chris Anderson, curator of TED, speaks at the TED conference in 2013.

Thirty years ago, a famous architect and designer summoned three hundred of his friends to Monterey, California to discuss technology, entertainment and design. In the years that followed, these “TED Talks” featured influential speakers to an invitation-only audience. But in the late 1990s, the conference was struggling and on the verge of collapse. Then in 2001, publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson bought it and began posting TED Talks online. The speeches went viral and today, those videos are being watched millions of times a day. Diane talks with the president of TED about making knowledge accessible, and the do’s and don’ts of public speaking.


  • Chris Anderson President and head curator, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design)

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from TED TALKS: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking © 2016 by Chris Anderson. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When Chris Anderson took over TED in 2001, the conference was struggling. But five years later, he began posting TED Talks online, which had never been done before. The videos went viral. Today, they're seen by more than a billion people every year. In a new book, Anderson writes about taking TED to a global audience and offers advice for public speakers everywhere.

  • 11:07:26

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled, "TED Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking." Chris Anderson joins me from the NPR studio in New York City and we'll welcome your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook and send us a tweet. Chris Anderson, it's good to see you.

  • 11:07:59

    MR. CHRIS ANDERSONGood to see you, Diane.

  • 11:08:00

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:08:01

    ANDERSONGood to be here.

  • 11:08:02

    REHMTED has become so successful, but you write in the book about that moment in February of 2002 when it almost went down. Tell us about that.

  • 11:08:20

    ANDERSONHmm. Well, I'd just taken over the conference from its charismatic founder. TED used to be a once a year conference in California run by Richard Saul Wurman, who's this wonderful, larger-than-life character. I bought it, turned it into a nonprofit and I was, frankly, terrified about whether I could persuade the community to still come 'cause people assumed that the success of TED was this larger-than-life presence on the stage.

  • 11:08:51

    ANDERSONSo I had one moment in the conference before I took over to persuade the community that it was going to be okay. And the trouble is that I'm not a natural public speaker and I hesitate a lot. I've got this funny, awkward sort of British body language and what have you. And I was nervous as anything and it was kind of make or break. And so I guess, you know, I prepared for this thing carefully. I tried to find a way in that would connect with people.

  • 11:09:24

    ANDERSONI personally had just suffered this huge business failure. It was the time of the dot com crash. I knew that many people in the audience had also had a failure. So I could've started there and explained to people how my, you know, company that had been soaring up and away had kind of crashed and burned and how much of a loser I'd felt and that how ideas had kind of saved me. Reading had saved me.

  • 11:09:48

    ANDERSONTED, like, coming and thinking about the ideas that I'd been exposed to at the conference had really made a difference. And I guess in the 50 minutes, I just pledged to people that actually the values of TED were going to continue, that what was important about it was not one person, but the fact that a bunch of people were coming together from different disciplines to learn from each other and that that was a rare thing and it really deserved to continue.

  • 11:10:15

    ANDERSONAnd happily, somehow, even though it was definitely an awkward talk in places, somehow something resonated and, you know, people stood up and cheered and in the one-hour break after that talk, you know, 200 people signed up. Basically tripled the people who'd signed up all year...

  • 11:10:32


  • 11:10:32

    ANDERSON...signed up for the next year conference. And so suddenly, I knew it was going to be okay after all.

  • 11:10:37

    REHMGive me an idea of who was in the audience.

  • 11:10:42

    ANDERSONWell, TED's a mixture of people from lots of different areas, lots of creatives, but there are definitely lots of founders from Silicon Valley. Jeff Besos was one of the early friends I made there who heads Amazon. And yes, he was standing in the middle of the audience and it was -- he initiated sort of stand and clap and did me a huge favor, I think, in that moment 'cause crowds react, you know, public speaking, one of the weird things, is how much people connect with each other, how much people share the same feelings and emotions.

  • 11:11:11

    ANDERSONAnd they almost act as one organism, in a sense, and Jeff definitely sparked something there.

  • 11:11:18

    REHMThat's wonderful. So then, once you took it over, you decided to put it online and then it really took off. What lead you to that decision?

  • 11:11:34

    ANDERSONWell, first of all, we were a nonprofit and the goal was always to try and use this knowledge for the public good in some way. What was clear was that people who came to TED were very inspired. What wasn't clear was how to let that inspiration out into the world more broadly. And our initial efforts at that were to try and get it on television. There was no online video in the early 200s and so we tried -- we made pilot and tried to persuade television companies to take these TED Talks.

  • 11:12:03

    ANDERSONAnd they weren't interested. They were like, these are talking heads. These are boring. Talking heads are boring. And we were like, talking heads are only boring if they're saying something boring.

  • 11:12:11

    REHMRight, exactly.

  • 11:12:12

    ANDERSONThese aren't boring. But anyway, we failed to win that argument. And then, online video happened and at the time, it was this quirky, little technology. You'd watch in the corner of your screen a little jerky video. It really didn't seem like it amounted to much. But YouTube came along and we decided that, as an experiment, we would just put six of our talks up online, not really thinking that they would work in that environment.

  • 11:12:41


  • 11:12:41

    ANDERSONAnd to our surprise, they did go viral and we got a very passionate response from people. So we thought, uh-oh, we're going to have to open up the whole thing, aren't we? And that was the year 2006 that TED flipped really from being just conference to being a media organization devoted to spreading ideas using the power of Talks.

  • 11:13:02

    REHMAnd in 2015, you've got, what, nearly a billion views annually.

  • 11:13:12

    ANDERSONYes, it's about a billion and a half now annually. It's not a billion people, I don't think, 'cause many people are watching lots of Talks. It's probably of the order of a 100 million people watching a billion and a half Talks a year.

  • 11:13:26

    REHMThat's a lot of folks.

  • 11:13:29

    ANDERSONIt's a surprise and it's actually, from my point of view, a very optimistic sign about the world, that in the midst of all the clutter that's online and all inanity and all the, you know, horrible, dumbed-down stories, that there are at least some people who are interested in digging into an idea in a serious way. And I think that's quite a hopeful sign.

  • 11:13:50

    REHMChris Anderson, he's president and curator of TED. It's a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks, 18 minutes or less. And I want to talk about that in a minute. His new book is titled "TED Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking." And you are certainly welcome to join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to Whenever I am in church on Sunday, as soon as the minister begins speaking, I look at my watch. For me, the ideal is between 11 and 12 minutes for a sermon. Tell me how you arrived at 18.

  • 11:15:01

    ANDERSONWell, depends on the minister, doesn't it? And I think there are some where 2 or 3 would be the ideal time. But there's no absolute science to the 18. There are some tests that suggest that 18 is approximately a natural human attention span. After that, someone has to be really good for you to keep paying attention. And when I took over TED, it was actually -- the time limit was 15 minutes and I noticed that if you told speakers 18 minutes, it actually ended up shorter than 15 because 15 is interpreted as 20 and 18 is interpreted as 19.

  • 11:15:37


  • 11:15:37

    ANDERSONBut there or thereabouts is a natural time that people can focus on one thing. And the surprise and delight is that that time limit can also work online. We're used to assuming that very short things only work online. And I do think that lectures that are 30 or 40 minutes, very few of those would go viral on the internet. Some might, but very few. 18 and shorter, it turns out, can work just find and so, you know, by -- that's where we've ended up and it makes it very hard for some speakers 'cause it's incredibly hard to distill your work into that period of time and say what you need to say.

  • 11:16:21

    ANDERSONThere's an art to doing that. But if you can do that, that's one of the keys, I think, to making a truly compelling talk.

  • 11:16:28

    REHMAnd that is certainly going to be part of our discussion as we go on, that is, how to create a compelling talk. But tell me, Chris, how you decide who gets to do a TED Talk.

  • 11:16:49

    ANDERSONWell, when we -- we get many thousands of suggestions from the public, from the community. Lots of people want to give a TED Talk. What we're looking for is someone who's doing work that's truly remarkable. Ideally, they're the best person in the world to speak about the subject that they're speaking about. And then, we're looking for someone who we think can share their knowledge in an accessible way.

  • 11:17:18

    ANDERSONA few years ago, I think, we've have said, you know, that we have to see evidence that that person can do that. And if they can't speak publically, we're not going to take them. More recently, we've taken the view that, look, good ideas matter too much and we should make huge efforts to help people to make their work accessible and compelling. And so we've stepped up, really, the amount of coaching, if you like, and assistance to speakers to frame their idea in a way that really -- is really interesting.

  • 11:17:51

    ANDERSONAnd that's, I guess, what's lead to this book, the fact that we've discovered that almost everyone actually can be persuaded to and coached to do a good talk.

  • 11:17:57

    REHMChris Anderson, he's president and head of TED. New book is "Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking."

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Chris Anderson joins me from a studio at NPR in New York. He's president and head curator of TED. That's a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of powerful, short talks, 18 minutes or less. Now he has a new book. It's titled, "TED Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking." One of the most successful people you've had in terms of the most views ever is Sir Ken Robinson. Now, we're going to play a short clip of Ken Robinson speaking. He did a talk about schools and their -- a failure to nurture creativity.

  • 11:21:07

    SIR KEN ROBINSONI heard a great story recently -- I love telling it -- of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six and she was at the back drawing. And the teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention. And in this drawing lesson, she did. And the teacher was fascinated. She went over to her and she said, what are you drawing? And the girl said, I'm drawing a picture of God. And the teacher said, but nobody knows what God looks like. And the girl said, they will in a minute.

  • 11:21:38

    REHMTell me, Chris, why his talk was so successful.

  • 11:21:45

    ANDERSONWell, one of the first talks a speaker has to accomplish really is to persuade the audience to want to listen to him or her. And one of the great techniques to do that is humor. Not everyone can do it, but Sir Ken is an absolute master at it. And he spent the first several minutes of his talk sharing little stories about education that were completely charming. It made you fall in love with kids. It made you fall in love with education. It kind of made you fall in love with him. And so you -- his audience were there avidly listening to every word, just wanting this talk to go on forever, dying to hear what he had to say. And that opening up of an audience is really important.

  • 11:22:31

    ANDERSONHumor isn't the only way to do that. You can do that just by, you know, being -- showing the human side of yourself. Or even just by, you know, looking at people and smiling a bit. But you do have to try and defuse and dismiss people's natural skepticism or mistrust at the start of the talk, before they'll really listen to you, and give them a reason to care about what you have to say.

  • 11:22:53

    REHMBut, you know, it's so interesting because here he started with this wonderful story about this little girl who clearly, in her own mind, sees God and is prepared to put God on paper. And yet Sir Robinson's talk is about how schools are failing to produce creativity. How do those two things go together?

  • 11:23:27

    ANDERSONWell, in this particular school, this girl was certainly being given a chance to reveal her creativity. And I guess the point -- apart from the humor, the point he was making was that when kids are allowed to do that, it's -- all bets are off to what happens, that kids are constantly going to surprise us because they are naturally curious and creative people. And it's kind of a tragedy that schools often shut that down and make them do things that they're really not interested in. So this -- he sets up that theme well.

  • 11:23:53

    REHMDo you think that he was actually inspiring teachers by his message?

  • 11:24:03

    ANDERSONHe has definitely inspired many teachers and many non-teachers actually. I mean, I know of people who kind of gave up their work to try and start a new school or to really try and advance his agenda. I mean, the talk's been seen, gosh, nearly 40 million times now. And some people have viewed it multiple times. And he's definitely persuaded a lot of people that create -- we just have to do a better job nurturing creativity in our schools. And I think that's especially true given the future we're all facing now, with automation coming in and so forth. Creativity is going to really matter for humans and that's going to be an important skill for us.

  • 11:24:41

    REHMNow, I want to play, now, a short clip of someone who was not a practiced public speaker, Monica Lewinski. Let's hear it first and then hear what you have to say.

  • 11:25:02

    MS. MONICA LEWINSKYAnd when the story broke in January 1998, it broke online. It was the first time the traditional news was usurped by the Internet for a major news story. A click that reverberated around the world. What that meant for me personally was that overnight I went from being a completely private figure to a publically humiliated one worldwide. I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.

  • 11:25:43

    REHMWhy, first, was she chosen to speak?

  • 11:25:51

    ANDERSONShe was chosen because we thought she had something really important to say. Cyberbullying, online bullying has become such a phenomenon and it's driven some kids even to suicide.

  • 11:26:03


  • 11:26:03

    ANDERSONI mean, it's an alarming thing. And she was patient zero in that, in a sense. So she was willing to come and talk about it, when she was also absolutely terrified. I mean, if you think of it from her point of view, the stakes for her as someone who'd already been humiliated publicly, to come and speak at a big public conference, you know, for that to go wrong, that was ethically stressful for her. And I think at several times she'd probably nearly pulled out from it. I talk about this in the book a bit because she spoke to me at length afterwards on how she had managed to control her fear and deliver what ended up...

  • 11:26:42

    REHMHmm. Hmm.

  • 11:26:42 a spectacularly effective talk. You know, she had the audience laughing. She -- at the end, everyone just stood up and cheered her. And I think of years ago, in her wildest imagination, she wouldn't have imagined, I mean, at that -- that happening and that new chapter for her coming along. And the thing is that if she can overcome her fear -- you have to think that anyone out there can overcome their fear of public speaking.

  • 11:27:08

    REHMHow did...

  • 11:27:08

    ANDERSONI mean, it's a very widely held fear.

  • 11:27:10

    REHMHow did you help her beforehand, if at all?

  • 11:27:18

    ANDERSONShe mainly helped herself, I would say, on this time. We -- the main thing we did was to encourage her that this talk was great and that it was going to be truly well received. We had an online rehearsal a few weeks before TED and I think she was at the point where she thought, this isn't going to work and I'll just withdraw. And the whole room of people just stood up at the end and clapped her and said, Monica, this is fantastic and encouraged her that she just had to continue with it.

  • 11:27:46

    ANDERSONSo, you know, she did a lot of things on the day that helped, like, you know, just like breathing and drinking water and doing some physical exercise ahead of time. I think the single, most important thing she did was that she wrote on her script, in big letters, this matters.

  • 11:28:02


  • 11:28:03

    ANDERSONAnd I think that that's really important for speakers to do, to know that they're giving the talk -- it's, ultimately, it's not about them. It's in service to an idea that's bigger than them. And that mantra, if you like, I think helped ground her and helped her communicate the talk, look out at people and really mean what she was saying. It was very effective.

  • 11:28:22

    REHMChris, you spoke of writing that on her own paper to herself. In the beginning, did you ask individuals to actually memorize their speeches?

  • 11:28:39

    ANDERSONSo there's a huge divide between TED speakers on whether you should memorize or whether you shouldn't. And I believe it's -- I believe both strategies are right for different people. And it's actually incredibly important that early on you figure out which approach to a talk you're going to take. The advantage of memorizing is that you can maximize the value of every word and you can, you know, in your time limit, you can get in all that you want to say, you can say it eloquently and not miss anything out. The risk is that memorizing can sound robotic. And no one wants to hear a robotic-sounding talk. They want to feel like the speaker is communicating with them in real time.

  • 11:29:24

    ANDERSONThe -- what we found is that the answer, though, to someone who's speaking robotically is not that they've memorized too much and rehearsed too much, it's that they've actually rehearsed too little.

  • 11:29:35


  • 11:29:35

    ANDERSONThere's a phase that people go through, which is this robotic sounding talk, which is horrible. But the answer is just to keep going, to know the talk that much better so that it's second nature to you. Actors have a similar sort of philosophy here, that you -- if you really own the words, if you -- if they're second nature to you, if you can give them at double speed with the television turned on, then you can come back to coming onto the stage, looking out at the audience and saying what you mean in a way that connects and doesn't sound robotic.

  • 11:30:04

    ANDERSONSo other speakers prefer to speak from bullet points or just from notes and just have the basic structure of the talk. For them, the trap is that they end up rambling or going overtime and so forth.

  • 11:30:15


  • 11:30:16

    ANDERSONAnd so, for them, too, I think it's really important for a big talk that you rehearse it several times and you make sure that you really know the transitions and that you know that you can say all that you want to say in the time available.

  • 11:30:29

    REHMDid Monica Lewinsky submit to you the written document that she had composed before she read it?

  • 11:30:42

    ANDERSONYes. Yes, she did. And it was a great script. And she actually didn't fully memorize her talk. It was interesting. You know, for every speaker, the goal is to find the mode of delivery where they're most comfortable. And she found this mode -- it was actually a TED first -- she put the script on a music stand that's in front of her. You can see it on the talk. And occasionally, just occasionally, she looked down just to be sure she knew where she was in the talk. But the stand didn't block her like a full-on lecturn...

  • 11:31:12


  • 11:31:13

    ANDERSON...podium might.

  • 11:31:13


  • 11:31:14

    ANDERSONIt -- she was still sort of standing there, you know, vulnerably in front of the audience. But that was the way that she got comfortable. And so she basically gave the talk looking out at the audience in a very natural and effective way. It's different strokes for different folks.

  • 11:31:28

    REHMOne of your biggest stars was a 12-year-old boy you discovered in Africa.

  • 11:31:49

    MR. RICHARD TURERESo I set up everything. As you can see, a solar panel charges the battery, and the battery supplies the power to the small indicator box. I call it a transformer. And the indicator box makes the lights to flash. And, as you can see, the bulbs face outside, because that's where the lions come from. And that's how it looks to lions when they come at night. The lights flash and trick lions that I was walking out on the cowshed, but I was sleeping in my bed. Thanks.

  • 11:32:18

    REHMWhat he was trying to do was protect his family from lions and devised this way of flashing lights.

  • 11:32:33

    ANDERSONYes. He was an incredible kid. My colleague, Kelly Stetzer and I met him in Nairobi. He was a 12-year-old Maasai kid who'd grown up outside Nairobi and, you know, looking after his family's sheep. And the, you know, lions would attack. He -- so his -- he built -- he taught himself electronics. He basically took apart his parents' radio, taught himself electronics enough to make solar-powered, flashing lights that deceived the lions and became kind of something of a local hero. Other villagers took this invention. And so the environmentalists were happy because the villagers were no longer going out and killing the lions. And the villagers were definitely happy because their cattle were safe.

  • 11:33:16

    ANDERSONNow, he -- when we met him, he was the least likely candidate you could imagine to give a TED Talk. He was painfully shy, sort of huddled over in the corner. And it was hard to get a word out of him. But we slowly persuaded him that actually what he had done was incredible and that there were a lot of people out there who really wanted to know. And when he got to the moment where you could just see his personality -- he had this million-dollar smile that honestly made the audience's hearts melt. I mean everyone was cheering him at the end of this talk. He'd got on a plane to come away. You know, well, it was his first plane flight to come to Long Beach and be alongside...

  • 11:33:54

    REHMWhich I gather you all paid for.

  • 11:33:58

    ANDERSONWell, of course...

  • 11:33:59


  • 11:34:00

    ANDERSON...we pay for the speakers to come in that don't. It was his first trip over. He was peering alongside, you know, Bill Gates and Sergey Brin. And he sparked this wonderful...

  • 11:34:09


  • 11:34:10

    ANDERSON...standing ovation from the audience. Because he -- because what he'd done was incredible and he had the courage to just stand up and share it in what ended up a very natural way.

  • 11:34:18

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a number of callers. I want to open the phones, 800-433-8850. This caller really has me intrigued. It's Elizabeth in Fort Wayne, I think it's Indiana. Go right ahead, Elizabeth.

  • 11:34:49

    ELIZABETHYes, you are correct. What a pleasure to speak with you and your guest.

  • 11:34:52

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:34:53

    ELIZABETHWhat a pleasure, absolute privilege. But I'm getting ready to, as I shared with the young lady who answered the phone, I'm getting ready to step out on the world stage now. I'm the lead witness for the prosecution and we're bringing many, many, very well-known figures to trial. My question for you is -- I'm painfully shy. I can relate with the 12-year-old boy from Africa. I'm very shy by nature. But it will be televised on every single...

  • 11:35:26


  • 11:35:26 and every single network. And what would you say? What I would like to do is give hope. We all make mistakes. We have to deal with the consequences. You know, we make our own choices, we pay our own prices. But it's -- nobody is beyond redemption. That's really the message that I want to get across. You know? Do you have any tips?

  • 11:35:51

    ANDERSONWell, first of all...

  • 11:35:51

    ELIZABETHI'm going to need a makeup artist, I would say.

  • 11:35:55

    ANDERSONFirst of all, bravo to you. Because when you do have something important to say, it really matters that you say it. I mean, goodness, the world's challenged with lots of things. Those people who have something to contribute to a slightly better world, you know, having the courage to do that really matters. So bravo to you. I think there's a way of turning your nervousness into your friend. I mean, the reason we fear anything is so that we act.

  • 11:36:20

    ANDERSONAnd the first thing you can do is say, okay, I'm fearful. I'm going to use that as motivation to really prepare for this thing. I'm going to prepare as well as I can. I'm going to try and think it through, think of all the things that could go wrong and be ready. And I'm going to just make sure I absolutely know the key points I want to make and how I'm going to say them. So that's one thing.

  • 11:36:40

    ANDERSONA second thing is to have, you know, a couple of little back measures up your sleeve to, you know, if -- like, if your mind freezes and you -- let's say you forget what you're going to say, you know, know where you've got some notes where you can just turn. Perhaps there's a glass of water there. You can just, you know, you can cough and say, excuse me, I just need a drink of water. You take the sip of water, use that to look at your notes, and just calm down and so forth. Sometimes, with speakers on the stage, we even say it's absolutely fine to tell the audience, oops, sorry, I'm just, as you can see, I'm feeling a little nervous here. I don't do a lot of speaking. But this matters to me, so I'm going to do this.

  • 11:37:18

    ANDERSONAnd people usually clap and cheer and embrace you and so forth. So make your nervousness your friend. That's what I would say and work with it.

  • 11:37:25

    REHMElizabeth, I certainly hope that helps. And best of luck to you. Short break here and more of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMWelcome back. Chris Anderson just gave a few pointers to a woman who is going to testify in, I gather, a major trial that's going to be televised, seen by a great many people. In the book, Chris Anderson, titled "TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking," you talk about something you call a through line. Talk about what that is and why it's so important in giving a great talk.

  • 11:40:42

    ANDERSONThe central thesis of the book really is the way to think of your number one task as a speaker is to take an idea from your mind and transfer it to your audience's mind. It's a kind of gift, and if the idea is a good idea and a powerful idea, it's a huge gift. And it's kind of a miracle that it can happen because an idea is such a complex thing. If you could actually see, it's probably millions of neurons connected in a tricky pattern. Somehow you're able to transfer that in a talk to the audience.

  • 11:41:14

    ANDERSONBut the way you do that, the only way, is to construct it out of concepts and ideas that are already in your audience's minds. And that's a very tricky undertaking to do, and the only way you can really do it is to cut back the range of what you want to talk about, focus on one powerful idea. That is your through line. Every part of your talk should connect to that in some way. And, you know, the mistake that so many people make is just to cram in lots and lots of stuff.

  • 11:41:49

    REHMAh, yes.

  • 11:41:51

    ANDERSONBut when something is overstuffed, it's under-explained. So cut it back to one big thing, and then that gives you the time to explain it carefully and then to do things like give examples or metaphors to show why it makes sense. So that's what the through line is.

  • 11:42:08

    REHMSo give us some examples now, if you will.

  • 11:42:14

    ANDERSONWell, we had a science writer, Jennifer Kahn, come to the last TED, and she was trying to explain this new biotechnology called Crispr, which is a complex thing. We'd had several scientists try and explain it to us in an accessible way, and they kind of tended to get people confused. She said, look, she gave a metaphor, a powerful metaphor. She said it's as if you had a word processor for DNA. So for the first time, you can cut and paste DNA. You can literally very easily cut a gene into a new position, copy it, paste it.

  • 11:42:47

    ANDERSONAnd that simple way of explaining Crispr made it -- made light bulbs come on in lots of people in the audience so that you can now go on and understand some of the implications of it that she then went on to speak about. So a good -- a carefully chosen metaphor is a wonderful thing. It literally shows the shapes. So it shows how someone takes the pieces from their own mind, shapes them in a way that they're familiar and then places it to enhance their world view with this new idea.

  • 11:43:16

    REHMAll right, let's go back to the phones, let's see, to Reedsville, North Carolina. Alexis, you're on the air.

  • 11:43:27

    ALEXISGood morning, Diane. Great show, as usual.

  • 11:43:29

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:43:30

    ALEXISI've been a fan -- I have been a fan of TED talks for a long time. And I recently read that the cost for participating in the audience is pretty high, and I would like for that to be addressed and how the audience is chosen, if that's possible. Thank you.

  • 11:43:50

    ANDERSONThank you, Alexis. Yeah, it's -- it is high. The standard price of a ticket is $8,500.

  • 11:43:59

    REHMFor one ticket to attend?

  • 11:44:01

    ANDERSONTo come to a week of TED, that's right. Now here's the thing. Number one, we're a nonprofit. So no one's getting rich off this. Here's how we think of it. We kind of think of ourselves, in a sense it's the Robin Hood metaphor. We have somehow persuaded a bunch of rich people to pay a large amount of money to come to Vancouver once a year, and their funding funds the entire rest of the operation that we do.

  • 11:44:30

    ANDERSONIt's that that allows us to build this huge website that distributes talks for free around the world and allows other programs. For example it allows a fellows program. So not everyone who comes to that conference is paying that money. We have a couple dozen fellows who are selected purely on the basis of the work that they're doing. They come at our expense. And we have other programs like a TEDx Program, which allows anyone in the world, including you, by the way, to apply for a license to run your own local TED-like event.

  • 11:45:05

    ANDERSONAnd many of those charge nothing for people to come. There are 3,000 of those held now every year all across the world. So at heart what I'd say is TED is absolutely committed to democratizing knowledge. We vehemently reject the notion that we're an elitist organization or, you know, anything like that. It's actually the exact opposite, that we've used the wonder of the fact that people are willing to pay a large sum of money to come to the conference to fund everything else and to get these ideas out there. But it's certainly something we think about every day, and we -- I appreciate the question a great deal because our firm belief is that ideas are for everyone, and we're absolutely committed to sharing this knowledge freely to anyone in the world forever.

  • 11:45:51

    REHMTo Cleveland, Ohio. Scott, you're on the air.

  • 11:45:57

    SCOTTGood morning, Ms. Rehm and Mr. Anderson. Ms. Rehm, I love your show, and I'm so sorry that you're going to retire this year. We're all going to miss you, and there's going to be very high heels to fill.

  • 11:46:09

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:46:12

    SCOTTAnyway, listen, I'm not sure if you're familiar with TEDx, where the x stands for independently organized events, (unintelligible)

  • 11:46:19

    REHMYes, he just mentioned that.

  • 11:46:23

    SCOTTYes, in any event, I attended one self-organized event of that nature in Marion Correctional Institute in Marion, Ohio, where young men and women speak for 10 to 12 minutes. And I just have to tell you, it was so inspirational because these young men and women can talk about their self-worth. That gives them self-respect, and it helps them when eventually they get out into the rest of society because, after all, these are some forgotten people. And in line with the young lady earlier, no one is beyond redemption, and I find it extremely inspirational to have these groups and organizations.

  • 11:46:58

    SCOTTAnd it should be in every prison in America because not only it helps the individuals and those incarcerated, it helps them when they get out, and it helps the audience because there wasn't a dry eye in the house after these young men and women spoke so inspirationally.

  • 11:47:12


  • 11:47:12

    SCOTTAnd that's all I just wanted to say, and God bless you both.

  • 11:47:16

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:47:16

    SCOTTEspecially you, Ms. Rehm. Scott loves you.

  • 11:47:18

    REHMThank you so, so much. Do you want to comment, Chris?

  • 11:47:24

    ANDERSONWell, it's been the joy of the TEDx program that we've done by allowing other people to do these events. It's taken TED to places that we could never have imagined. On the one hand, it's filled the Sydney Opera House. On the other hand, we've had TEDx events in places like Kabul or Mogadishu or Baghdad or, in many ways most inspiring of all, in a number of prisons and correctional facilities. And yes, it brings -- we see these videos, and, you know, we're in the office kind of weeping at the -- I mean, it's just amazing what has been happening, and my hat goes off to the TEDx organizers who have the ability and the determination to do these events.

  • 11:48:06

    REHMLet's hear from Salman Khan.

  • 11:48:09

    SALMAN KHANAnd we got a lot of feedback along those lines. I mean, clearly it was helping people. But then as the viewership kept growing and kept growing, I started getting letters from people, and it was starting to become clear that it was actually more than just a nice to have. This is just an excerpt from one of those letters. My 12-year-old son has autism and has had a terrible time with math. We have tried everything, viewed everything, bought everything. We stumbled on your video on decimals, and it got through. Then we went on to the dreaded fractions. Again he got it. We could not believe it. He is so excited.

  • 11:48:45

    SALMAN KHANAnd so you can imagine, you know, here I was, an analyst at a hedge fund. It was very strange for me to do something of social value. I was...

  • 11:49:01

    REHMVery strange to do something of social value, but indeed he has done it.

  • 11:49:09

    ANDERSONIndeed he has. I think Sal Kahn really is a global hero. I mean, he's almost singlehandedly providing an alternative route to education for millions of people, millions of kids, and not just autistic kids. Any -- by offering these extraordinary lessons just on video, it allows kids to learn at their own speed and to build up the mastery of a subject in a sort of logical sequence. So yeah, when he came and explained his story and how he had done that and what he had built the Kahn Academy into, we thought we'd found, one, an extraordinary person.

  • 11:49:49

    ANDERSONI mean, he's a soul mate in some ways in that he's sharing knowledge over video, over the Internet, and it's kind of thrilling that we're an era where that is even possible. That has not been possible until the last 10 years, and it's worth celebrating. I think it's under-celebrated that today, any kid who is connected to the Internet can see with his own eyes, her own eyes, the world's best teachers. That's never happened before in human history, and it's a very special thing.

  • 11:50:19

    REHMHowever, in an age of Twitter and YouTube and Snapchat, these kids sometimes seem to have such short attention spans, and yet here you are talking about an 18-minute presentation.

  • 11:50:42

    ANDERSONI think -- I think the attention span story is true but oversimplified. I think it's true that overall, on average, people's attention spans seem to be contracting a bit, but you could also interpret that as just that people with more choice are getting more discerning. They're actually more demanding. They won't put up with content that is boring. There are so many interesting choices, they go with that.

  • 11:51:08

    ANDERSONIf you can offer something that's interesting but long, that may well still succeed. You know, the fact of binge viewing, of hours and hours and hours of very good TV series is one instance of that. But I think it can apply to online learning, as well. You know, thousands of people are going through online courses, developing mastery at a topic. That's never happened before. So let's not write off, you know, human cognitive abilities too quickly. I think it's a challenge. There's no question there's a brutal attention war out there, and we're all fighting hard to try and carve out our piece of it.

  • 11:51:44

    ANDERSONBut there are pretty exciting signs of people really eager to learn and to grow themselves, to become lifelong learners.

  • 11:51:54

    REHMAll right, to Padme in Jacksonville, Florida, you're on the air.

  • 11:51:59

    PADMEGood morning, Diane, good morning, Chris. Huge fan of TED talks, huge fans of Chris Anderson and the hugest fan of Diane Rehm.

  • 11:52:07

    REHMOh, thank you.

  • 11:52:08

    PADMEDiane, I do not want you to retire. But then I don't have a choice in that. So just...

  • 11:52:16

    REHMWell, you never know.

  • 11:52:17

    PADMEJust a quick question to Chris is, because of all these TEDx events that are being hosted across the country, across the world, how to ensure, this is a very sterile question, Diane, how do you ensure fidelity of the format of TED Talks?

  • 11:52:35

    ANDERSONAnd the answer to that is that we don't ensure it. We don't -- it's deliberate in the design of TEDx that we don't ultimately control it. If we did control it, it would never have taken off like it has. So it's -- but what we do is we have a careful combination of rules and tools. So there are things that TEDx organizers can't do. They're supposed to observe our format, there are certain types of speakers they're not supposed to book and so forth.

  • 11:53:08

    ANDERSONBut ultimately they control their program, and so the tools we provide become critical. We do everything in our power to help them do the best job that they possibly can. We monitor how these things go. We get audience feedback. And there's probably five percent of them or so are not that great. Ninety-five percent are from solid to truly amazing, and we can't believe, actually, the amount of attention and love and effort that these TEDx organizers put in.

  • 11:53:39

    ANDERSONSo it's an exercise in embracing the chaos in one sense, but so far it's working out, and we're so proud of them.

  • 11:53:46

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. I'm fascinated with something you just said. Who are they not supposed to book?

  • 11:54:00

    ANDERSONWell, to give a talk successfully, an audience needs to be ready to listen. There are certain categories of conversation that are quite broken, often around politics, often around religion. It's -- I think we can all agree it's one of the tragedies of the modern era that the political debate is not really sharing ideas and listening, it's sort of shouting and shouting back, and it's a tragedy.

  • 11:54:25

    ANDERSONAnd so often it just doesn't work to say go ahead and use the TED platform to book your favorite politician. That's a recipe for people getting angry and upset and for us not advancing public discourse. So we discourage political speakers, religious speakers unless there's really an idea that's outside the box and that's offered in the service of understanding and bridging. Those are the types of religious or political talks that we sometimes carried.

  • 11:54:53

    ANDERSONWe also don't support pseudo-science. For example we think that science is humanity's best effort at uncovering truth about the natural world. And so we want that respected. Beyond that, it's pretty much wide open. We actually encourage people to, you know, push the envelope, find amazing people who we would never had thought of, and that happens all the time.

  • 11:55:17

    REHMSo are you saying for example, and, you know, I'm not trying to push you here, but are you saying you would not entertain a global warming denier?

  • 11:55:30

    ANDERSONHmm. I think for them to -- we'd want to listen to what the argument was. Like if someone was saying, look, I'm a scientist, here's my track record, I'm a credible scientist, here's the work that I've done and the experiments that I've done, this is what I've seen, I've seen evidence that the problem is overstated, that wouldn't be ruled out. If someone's scientifically credible, I think they -- their voice probably deserves to be heard. Currently the overwhelming majority of scientists do believe that climate change is a threat, and so if you looked at TED overall, you would definitely see a large number of talks about the climate.

  • 11:56:12

    ANDERSONAnd we have justified that not on political grounds at all, because the subject has become politicized, but on scientific grounds.

  • 11:56:21

    REHMAnd finally, since you gave that very first talk, persuading all those people in the audience that you had a plan to keep TED going, have you given another TED talk?

  • 11:56:41

    ANDERSONThere's actually a talk that's supposed to go online in about three minutes' time which is titled "The Secret to Giving a Great TED Talk." And it's the distillation of some of what's in the book. We -- you know, people have been asking us for quite a few years what is the secret. Is there a formula? And we've sort of pushed back quite hard and said there absolutely is not a formula. In fact we hate it when speakers come thinking that there is a formula. But anyway, that's -- that's the next talk that I've posted, and it's live in two minutes.

  • 11:57:18

    REHMGood for you. Chris Anderson, what a pleasure to talk with you.

  • 11:57:23

    ANDERSONThanks so much, Diane, it's been an absolute treat to be on the show.

  • 11:57:27

    REHMAnd the book is titled "TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking." Thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Revisiting The Decision To Drop The Bomb

Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.