When the first TED Talk was held in 1984, the World Wide Web wasn’t even real. The second one was held in the year Tim Berners-Lee created the first web server.
TED (which stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”) wasn’t even a global event. From California to world spots like Mumbai, TED Talks have come a long way. Today, it is one of the most popular conferences worldwide. Luckily you don’t have to cough up $8,500 to attend one of the annual events, as all TED Talks are available online for free.
And you don’t have to apply before you sit down to watch the likes of Sir Ken Robinson or Jill Bolte Taylor hold up a real brain on stage. But, have you exhausted all that it has to offer? Or dislike it for some reason?
Lmao i hate this because I love ted talks and now im going to notice this pic.twitter.com/Oup0UsBiyr
— kibbles (@rabbitrabies) June 16, 2016
TED Talks aren’t the only way to get you closer to big ideas. The alternatives to TED Talks enable you expand your world view in little ways too. Some of the links below will take you to events that are much easier on the pocket (without watering down the knowledge), and some are free. Of course, you can catch them all for free on the web.
Here are some of the picks that can give TED Talks a run for its ambition to change the world.
Talks at Google
Topics: All varieties.
Talks at Google is an event organized at Google offices around the world for encouraging cross-pollination of ideas. A distinguished speaker is invited for an hour-long session on a variety of topics. And yes, they may not be on technology at all. For that you can dive into Google Tech Talks.
So, you can have a Salman Rushdie behind the lectern, and also Lady Gaga. The incredible variety of talks and speakers (from the little known to world leaders) make it a must-watch on YouTube.
If you have time for just one: The creative team from Pixar behind “Finding Dory”.
Topics: Creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal development.
99U hosts an annual conference on the simple premise of sharing insights about how to make ideas happen. The Webby Award winning site from Behance is a favorite among creatives and business leaders and the conference is really a big meeting place of the best minds over two days. You talks on topics ranging from personal branding to money – but the central motif is the “creative within all of us.”
Catch the full archive of videos from past conferences and from speakers’ like Jack Dorsey, Seth Godin, Ryan Holiday, and Cal Newport among others.
If you have time for just one: Alexis Ohanian: Sucking is the First Step to Being Good at Something
Topics: Big ideas from all spheres of life.
Big Think has been on our radar for a long time. It’s not a global conference, but the speakers who use the platform to spread “big ideas” are the who’s who of thought-dom. You can’t argue with names like Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about a lot of topics from motivation to Sir Isaac Newton or someone Richard Branson with advice for entrepreneurs.
A playlist of their more popular videos from last year covers everything world ending to the programming languages you should learn if it doesn’t.
To be fair, the videos are not in-depth like TED, but capsules of 5 minutes that go directly to the crux of the argument. For some personal learning in the middle of a busy day, watch the focused BigThink Mentor playlists on their YouTube educational channel. Some of them have been turned into workshops with a series of 5-minute videos that you catch in an office break.
If you have time for just one: How to Find Your Element, with Sir Ken Robinson
The DO Lectures
Topics: Ideas + energy = change
The DO Lectures are for you if you want to take any passion project of yours and carry it forward toward reality. Unlike TED Talks, DO Lectures are a more intimate series of events held in Wales and the U.S. every year. The weekend conference brings the “DO-ers” of the world together — the movers and shakers, the disrupters and the change-makers — and ask them to tell their stories. Each speaker rounds off the talk with a “Big Do” – a practical idea that the audience can take away with them. This year’s festival of ideas starts on July 7.
The best thing about the lectures is that it is a collective of people who are not big names in any way. But they are doers in every sense, who have taken their personal ideas to a higher level. So, the stories are more relatable to the average viewer. Watch them on the site, on their YouTube channel, or directly on Vimeo.
If you have time for just one: Be careful what you wish for in this tent, with Tom Fishburne
Topics: Ideas from art and design to space science.
IdeaCity is an annual global conference held in Canada over three days. The 30 minute talks are given by eminent visionaries from around the world who focus on big ideas on a range of subjects. IdeaCity is similar to TED Talks in its breadth of coverage and the kind of presenters who come from all walks of life. This year the 50 visionaries who took the stage included an author, musician, traveler, and one of the world’s foremost memory experts who suffered from dyslexia as a kid.
It could be your best excuse to visit Toronto next year as this year’s talks just got over. Before that, catch all the talks on the site or on their YouTube Channel.
If you have time for just one: Dave Farrow – Guinness Record for Greatest Memory
Topics: Engaging stories from real life.
The Moth could make it to your favorites list because this is one of the talks everyone in your family can listen to. It is all about first-person storytelling. Every year, the not-for-profit organization invites professional and amateur storytellers across six continents (even, Antarctica). The stories and the storytellers are picked from all walks of life, every show is organized around a common theme, and the atmosphere is kept informal.
The live shows include many literary and cultural personalities like Salman Rushdie, Ethan Hawkes, Louis C.K., and Arianna Huffington. But do know that the best talks don’t necessarily come from known personalities. Catch them all on the site or on YouTube.
If you have time for just one: Janna Levin’s Life on a Mobius Strip
Topics: Practical innovation across multiple disciplines.
PopTech is a global non-profit based at Camden, Maine that is seeking to foster innovative ideas through many of its programs. It is similar to TED Talks in its breadth of coverage, but the focus is on finding real solutions to immediate problems. Wired calls it the “TED for real thinkers.”
PopTech fosters a network of disruptors with the intention of implementing the best ideas that come from the discussions. Each project is supported by the PopTech Labs. Commentators say that PopTech is a more intimate and informal event when compared to TED, and the setting at the Camden Opera House certainly helps.
Catch the PopCasts on the site or on YouTube playlists.
If you have time for just one: Ellen Langer: Mindfulness over matter
Topics: Arts, science, society, and technology.
BIL is an open and self-organizing conference hosted around the world. Think of it as an open frat party for everyone. The “unconference” style is the opposite to the paid and invite-only nature of talks like TED and so the title is a witty play on the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Some say, it is an acronym for “Build, Innovate, and Lead”. The events may lack the sophistication of other big name events, but they do make up for it with their democratic spirit. Remember, you can host your own anywhere in the world with a group of volunteers.
Catch the talks on the site or on their YouTube Channel.
If you have time for just one: Become More Creative: Tap into Your Childhood Creativity and Start Design Thinking.
Topics: Unexpected creative ideas on anything.
PechaKucha (Japanese for “chit-chat”) is a unique departure from the traditional conference format. It is also an “unconference,” but one that uses slideshow presentations – 20 images in 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and presenters talk along with the images.
Presenters generally come from creative fields and are mostly held in informal settings. You will find anyone, from a Parkour enthusiast to a cyclist who has gone around the world. Now, PechaKucha Nights have spread to more than 900 cities globally. As the founders say,
If you have just graduated from college and finished your first project in the real world, where can you show it? It probably won’t get into a magazine, and you don’t have enough photos for a gallery show or a lecture, but PechaKucha is the perfect platform to show and share your work.
If you have time for just one: Failure
Topics: New ideas in an Indian context.
As someone from this country, I couldn’t help highlighting this event which was inspired by the TED Talks held in India. INK takes a look at how new perspectives can change the way the youth of emerging economies view their ambitions. It wants to serve as a springboard for inspirational ideas turned into action on the ground.
Like most of the talks on this list, many here also start with personal narratives. Unlike TED, INK events are hosted at organizations, companies and colleges in India throughout the year. Past conferences have seen the likes of Deepak Chopra, James Cameron, and Matt Groening among others.
You can access the videos of all talks held so far on the site or on their YouTube Channel.
If you have time for just one: Param Jaggi: At 19, I think I can change the world.
Other Fantastic Events and Talks You Should Take Note of:
In the end, there are just too many to mention. That’s a good thing, as conferences and events are almost an industry now. It’s also worthwhile to stay aware of the best that happen around the world.
Here are a few more that should keep you engaged on a slow day:
- The RSA
- Ignite Talks
- WIRED Event
- Lift Conference
- The Creators Project
- Frontiers of Interaction
- Q Conference: Ideas that Create a Better World
- Entertainment Gathering
- The New Yorker Festival
- Creative Mornings
- Gel Conference
- Summit Series
- The Fun Theory
Why Do These Talks and Events Matter to Us?
TED Talks and the alternatives matter for the basic reason they were started in the first place – ideas.
Also, the wide popularity of TED may swamp the fact that there are other platforms where achievers and dreamers are sharing their wisdom. TED Talks are fascinating, but they are not perfect. More often than not they have been clobbered for being “dumbed down” and over-simplifying serious issues. Being elitist is a common criticism, which some of the more open talks don’t suffer from.
Even as I sit back and enjoy these parodies from The Onion, I disagree to an extent. The high cost of admission for some of the talks sponsors the free content we enjoy on the website. TED and the alternatives matter because they are about sharing ideas with the larger community.
For instance, this TED Talk was both topical and created an impact. Not all presentations are good anywhere. Some promote pseudoscience and build up their presenters. But then, that is the risk we take when we open up to ideas.
Sitting in India, I cannot make it to the big events. But the accessibility offered by the web helps me defeat my fears and educate my dreams. They have turned me into a better public speaker and helped me break a few mental blocks. I have gone into each of my life areas and used the motivation from multiple talks to fine-tune them. The other day, a recipe for beating writer’s block came from novelist Augusten Burroughs’s BigThink idea and it helps me every day in my job.
So, it’s time for you to tell us – are you tied to TED Talks? Have you discovered the alternatives yet? Share your mind-expanding moments and the specific videos which changed the way you view the world.