Our 12 favourite TED Talks on communication, culture and leadership

TED Talks are an easy way to get inspiration, entertainment and education. In lieu of physical events, we decided to have a look back at our favourite talks on leadership, cultural awareness and communication. Analysing TED Talks also happens to be a great way to work on your own presentation skills!

TED Talks

Photo credit: Bogomil Mihaylov

Speaker: Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur, author and musician. He is known as the founder of CD Baby and for his books and speeches on starting businesses and decision-making.

Date and location: TED2010, United States, February 2010

Why we like the talk: The great thing about Derek Sivers is that he can inspire and convince you in the length of a pop song. Using a seemingly silly dancing video, Sivers debunks the glorification of leadership in a talk that is entertaining and disarmingly simple.

Surprising takeaway: Leadership is over-glorified. If you want to start a movement, show others how to follow.

Why I, as a black man, attend KKK rallies

Speaker: Daryl Davis is an R&B and blues musician, author and activist. He has played with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, but is mostly known for engaging with members of the Ku Klux Klan to improve race relations.

Date and location: TEDxNaperville, United States, November 2017

Why we like the talk: How can you hate me when you don’t even know me? In trying to answer this question, Daryl Davis faced racism head-on and with an open heart. His story of befriending an Imperial Wizard of the KKK as a Black man seems so unlikely, it’s hard to believe. But Davis has the evidence and shows us the power and the importance of listening to our adversaries.

Surprising takeaway: You can respect people you don’t agree with (maybe not a surprising insight, but one that is underutilised).

Perspective is everything

Speaker: Rory Sutherland is Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy & Mather Group, one of the world’s most renowned ad agencies.

Date and location: TEDxAthens, Greece, December 2011

Why we like the talk: Rory Sutherland argues convincingly that facts are not as important as our perspective on them. The power of reframing affects not only advertising and sales, but communication and even thinking in general. Thinking not only about amounts, but also about meaning, will open up better solutions in many areas such as the food industry, traffic and maybe even unemployment.

Surprising takeaway: There are psychological solutions to factual problems.

Your body language may shape who you are

Speaker: Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist, author and speaker known for promoting the self-improvement technique of power posing.

Date and location: TEDGlobal 2012, Scotland, June 2012

Why we like the talk: This is an empowering talk that gives simple and accessible tools to anyone who wants to feel more confident and less stressed. It is common knowledge that our body language can give away how we feel, but Amy Cuddy flips this around and posits that our body language can impact how we feel and perform. The story of how this helped her and a student of hers is the emotional highlight of this talk.

Surprising takeaway: Body language doesn’t just affect our communication, is also affects how we feel about ourselves.

Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m local

Speaker: Taiye Selasi is a writer who explores the topic of identity. She is a local of New York, Rome and Accra.

Date and location: TEDGlobal 2014, Brazil, October 2014

Why we like the talk: As a company of multicultural and multi-national people, we believe strongly that nationality is too narrow a concept to grasp a person’s identity. Taiye Selasi not only finds the perfect words, but also suggests a better concept. Asking “Where are you local?” highlights the rituals, relationships and complexity of people’s backgrounds.

Surprising takeaway: There is no “going back” to a home country.

Could your language affect your ability to save money?

Speaker: Keith Chen is a behavioural economist at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and focuses on microeconomic theory.

Date and location: TEDGlobal 2012, Scotland, June 2012

Why we like the talk: We often view language as a part of culture or an expression of it, but in this talk Keith Chen explains that people with the same culture and different languages can have different behavioural tendencies. This is based on whether or not your language grammatically forces you to use a specific tense to talk about the future. Speakers of futureless languages like Chinese put more emphasis on planning for the future.

Surprising takeaway: Native English speakers are more likely to smoke and less likely to use a condom.

The danger of a single story

Speaker: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning author and a feminist. Her writing includes novels such as “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “Americanah” as well as the essay “We Should All Be Feminists”.

Date and location: TEDGlobal 2009, England, July 2009

Why we like the talk: In theory, we all know the harm that prejudice can do, but sometimes the right concept can allow a fuller understanding of the scope of a problem and how it relates to us. “The Single Story” and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s examples of it show that we are all vulnerable to being prejudiced, even the speaker herself.

Surprising takeaway: We are all prone to relying on just one perspective on people.

Are you a giver or a taker?

Speaker: Adam Grant is an organisational psychologist and prolific author, teacher and researcher. His bestselling books include “Give and Take” and “Originals”.

Date and location: TED@IBM, United States, November 2016

Why we like the talk: Adam Grant researches and thinks deeply about how organisations can work better. We particularly like this talk because the concept of givers and takers applies universally when people work together. This talk is insightful, entertaining and leaves you with clear strategies of how to make better hires and encourage collaboration.

Surprising takeaway: Agreeableness can blind us to whether people are givers or takers.

The power of introverts

Speaker: Susan Cain is a former corporate attorney and negotiations consultant turned author and lecturer. Her work promotes the idea that looking inward is a strength, not a problem.

Date and location: TED2012, United States, February 2012

Why we like the talk: This talk feels like a manifesto for introverts, but it is much more than that. It addresses the fact that our learning and working environments overemphasise teamwork and personality, at the loss of deep creative work. Susan Cain makes an argument for more balance between collaboration and solitude. This will allow introverts to use their strengths and extroverts to discover new skills.

Surprising takeaway: We need more introverted leaders.

Confessions of a recovering micromanager

Speaker: Chieh Huang is the co-founder and CEO of Boxed.com, an online wholesale retailer.

Date and location: TED@BCG Toronto, Canada, October 2018

Why we like the talk: In theory, we all know the downside of micromanaging, but that often doesn’t help with daily decisions. Chieh Huang’s talk is a practical first-hand account of how he became a micromanager, what problems that caused and how the upside of giving his employees more agency has by far outweighed the downside. This talk has valuable lessons on leadership, but it’s so funny, you could just watch it for the humour.

Surprising takeaway: Being a micromanager is not a personality trait. It can happen easily, but recovery is possible!

The puzzle of motivation

Speaker: Dan Pink is the former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore and the author of several bestselling books.

Date and location: TEDGlobal 2009, England, July 2009

Why we like the talk: Motivating people is a key part of running a business. In the past, this was achieved through extrinsic motivation. Dan Pink, however, argues that the carrot and stick model is not what we need for the 21st century’s “right-brain work”. While incentives can improve performance when a narrow focus is required, creatives flourish on intrinsic motivators such as autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Surprising takeaway: Incentives don’t promote creativity; in fact, they can hinder it.

Why good leaders make you feel safe

Speaker: Simon Sinek is a speaker and author on leadership and corporate culture. Among his bestselling books are “Start With Why” and “The Infinite Game”.

Date and location: TED2014, Canada, March 2014

Why we like the talk: What makes a good leader? Simon Sinek cuts through all corporate stereotypes and gives an answer that speaks to our humanity, but also makes business sense. Simon Sinek is a remarkable motivational speaker. We chose this talk because we are particularly passionate about the topic, but watch any of his talks and you will feel inspired to improve as a leader, employee or human being.

Surprising takeaway: Good leaders have the same traits as good parents.

What are TED Talks?

TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design. These are the three topics that set the tone for the TED conferences held several times annually in different locations around the globe and now virtually. The TED organisation invites thought leaders from various industries to attend and present short lectures.

Feeling inspired to work on your own presentation skills? Get in touch with our consultants to get started!

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Robert Rothe
Marketing and Partner Manager

Robert grew up in Hamburg, but has strong South African roots. At EnglishBusiness he is the German translation editor, manages our pool of external translators and creates our marketing content. In his free time you’ll find him running around the Alster. In this blog he writes about the German language, South Africa, sports and our beautiful port city.

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