Why we're posting a Michelle Obama speech as today's TEDTalk

Posted by: Chris Anderson

Today’s TEDTalk is unusual. It wasn’t recorded at a conference, but at a public event. And it features America’s first lady, Michelle Obama, who’s never been to a TED conference. What happened here?

Well, first of all, TED is strictly nonpartisan. In fact, we tend to stay away from politics altogether. But our mission is “ideas worth spreading” — and this talk features an idea that absolutely belongs in that category. Michelle Obama visited a girls’ school in London during her recent trip to the UK, and issued a passionate, personal plea for the students to take education seriously. It’s hardly a new idea. But we felt that the way it was expressed was eloquent and inspiring — and well worth a slot here at TED.com, especially considering that young adults are the fastest growing section of our audience.

So we informed the White House of our plans, contacted the BBC to obtain the footage, and created the edit posted here.

In the coming months we plan to feature a number of talks that we consider “best of the web.” So long as they’re short and powerful and contain an idea worth spreading, we’re eager to feature them.

We’d love your feedback on this first one. Love it? hate it? Appropriate for TED? Please view, ponder, and comment!

Comments (24)

  • Janio Barbosa commented on Feb 12 2013

    As you can see my post is being done almost 4 years after the video appeared in TED. I just watched the video, with the same pleasure I’ve been feeling with a lot of the talks I watched in the last 6 months, after knowing TED and becoming somehow addicted to it.
    Some of the posts question the place where the video was recorded… I don’t think it is important. Only an insignificant part of the audience that have access to the talks have the chance to be in the theater at the recording time. I’m sure everyone who goes to the TED stage directs his or her speech not to the public in the theater, but aiming the broad audience. Michelle didn’t talk only to that girls, but to every human being, specially, the young ones.
    I live in Brazil and I’m sharing this video with all my friends because it has, indeed, ideas that worth spreading.

  • Pingback: TEDxKids@Tokyo » Michelle Obama’s plea for education

  • Owen U commented on Sep 7 2009

    I understand how you feel about the President’s plan to have a school speech and talk to school children. Even if it has not been done yet, it is quite igniting a controversy. Part of the rumored content is going to be his recommendations for public school curriculum, which has conspiracy theorists, and even some educators, geared for protesting the line being blurred between politics and education. (If people actually read the history textbooks, they’d see the fix is already in %u2013 but enough of that.) The Department of Education is already criticized heavily for being too easily dominated politically. Home school advocates believe this will herald a rise in home schooling. American schools are already in enough trouble.

  • bayrak flama commented on Jul 4 2009

    Thank you for useful information. With love …

  • billy cats commented on Jun 1 2009

    wow .such a really good information for me .such a wonderful thread i like it.

  • Joel Weisskopf commented on May 31 2009

    Dear TED,

    This is a disaster of your own making!

    Can’t you see that including ANY non-TED conference speakers opens you up to questions how you choose your off conference videos? How can you claim non-partisanship when the first ever non-TED (“best of web”) video is of the current first lady? If you were going to at least pretend to remain non-partisan you would at least first start posting some truly inspiring videos like Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture before adding an Obama speech.

    This is very disappointing move on your part. TED just became a much less interesting place.

  • Me Too commented on May 29 2009

    TED is NOT strictly nonpartisan as they claim. Want proof? See the comments on the Michelle Obama talk. Anything posted by a conservative that does not meet TED’s terms is quickly deleted. Anything posted by a liberal that does not meet TED’s terms is left posted. Nonpartisan my butt.

  • Ian Goddard commented on May 28 2009

    In my opinion it is not only inappropriate but also harmful to TED to post this speech by Michelle Obama. There are many other qualified speakers who have spoken eloquently on this subject, why is it necessary to post this one? The talk is mediocre at best. The posted comments following the TEDTalk are less about the merits of the talk and a lot about the politics – inevitable when you post this kind of talk. I am distressed to see more and more speakers using the TED forum to blatantly express their political positions.

    I am a strong advocate of TED and many people ask what TED stands for. I say it has evolved and is now (forgive me) “The Enlightened Debate” forum. There is much in TED to debate, learn and be enlightened by. There are bias’s in TED that deter debate – (Climate Change) – nonetheless most issues provoke open comment and expression of views. Allowing politicians to use TED as a “publicity opportunity” will result in a loss of credibility & prestige.

  • Tamra Hays commented on May 28 2009

    This is a nice speech, but I agree that the ideas presented are not new and I had seen all or parts of the speech in the news. I like TED talks because I like to see what goes on at the TED conferences. The diversity of ideas is stimulating and the presenters, with their insight, courage, creativity, dedication, are inspiring. Maybe a sidebar link to non-TED talks like this one would serve the purpose of providing variety to us TED addicts.

  • Kristine Lang commented on May 27 2009

    This talk is spot on Chris, both mission and message, the speaker exudes all the grace & elegance befitting her postion. As usual, you never fail to disappoint. Loved it!

  • Anthony D. commented on May 27 2009

    I love Michelle Obama, and I don’t think opening up the series to non-TED content is necessarily a bad idea, but this talk wasn’t up to the usual TED standard.

  • Dave Sampson commented on May 27 2009

    Hmmmm, interesting thread.

    Well if provoking the mind and opinions is what we are after GREAT JOB… as for the presentation I am not a tedster in that I don’t attend the conferences so I like that they tend to be exclusive videos.

    I am slightly addicted to ted (Is there a support group for this?) and try to sample ALL the content and think I have done a good job so far. I was not shocked and dismayed to see an Obama related content and did not feel it was partisan.

    There are some video on TED that I think lack the Quality I have come to expect, either with video (ok for this one) audio (could have been crisper) presenter (I have seen worse, and besides, she is starting off. Better than I could do).

    I did not finish watching it just cause I was not that captivated by the presentation. Just cause it’s TED does not mean everyone will like it.

    Perhaps a TED conference or seminar on education could bring together these ideas and maybe Michelle might be invited to attend.


    • L. Chris Miller commented on May 27 2009

      I don’t know of a support group, but I turned my addiction into a discussion group with a few equally addicted friends. Kinda like a book club. It helps! LOL

  • L. Chris Miller commented on May 27 2009

    I think that the conflict is that this talk fits your mission but not your brand.

    Your brand is exclusive, your mission inclusive/expansive.

    Perhaps a separate area of your site could feature a limited number of non-TED content that TED finds compelling enough to share?

  • Patricio O'Shee commented on May 27 2009

    It’s not just about “ideas worth spreading”. You could spend 18 minutes arguing for an idea worth spreading, but if you don’t add something unique and innovative to that idea, you’ll be wasting your time and ours. I’m sure you’ll agree.

    Personally, I didn’t find this talk inspiring. I felt like I was listening to a principal speaking on the first day of class. As far as eloquence is concerned, it was OK, but I honestly think many of us here could write a better speech (or certainly a more “passionate”, “personal” one), pleading for something that is important to us. Water. School workshops. Food programs. In any case, I would love to be invited to speak at TED. But, alas, I am no First Gentleman.

    Secondly, while TED is non-partisan (Juan Enriquez, for instance, strongly opposes many of the current government’s policies), this issue is definitely political and ideological. Some of us (I mean humans) don’t want to educate, specially girls. http://www.ungei.org

  • Linda Ashworth commented on May 27 2009

    I wrestled with the idea of “non-TED” talks here on TED.com. It really comes down to presenting “all good ides” we can find or just the ones from conferences. Sorry TED, I like keeping the site simply for TED talks. Let the curious go out and find additional information elsewhere.

    That being said, if you decide to continue with this trend, please set an incredibly high standard.

  • Alan McCann commented on May 27 2009

    TED non-partisan? Please.

    It has been clear for years that the selection of speakers and the audience has a clear world view that slants in one direction. There have been token exceptions, of course, but the tone is undeniable to those outside the TED bubble and seemingly not noticeable to those inside.

    Does that make TED bad – not at all. Clearly TED knows its core audience and serves it well.

    This is a big step away from TED’s mission as I see it. There is nothing remarkable about this speech that other first ladies haven’t said… and it points to a bias despite claims otherwise.

  • Almar van der Krogt commented on May 27 2009

    I love it. And I think it is appropriate for TED because, as you stated, it’s an ‘idea worth spreading’. It’s inspirational and that’s what I turn to TED for.
    I read a newspaper article about Michelle Obama’s presentation earlier, which also describes the surprise of the visit to the school and the response of the students. It might be a nice addition.

  • David Loehr commented on May 27 2009

    As long as the “ideas worth spreading” are curated by the good folks at TED, then I don’t see a problem with including them here. Presumably, this is a talk that would fit right in at a TED conference, it just happened to occur elsewhere, that’s all.

    It doesn’t mean that this site will become an “intellectual YouTube,” or that it will devolve into the same noise as the rest of the web.

    What’s saddest of all is that this is not a political talk nor a political issue. Students everywhere–at any age, frankly–should take education seriously. Period. No ideology in that statement whatsoever. And no need to inject ideology into that statement because of the speaker.

    Thank you for sharing this talk with us. This is the first I’d even heard of it, and I suspect without appearing here, it would have vanished into the ether as entirely too many good ideas often do.

  • David McGeary commented on May 27 2009

    This is definitely a departure from the “usual” TED talk, but I don’t necessarily feel that the message is outside of the traditional themes found here. The occasional exception to the rule, while not good in large doses, does provide some variety.

  • Chris Christodoulou commented on May 27 2009

    Oh, no… Obamania in TED too! This truly is a pity… Most pitiful is your attempt to justify this… I didn’t bother to view the talk and I won’t! You say you don’t want to get involved in politics… Pfff… TED’s viewers are not only Americans and this is a pure insult to our intelligence! I’m so disappointed… Please take this video down and don’t put any other off-TED videos in order to justify this… Shame! If we want to see other videos there are other video sites. We don’t need an “intellectual YouTube”! Ted.com must remain only for TED talkers. Such a move is just opening the doors for all kinds of videos under the banner of new ideas (or as you yourselves say for this video, old but “eloquent and inspiring”! Please…. Spare us…). Disappointment is a very light word for what I feel but I really don’t want to use vulger language…

    • Maria Popova commented on May 27 2009

      Chris, I think there’s plenty to celebrate about this talk, beyond whatever political connotations it may or may not carry.

      Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Michelle Obama touches on some tremendously important issues. (After all, the girlEFFECT project is already making non-”political” strides in the same direction of awareness and action.) And let’s think of this talk — not its content — in terms of what it means for TED: It’s a fantastic step in TED’s own evolution as a broader cultural agent.

      While the exclusivity and quality control of TED as an event are certainly a backbone of TED’s credibility as an institution, I do believe that a more synergistic view of other platforms of cultural expression and thought-leadership is what will take TED from an institution to a true movement.

    • Chris Lawlor commented on May 27 2009

      I’m not sure I agree either… but I wanted to mention to you that I felt absolutely no need to continue reading your comment after you said “I didn’t bother to view the talk.”

      • Patricio O'Shee commented on May 27 2009

        He didn’t bother to watch the talk because he read “Obama” in the title. You didn’t bother to read his explanation because he didn’t watch the talk. Notice the irony? :P