Chris Anderson answers questions like “What’s the fairest criticism of TED”?

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Earlier today, TED curator Chris Anderson sat down for an online Q&A with the readers of Gizmodo.com. They asked a wide variety of questions, from “What’s your favorite TEDTalk of all time?” to “What will TED look like in 10 years?” Here, some highlights pulled from the discussion.

What’s your favorite TED talk of all time?

Chris: Hard question. There are so many. But today I’ll go with this one from physicist David Deutsch. He asks a really strange question: What would a typical place in the universe look like? By the time he’s done you won’t ever think of yourself and the earth and knowledge quite the same again.

How do you pick the people to give TED talks?

Chris: Crowd wisdom, mostly. Thousands of suggestions.

What’s the fairest criticism of TED?

Chris: Ouch! Let’s see. Well… in a few recent talks, TED speakers have been accused of coming across as canned. As going for emotional impact over actual substance. In some cases, the critics have a point. The reason it happens is that the TED platform now offers a successful speaker hundreds of thousands of views … or more. So there’s huge incentive to get it right. Just occasionally, people try too hard to be smooth. Or to crack some perceived TED code. The thing is, it doesn’t work. The only great talks are those where the speaker is authentic, and reveals a new understanding of something. We’re absolutely alive to that critique and are making sure prospective speakers are too.

Do your speakers get paid?

Chris: Nope. Nothing.

Where is TED going? What will it look like in 10 years?

Chris: Damned if I know. 10 years is a long time. Anyone who claims to have a 10-year road map in a world changing this fast is fooling themselves. We think compass, not road map. And the compass is simply our mission of “ideas worth spreading.” Whatever new technologies come along that allow us to support that mission, we’ll adopt. Something we’re working on right now is how to better allow our online audience to help shape the ideas shared on the site. They shouldn’t be thought of as delivered one-time in perfect form, one to many. They should be amenable to critical thinking, adaptation, improvement. Watch this space.

Do you think there’s a grain of truth to some people’s complaints that TED talks have become a kind of intellectual masturbation for the upper class?

Chris: I get why some people might say that … but the whole trajectory of TED these past 10 years has been to make the content available free to everyone. Ten years ago, it was 800 people once a year in California. Today it’s a global audience of 1m+ people every day. Our fastest growing audience is 20-30 year olds who mostly aren’t intellectual and would *never* masturbate.

Have you ever considered TED talks given by people who are not quite as renowned and famous as most talkers?

Chris: You’re exactly right. This year we went on a 14-city tour around the world in search of unexpected talent. As a result, we have 30 pretty amazing people to bring to next year’s event.

Why do you have to be rich to attend a TED?

Chris: You don’t. There are 6 or 7 TEDx events held every day somewhere in the world, where the typical ticket price is <$100. And they’re free to everyone online. But don’t knock the folks who pay $7500 to come to our main conference in California. It’s their dollars which fund the free website and all the other TED programs (the Prize, the Fellows, TEDx, TED-Ed, Translations, etc.) Call it the Robin Hood strategy. ;)

What’s the worst thing you can ever remember a TED speaker saying? 

Chris: “.. .and as I already mentioned five times, my book is truly brilliant… and available now.”

Read the full discussion on Gizmodo >>

Comments (4)

  • Kylie Dunn commented on Nov 10 2012

    I read an article about how TED was just “chicken soup for the soul”, but having spent the last 12 months doing my Year of TED (www.kyliedunn.com) I can definitely say that TED Talks have an incredible potential to change people and influence the people around them. I’m continually inspired by the talks and some of the tough topics they deal with. People will always throw stones at things that become successful, and TED deserves this level of success. Thank you for everything.

  • Merouche Med Hichem commented on Oct 31 2012

    i love the way he answers questions and describes his thing, He’s realy a media master
    as a TEDx orgnizer he’s a huge inspiration

  • Reine Azzi commented on Oct 25 2012

    It’s always fresh to see “real” responses and an attempt to laugh at one’s own follies. … this is what TED is all about. Being able to accept the criticism as much as the praises…and as a TEDx organizer who has seen the true power of ideas worth spreading at our own university, I can’t be thank you from the bottom of my heart! You make my mission as an educator worth pursuing!

  • Charles C M Bannister commented on Oct 24 2012

    Keep up the great work. Each day you assault our minds with nrew ideas 365 per year. Some we will be attuned to others will cause us to re evaluate, a few may upset us, or be presented in ways that we see as crass, but all in all the goal and the ways in which you are achieving it are focussed and credible.