Nine stories: A TEDTalks playlist

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TED begins its holiday break today. Please enjoy this playlist from guest blogger Ben Lillie, of Storycollider, and add your own suggestions in comments below.

The single most powerful way to connect with another person is to tell them a personal story, or to listen to them tell one. We do it all the time: while eating with friends, when introduced to new acquaintances, when challenged by teachers and parents. Stories are the fabric of our social reality. All TEDTalks tell a story in one way or another — often a very personal one. Indeed, one of the TED Commandments is: “Show us the real you.” But sometimes the talk is the story, and when that happens we can see the craft, both ancient and continually re-invented, on display.

Follow along for nine TEDTalks, each by an extraordinary storyteller, and each highlighting a different aspect of the craft of storytelling.

John Hodgman has perfected a way of stating pure invention as though it were well-understood and accepted fact. But he uses this talent to highlight, not obscure, a remarkable tale of falling in love.

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  • Often a story takes us, not in straight lines, but in circles, ending up where we began. And on returning, like Becky Blanton, we’re surprised to find that the journey has changed us so profoundly that the old place is completely new.

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  • The form of a story often transcends the content. Dan Barber relates a traditional tale finding true love after the heartbreak of youthful infatuation — only it’s with fish. For his restaurant. To cook.

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  • A good story will have a surprise — a twist. And if it’s done well, as in this excerpt from Patsy Rodenburg, the twist will have the audience gasping, not just with astonishment, but with a realization of a newfound insight into human nature.


  • In a good narrative the hero is far from perfect, and it’s these imperfections that make the story engaging and relatable. Mike Rowe talks about the strength he gained by being completely and utterly wrong.

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  • While there is strength in learning from stories, the danger, as eloquently expressed by Chimamanda Adichie, is that we will confuse a person with a single story that happens to look like them.

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  • We don’t normally think of the supposedly cold and detached world of science as a fertile realm for stories. Yet, at it’s heart science is about humans, and it turns out the stories are everywhere. In this spectacular example, Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, watches her own mind fail as she suffers a stroke.

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  • Sometimes the power of a story is not in the magnitude of what happens, but in how it’s told. Carmen Agra Deedy is a master of the craft; here she uses every technique available to paint a beautiful, touching, and witty portrait of her mother through a simple trip to the shopping mall.

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  • And sometimes all thoughts of the form and craft of a story fade to nothing in the face of the story itself. Emmanuel Jal uses story, poetry, and song to tell of his life, and rescue, as a child soldier.

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  • Playlist: Ben Lillie