Culture TED Conferences

The Best Props at TED

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TED2013, “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered,” begins in just 20 days and we at the TED Blog are gearing up to bring you live reporting on each of the 70 speakers who’ll be ascending the stage, not to mention assorted news from the scene in Long Beach, California. One thing we hope to see more of at this amazing event: props. There’s something so bold about a speaker who steps on stage with a prop. When wielded with finesse, a prop can make a good talk that much more captivating.

To inspire any speakers thinking along these lines, here are some of the most eye-opening, innovative and humorous props from TEDs past, from a human brain to a parrot puppet.

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Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight
Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor got an unwelcome surprise one morning as she got ready for work — a pain in her left eye that escalated to a loss of balance. When her right arm became paralyzed and she could no longer produce words, she realized that she was having a stroke. As she tells her tale at TED2008, all about the wonder of the human brain, she produces one on stage — replete with spinal cord.

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Susan Cain: The power of introverts
Writer and self-described introvert Susan Cain believes in the power of quiet personalities. In this talk, she shares that, as a child, her favorite “social” activity was reading and that she brought a suitcase full of books with her to summer camp. As she sounds a call to action at TED2012 for society to help introverts thrive, she reveals her old suitcase. And yes, it’s still filled with books.

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Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide?
“How do I create something out of nothing?” novelist Amy Tan asks. The answer has to do with a belief that there are no absolute truths. In this talk from TED2008, Tan shares that she is constantly questioning, embracing uncertainty and immersing herself in her own fictional world. What’s her “muse?” A surprise that emerges from her handbag at the very end of her talk.

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Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes
Andy Puddicombe, a monk, uses juggling as an analogy for practicing mindfulness. Equating three orange balls with thoughts at the TEDSalon in London, he shows how focusing on them or relaxing too much make juggling and talking impossible; how an anxious thought will pop up again and again; and how a nagging thought can dog us.

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Hans Rosling: The magic washing machine
Hans Rosling uses an on-stage washing machine to tell the story of his mother buying her own, when he was 4-years-old. Rosling argues it’s one of the most revolutionary inventions we have: most women today still wash clothes by hand, like his grandmother used to. (At the end of his talk, a surprise emerges from the washing machine!)


Ainissa Ramirez: A sputnik moment for STEM education
At TED2012, Ainissa Ramirez straightened a piece of bent wire with a blowtorch to demonstrate atoms’ ability to rearrange. In her talk, Ramirez explained that the rare earth elements we depend on now are being quickly depleted—and argues that science education could provide the key to solving that crisis. (This talk became the TED-ed lesson, “Magical metals, how shape memory alloys work.”)

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Tom Rielly delivers a comic sendup of TED2006
Tom Reilly’s rollicking mockery of the 2006 TED speakers, which closed out the conference, features a “scream bag” (a shoulder-bag one screams into so as not to disturb other audience members), dolls, oversized playing cards, an interactive chart propped on an easel, a $100 bill, a prototype of a granola house with a Sun Chip roof and a parrot puppet. Naturally.

Tune in to the TED Blog for live coverage of TED2013 beginning on February 25. And read much more about “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered” »