tedx durham

I’ve been asked to give a TEDx speech on creativity and innovation, and I need your insight into what makes a speech actually capture your attention and change the way you think.

What makes a TED speech stand out? This is what I want to find out.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked whether I would give a speech as part of the upcoming TEDx event at my university, Durham (in the UK, not Duke which is in Durham, USA). I feel especially privileged as this will be my 10th year graduation anniversary. God, doesn’t that make me feel old!

For those of you who have never seen a TED talk before, they’re short (max 18 minutes) speeches on any topic designed to make the audience think and give them a new perspective. They’re held all over the world, and you can see thousands of great (and some quite controversial) talks for free on the TED website or their great YouTube channel.

The speech I’ll be giving will contain a number of my insights around how creativity works, both in the arts and in business, and what people can do to enhance this ability. But as I’m preparing my script, I wanted to get your views on what makes a speech actually stand out.

Consider the aspects of a talk below, and then let me know in the comments what has the biggest impact on you personally.

Detail and insight

My all-time favorite talk is by Professor Vincent Walsh, who many of you will recognise from my recent (somewhat controversial) interview on the neuroscience of creativity in individuals (if you haven’t seen it, the video is well worth watching). Talks like his previous TED talk here give a lot of insight, supported by facts which give someone knowledge they didn’t have before (itself vital for innovative thinking and creativity)



On the flip side, sometimes talks can be incredibly short and still get their point across. This works especially well if there’s a single point of focus for the audience to remember. Here’s a great example which is only 5 minutes long, but which you’ll never forget. Shake & Fold!


Conviction on a subject

One of the most popular talks is by Sir Ken Robinson, the former Director of The Arts in Schools Project for the UK Government, on the subject of Creativity in Schools. Not about the arts in school, but about creating an school environment which foster creativity and innovative thinking. It is a deeply passionate talk on a subject in society which needs to change, and has been watched over 6 million times.


Personal Journey

Some of the most common and popular speeches are of people telling lessons they have learned from their own life. Oftentimes, these stories strike a personal chord with members of the audience which they can relate to, in other cases it gives them a new perspective they hadn’t considered before. One of the most remarkable examples is “My stroke of insight” (below), by Jill Bolte Taylor, who was a neuroanatomist. She tells the story of herself having a stoke and realising what is going on in her brain. (In my view it’s also a somewhat controversial story from a scientific standpoint as some of her generalisations of the brain and the spiritual aspects aren’t universally accepted)


So as I’m preparing my upcoming speech, I want to educate and engage at the same time. Only then will it actually have an impact.

What makes up the ultimate TED speech for you? Which other TED talks have you found interesting and inspiring. Let me know in the comments below, include Youtube links, and don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter using the form below for Innovation insights every week.