Tag Archives: ted talks

The Amanda Palmer TED talk

They showed it during TEDxMadison.  Here’s what struck me.  She talked a lot about art, a lot about selflessness, a lot about performance.  Many forceful moments.  But there was only one point at the talk where the audience stopped her with a wave of applause, and that was when she put up a slide referring to a large sum of money.

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Thoughts on TEDx

I gave a TED talk!  OK, not exactly — I gave a TEDx talk, which is the locally organized, non-branded version, but same idea.  18 minutes or less, somewhat sloganistic, a flavor of self-improvement and inspiration.

I was skeptical of the format.  18 minutes!  How can you do anything?  You can really just say one thing.  No opportunity to digress.  Since digression is my usual organizational strategy, this was a challenge.

And there’s a format.  The organizers explained it to me.  Not to be hewed to exactly but taken very seriously.  A personal vignette, to show you’re a human.  A one-sentence takeaway.  General positivity.  A visual prop is good.  The organizers were lovely and gave me lots of good advice when I practiced the talk for them.  I was very motivated to deliver it the way they wanted it.

And in the end, I found the restrictiveness of the format to be really useful.  It’s like a sonnet.  Sonnets are, in certain ways, all the same, by force; and yet there’s a wild diversity of sonnets.  So too for TED talks.  No two of the talks at TEDxMadison were really the same.  And none of them was really like Steve’s TED talk (though I did read a poem like Steve) or Amanda Palmer’s TED talk or (thank goodness) like the moleeds TED talk.

No room in the talk to play the Housemartins song “Sitting on a Fence,” which plays a key role in the longer version of the argument in How Not To Be Wrong.  So here it is now.

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Cathy goes off on TED talks today, calling them shallow, one-directional, and slick.

I was thinking about TED the other day, while I was watching Jared Weinstein give a great lecture at the Arizona Winter School.  At AWS, they felt like people were leaning too much on prepped slides, and the rule is now that you have to handwrite your slides in real time, using an opaque projector to show the slides on the big screen.

Would TED talks be better if the speakers were restricted to visuals they could write or draw by hand in 18 minutes?

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A clip of  Charles Fleischer,  a stand-up comic, wearing an endigitted blazer and performing a routine with a lot of numerology in it:

I think the very first joke in this is funny and concise, but it quickly degenerates into a kind of sub-Robin-Williams “I talk loudly and quickly and change accents a lot and am kind of manic, is it funny yet?  No?  LOUDER, QUICKER, MORE ACCENTS!” schtick.

But the joke is on us, because Fleischer’s not kidding about his theory of “moleeds.”  In 2005 he gave a TED talk about it.  This is a weird and in some ways uncomfortable thing to watch — the audience still thinks they’re watching a comedy routine, and just keeps chuckling while Fleischer argues, with ever-increasing fervor,  that the equation 27 x 37 = 999 somehow explains mirror symmetry and the theory of Calabi-Yau manifolds.

The talk doesn’t cast TED in the best light, to be honest.  Don’t they have someone on staff who can do some minimal vetting of talks that claim to be about math?

(Note:  there is always the possibility that Fleischer’s whole act is an extravagantly thorough Kaufmannesque send-up of people’s tendency to attach themselves to meaningless patterns and theories.  But it doesn’t read that way to me.)

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