The TED Meeting Phenomenon

Why are lessons from TED meetings so extraordinarily relevant to running successful businesses and organizations?

Have you watched a TED video?  Many millions of people have.  The TED meeting and its children, TEDx meetings, have become a popular genre for sharing ideas.  Indeed, the motto of TED is “Ideas worth sharing”.   There are many thousands of these meetings conducted around the world today.  Understanding where they came from and how they work will be the subject of several upcoming blogs.

The TED meetings were started by Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and prolific author, in the early 1980s.    “TED” stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  For Wurman, the idea was like having a personal dinner party in which the guests were very knowledgeable and experienced in certain fields, extremely articulate, and passionate about their beliefs.  They weren’t trying to sell you anything, they were sharing their most intimate discoveries and passions.  Speakers came from many backgrounds and spoke about totally unrelated topics.  Architects have to be integrators, so he was ‘architecting’ a meeting.  He even wrote a fascinating book called “Information Architects”.

Wurman was able to attract some amazing leaders in various fields to come and share their ideas.  He was also very good at juxtaposing speakers in a way that inspired the audience to think.  The audience members were just as prestigious in their fields as were the speakers.  Part of the ritual was that speakers had exactly 18 minutes to do their presentation.  Wurman would give a short introduction and let them speak.  As they got close to the allotted time, he would come on stage and start walking closer.  In extreme cases he would escort them off. There were no questions allowed.  Instead, he provided for one hour breaks between groups of talks to give the audience plenty of time to interact with both speakers and each other.

He developed a “10 Commandments for TED Speakers” that exists with some variations to today.   Here is the version I received in preparation for my TEDMed talk in 2009: Continue reading