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Video: 5 Secrets of a Successful TED Talk


What makes a successful TED talk?

Here at the Science of People we endeavored to find out. Why do some TED talks rack up millions of views, change lives and are talked about everywhere?

We were amazed at what we found. Before I get into the 5 patterns, I want to give you some juicy background:

What’s New?

A few authors have aspired to take on the puzzle of what makes a successful TED talk. Here’s what’s different:

  • More than One Opinion: We crowd-sourced the data. Instead of one researcher coding and looking for patterns, we had hundreds of participants rating and analyzing the talks.
  • Beyond Words: Although there are some amazing books about the verbal patterns, strategies and rhetoric in TED talks, very few focus on the body language patterns. And we quickly found out that the nonverbal is even more important than the verbal (see #1 below).
  • Previous Research: We based our experiment on peer-reviewed academic research on nonverbal patterns. In this way, we know our results have a solid foundation in respected scientific trials.
  • Controls: To get the most accurate results, we only used videos that had been posted on (so they had similar exposure), were posted in 2010 (so they had about the same amount of time to garner views) and were between 15 and 20 minutes long (so extra short or long talks didn’t skew the participants’ ratings). We also worked with the amazing Data Scientist, Brandon Vaughn, to make sure our results were solid.

Why TED?

TED is a non-profit that posts videos of the best speakers in the world presenting on a variety of fascinating topics. This gave us the perfect database of videos of charismatic and intelligent people. Most importantly, the number of views on each video gave us a clear idea of popularity. For example, here are two amazing talks on leadership: one by Fields Wicker-Miurin called “Learning from Leadership’s Missing Manual” and one by Simon Sinek called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. Note the difference in views:


While Wicker-Muirin gets a respectable 609,366 views, Sinek’s talk gets a mind-boggling 20,929,959 views! And:

  • Both talks were published the same month (September 2009) which means they had the same amount of time to garner views.
  • They are both on similar topics.
  • These are both respected, but NOT famous speakers.

Something about Sinek’s talk caught fire, captured people and went viral. We see this pattern over and over again on TED. Some talks hit big and some don’t. But, why? Watch the video and see our findings. 

While we examined TED talks in this experiment, the implications are wide reaching. We are talking about how to increase your charisma, presence and the personal power from a stage, in board rooms and when interacting with people.

For further reading on the study, citations and bios, please click here.


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