TED talks are great, but there’s a point where they all seem too similar, or are just taxing to muddle through. If you’d still like to enjoy a smart, engaging talk now and again but you’ve had enough of TED, here are some alternative to boost your brain.
99U, formerly 99 Percent, hosts a variety of talks on topics that range from creativity to career topics. From this great talk on why rejection is usually a sign you’re on to something new to the importance of creating opportunities for yourself without asking permission, 99U’s talks are full of vibrant speakers, individuals you wouldn’t have heard from in traditional tech conferences, and perspectives that we’ve even shared from time to time. The video above is one of the classics, with financial expert Ramit Sethi explaining how to charge what you’re worth.
9. The Moth
The Moth is less lectures and more personal stories you can rally behind, empathize with, and learn from. The site and its series of talks range from topics like peace and faith to a story of the worst surprise party ever. There are few high-minded concepts here, no techbros peddling stories of disruption or controversy, but instead real people telling stories that we can relate to in a genuine, understandable way.
The site’s story archives are deep and rich, and The Moth Radio Hour gives you a podcast-y away to keep up with new ones or discover old ones you might love. Their YouTube channel is packed with videos, but the real meat is at their web site. Expect to see names like Louis C.K, Sarah Jones (the video above, for example), Salman Rushdie, and more, but not limited to people with names you’d recognize.
At Ignite, presenters get 20 slides and 5 minutes, and the slides automatically advance every 15 seconds whether the presenter wants them to or not. The goal is to condense an idea into a bite-sized chunk that’s fun, fast, and equally memorable in just a few minutes, and the result are some really impressive, entertaining, and enlightening talks that you won’t see anywhere else except under this kind of time pressure. For example, one of those talks we famously shared is on how to buy a car without getting screwed. Another was a fan favorite: “Go the Fuck Home.“
The most recent one, “Refugees Have Funny Stories Too,” is both entertaining and inspiring, and embedded above. Some more must see talks are “The Art of Pro Wrestling,” which, well, breaks down wrestling for what we know it really is, and “Granny Was a Hacker,” which pays homage to an often-overlooked but super important series of stories in the history of modern computing technology. For a little levity, check out “How the Hell Did Matt Get All Those People to Dance with Him?” Check out their site for more, or their YouTube channel.
The Gel Conference is actually a conference about creating positive, good customer experiences for business, but you can still learn a lot from the talks presented. Even though the talks focus on the creative process or building businesses and user experiences, you can still learn a lot about the nature of great work, or doing great things.
For example, Margarette Purvis, the President and CEO, of Food Bank For New York City explains in her talk how important it is to understand the community you serve before you assume you know what’s good for them, and Gui Trotti, Founder of Trotti + Associates, explains in his talk the importance of design, even in building things like lunar bases, space stations, and other structures that exist in extreme environments. In the talk above, musician (admittedly, i’m a fan) and creator of the DNA Project j.views explains how giving of himself and sharing every step of his creative process helped him craft and write a new album. And all of these are just from the 2016 conference.
Founded by a pair of Japanese architects who wanted concise, simple, and inspiring presentations, PechaKucha started as an open event in Tokyo for young designers to meet, network, and share ideas. It’s since expanded to over 900 cities, bringing its 20 images-in-20 seconds format to audiences the world over. Like Ignite, the presenters speak and the slides advance automatically, whether they want them to or not, and they’re charged with delivering a concise, impactful message in the time they get-and boy to some of them manage to do that.
From Kostiya Kimlat’s “Who Killed the King” to Flavio Silva’s “The Magic of Lucha Libre,” each of these presentations proves that you don’t need minutes upon minutes, or heaven forbid hours, to make a point or tell a story. Sometimes 20 seconds will do just fine. Above is Shannon Downey’s “Make It So,” a story of how one night she and her friends were out drinking, took a picture with a Captain Picard action figure, and set up a Facebook fan page for it afterward. The rest is history.
The Veritas Forum may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re interested in theology, atheism, agnosticism, and religious theory and debate of all forms, this forum is for you. Combining a litany of religious scholars and theologians right alongside skeptics, philosophers, and secular speakers may sound like a recipe for bitter contention, but in reality it’s a collaborative series of talks aimed at searching for philosophical truth for everyone involved.
From one talk from Meghan Sullivan at Notre Dame University that asks whether the belief in God is irrational to William Tate’s talk at Washington University in St. Louis on empathy and faith in the aftermath of Ferguson, if you come with an open mind and ready to check your own confirmation bias, you’ll come away with an expanded perception of not only your beliefs, but the beliefs of others-which can only do everyone a great deal of good. Above, for example, is a talk at Stanford University from Charles Lee, on why happiness seems to be so elusive.
Something of Canada’s TED, IdeaCity is a bit more informal, a bit more inspirational and open, and way more broad in terms of topics and ideas presented. Led by Moses Znaimer, each three day conference is a parade of visionary entrepreneurs, leaders, social activists, scientists, journalists, and more, and every talk will leave you smarter than you started.
IdeaCity talks range on topics from how to improve your memory from the Guiness World Record holder for the best memory to a down-to-earth explanation of what neutrinos are and why they’re so confounding to physicists, presented by a Nobel Prize winner. The talk above is from Laura Dekker, the youngest person to solo sail around the world. You’ll find topics on social science, physical science, mathematics, pop culture, medicine and health, the list goes on-in fact on their videos page you can sort by topics or tags to see specific presentations in categories that interest you, or check out their YouTube channel for more.
PopTech is a global community of experts, entrepreneurs, and so-called “thought leaders” with the goal of sharing information beyond industry lines. The goal is to help spur innovation by bringing people together with different backgrounds to share ideas and walk away inspired. Of course, “innovation” isn’t that simple, but getting people talking about big ideas is always a great thing, and PopTech has those talks in droves. The topics run the gamut from science and medicine to public policy and education, with presenters whose background are just as broad.
For example, this talk from journalist Kathryn Schulz on the power of being wrong is illuminating and a stark reminder that we do things wrong all the time-and sometimes we’re even wrong about what it means to be wrong. This talk from Milton Garcés on “infrasound,” where we get crazy stories like “this is what the earth sounds like” or “this is what the oceans sound like,” is actually a super interesting look into the science of audio that humans simply can’t hear. Above is a video from 2012 where Eben Upton, founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, explained how a generation of kids are learning to code (and all of you readers are learning to hack) using this tiny, incredible, card-sized affordable computer.
You may not know it, but Google regularly hosts talks on its campus for employees and guests on a variety of topics. Sometimes it’s inspirational and informative, in the vein of TED and other great conferences, and other times it’s simply a working session on how to do a job better or how to use a specific kind of tool. In many cases though those talks are exceptionally interesting and worth checking out.
For example, this talk by Dana Schulz on baking, minimalist-style, is worth watching if you really want to learn to bake breads and cakes and other delicious goods without stocking up on a bunch of equipment or ingredients. Then there was the time Ryan Reynolds stopped by Google to chat about Deadpool, or when Bill Nye spoke at Google, giving a talk called “Undeniable,” which I think you can get from its title. Above is a talk with Conan O’Brien, from when he stopped by Google to give a talk himself. Check out their YouTube channel for more, there’s plenty to go around.
1. Big Think
Big Think videos are always enlightening and entertaining. Featuring people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye speaking on scientific and intellectual topics, and Mary Aiken and Glenn Cohen discussing social and psychological topics with a focus on technology, the topics are often wide, but always informative. We’ve highlighted a number of Big Think videos too, like why meditation should be your brain’s “scheduled maintenance,” and the concept of mental toughness and how to improve yours.
The beauty of Big Think videos is that they’re always great and presented directly by leaders in a specific field, or experts who have researched their respective topics-and they’re presented to the camera, usually not to an audience. This video above, from Charles Duhigg, whose work we’ve highlighted on Lifehacker before, shows you how to improve your focus by building mental models.
Title image made using tinbee (Shutterstock).
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