When you’re in a rut, you need other people’s ideas to inspire and motivate you.
TED Talks do just that. TED, which stands for technology, education, and organization, is a media company that hosts programs and conferences surrounding hundreds of topics. It invites guest speakers from all walks of life to discuss their research, thoughts, and personal experiences, all with the goal of teaching and motivating others.
Whether you want to learn something new or change careers later in life, one of these talks might be the key. Since the most inspiring TED Talks cover such a wide range of information, you’ll find something that catches your attention. From finding happiness to the power of leadership, they’ll get you thinking and maybe even inspire you to make a change in your life.
15 of the best TED Talks
The TED Talks tagline is “Ideas worth sharing,” and it certainly comes true. These speeches highlight innovative research, tell previously untold stories, and share perspectives that could change your own. Here are some of the most popular TED Talks of all time on a wide variety of topics:
1. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance, by Angela Lee Duckworth
Angela Lee Duckworth left a management consulting career to become a math teacher. After observing her students, she concluded that motivation was a significant factor in their learning, perhaps even more than IQ.
She eventually pursued research to look more seriously at the power of passion and resilience — which she calls “grit” — and its effects on success. Now Angela works as a psychologist and academic at the University of Pennsylvania.
According to Angela, your stamina and work ethic predict better success than talent. She believes those who can test their ideas and are willing to fail and start all over again are full of grit and the most likely to thrive. Angela also discusses the power of a growth mindset and learning from failure rather than giving up.
2. The urgency of intersectionality, by Kimberlé Crenshaw
Kimberlé Crenshaw, an expert on critical race theory, delivers a powerful and emotional talk about the intersections between gender and race. She begins with an exercise identifying the audience’s internal biases and memories of publicized deaths — a great example of making a presentation interactive.
Kimberlé then implores the audience to dive deeper into the impacts of intersectionality, or the lack thereof, when it comes to social justice. Not only is it an eye-opening talk, but it also opens the floor for larger conversations about diversity and inclusion.
3. Your body language may shape who you are, by Amy Cuddy
In her TED Talk, psychologist and author Amy Cuddy discusses how powerful body language can boost your confidence and chance of success. She calls these power poses, and argues that simply by holding your body a certain way can make you feel less stressed in situations like job interviews and presentations.
Something to keep in mind is that power posing doesn’t have extensive scientific backing, and some experts question its merit. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use body language to communicate confidence and fake it until you make it.
4. How great leaders inspire action, by Simon Sinek
Author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek argues in his TED Talk that when it comes to business, leaders should focus on the “why” of what they do instead of the “how” or “what.”
He believes that when great leaders communicate their “why,” their audiences can connect with their personal values or company values. Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers all communicated their “why,” and Simon describes how others can follow in their footsteps.
5. Inside the mind of a master procrastinator, by Tim Urban
According to some estimates, around 20% of people are chronic procrastinators who put off important tasks often. And Tim Urban is one of them.
In his TED Talk, Tim argues that long ago, people received gratification for hunting or gathering food to eat — but because those things come easily today, people seek gratification elsewhere. Instead, YouTube binges and Wikipedia rabbit holes fill the satisfaction gap.
Tim pushes the audience to think harder about what happens in your brain when you procrastinate. Avoiding procrastination is a lifelong process that requires active effort, and nobody is alone in trying to squash it.
6. The danger of a single story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk about the power of storytelling was filmed in 2009, and its themes ring true nearly 20 years later. She explains that growing up in Nigeria, most of the stories she encountered were about British and American people, and the limited view altered her perception of the world. Cultural representation is the key to overcoming differences.
Chimamanda encourages the audience to question their beliefs, learn more about varying cultures, and above all, deepen their relationships with people from different backgrounds.
7. Do schools kill creativity?, by Sir Ken Robinson
Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson’s video is the most shared TED Talk of all time, with 75 million views as of 2023. He makes a case for changing education systems so they nurture creativity instead of weeding it out. He says there are multiple types of intelligence, but school systems only cater to academic and intellectual achievement, hindering growth in more creative students.
Sir Ken Robinson suggests that it’s up to schools, school boards, and policymakers to help children hang onto their elusive creative genius, curiosity, and natural interest. And if you’re lacking creativity as an adult, you can harness your inner child and find that genius again.
8. I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much, by Stella Young
The title of wheelchair user Stella Young’s lecture might contradict this list’s main topic — inspiration — but it deserves a place here nonetheless. In fact, Stella’s funny talk offers important points to remember when discussing inspiration, namely that disabled people are more than just a tool to make the able-bodied feel better.
Stella argues that disability isn’t a bad thing (which she describes with a capital “B” and capital “T”), and that everyone should consider the diverse experiences of disabled people. Not everyone is exceptional or has overcome giant battles, and that’s more than okay.
9. The power of vulnerability, by Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a professor, author, and podcast host who teaches the world about emotional intelligence. She shares insights from her research on vulnerability and shame in her talk, which has over 61 million views.
Brené believes that Americans live in a culture that says you’re never enough. This fear can scare you into getting into the “right” school or pursuing the “right” career, even if it’s not the path you want to take. Instead, Brené suggests that being vulnerable and living wholeheartedly is what lets you find your passion and be your best self.
10. How to make stress your friend, by Kelly McGonigal
Stress isn’t necessarily bad, and according to Kelly McGonigal and her TED Talk, it might only be harmful if you think it is. She explains that people could all learn from identifying positive stress and using it as a tool to learn and experience life as it comes.
By shifting your thinking and perspective, stress can make you feel alert and ready instead of anxious about situations you dislike. She calls stress “encouraging energy” and emphasizes that you can use it to get into performance mode rather than repressing it.
11. My escape from North Korea, by Hyeonseo Lee
Hyeonseo Lee’s story about her childhood in North Korea and eventual escape is something everyone can learn from. She discusses her journey from being proud of her country, to starving in the 1990s famine, to traveling to China and South Korea to start a new life.
Not only is it an inspiring story about prevailing in the face of hardship, but it’s an eye-opening reminder of the injustices that happen every day across the world.
12. Success, failure and the drive to keep creating, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love has sold 10 million copies since its 2006 release. In her TED Talk, Elizabeth reflects on the success of that major work and how she worried about the future of her career. She says she had to find a way to stay true to her creative self without letting the fear of failure paralyze her.
Elizabeth discusses how you can feel lost in both wild success and failure, and amid both of those outcomes, you need to find a way back to your home — the things you love.
13. The power of believing that you can improve, by Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck is a psychologist curious about why people succeed and with what mindset. In her TED Talk, she contends that a fixed mindset can’t help you achieve what you want — especially when those goals are difficult.
Carol instead proposes a growth mindset. Thinking about failures as part of the learning process can motivate you to learn new skills and succeed. With growth in mind, you’ll become a more resilient and motivated person.
14. The power of introverts, by Susan Cain
Susan Cain is a writer who became interested in learning about introversion when she struggled with public speaking at Harvard. She says in her talk that society over-prioritizes extroversion and social skills, leaving introverts behind.
But Susan argues that introverts are just as powerful, and their thoughtful and creative traits are things to celebrate. She encourages introverts to continue to brainstorm and hold onto ideas until it’s time to share them. Introversion isn’t a weakness, and people with these traits can, and should, contribute to their communities.
15. How to speak so that people want to listen, by Julian Treasure
International public speaker Julian Treasure calls the human voice a powerful instrument that everyone plays. But its power depends on how you use it. He suggests paying attention to how professional speakers deliver their remarks and being a keen listener when you’re out and about, tuning your ear for good voices.
Julian believes it’s possible to harness the power of your voice, train it to capture others’ attention, and get your message across to an audience. He shares public speaking tips and scientific tidbits about what people really listen to — and sometimes, silence is the most powerful thing.
Ideas worth learning
Whether you’re in search of a brand new mindset or a science-backed perspective to help you through a difficult situation, inspiring TED Talks offer the insight you’re looking for.
And since they’re “ideas worth sharing,” you might even find yourself starting discussions with the people around you and developing your own observations. Maybe you’ll even learn a happy secret and start living a new, good life.