Thursday, November 15, 2012

In honor of #TEDBillion, 7 great TED talks by women speakers

TED talks hit a big milestone this month: They've been viewed one billion times. The mix of an exclusive conference, top speakers, tight time constraints and provocative ideas and stories has reshaped public speaking and presenting as we know it. Those billion views are part of the secret sauce of TED, which limits live attendees but makes its talks available widely and for free.

To celebrate, TED has put together this interactive timeline speakers will want to plumb for great moments in TED talks on the way to a billion views. TED also has commissioned lists from top thinkers about their favorite TED talks, and encouraged others to share their lists on Twitter with the hashtag #TEDBillion. So a list from The Eloquent Woman seems in order, too. Here are some of my favorite TED talks by women speakers:

Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight
This speech--the second-most-watched TED talk of all time, with well over 9 million views--also has a place in The Eloquent Woman Index, where you can see my Famous Speech Friday entry analyzing Bolte's talk. It's heart-rending to think of a brain scientist observing herself have a stroke, and for me, the money quote in this talk is "And in that moment, I knew I was no longer the choreographer of my life." As she speaks, the audience can't help but consider what she had to do to recover enough to give this talk. And then there's the fact that she wields an actual brain as she speaks, winning hands-down the contest for Best Prop Ever. A fearless talk that also demonstrates a high level of excellence from a scientist describing complex information in ways that move audiences emotionally.

Susan Cain, the power of introverts
TED loves the improbable concept, and this talk brims with such things: Cain, an introvert, is giving a TED talk...and it is so far the most-watched TED talk of 2012, with just over 3 million views. So the very thing an introvert dislikes, all eyes on her, is what make this talk improbable and successful, all at once. It's a great testament to the power of speakers who understand that one of their special roles is to give voice to people who don't feel they have a voice. Introverts in the audience stood and cheered at the end of this talk, and do the same every day when they watch it at their desks. Again, a speech where the audience can imagine the work it took for the speaker to stand up and give it--a kind of catnip for audiences that's so powerful, the New York Times wrote about how this introvert came to give a TED talk.

Diane Kelly on what we didn't know about penis anatomy
I got to see this one live at TEDMED, but even if I hadn't, it would have the same appeal. There's the improbable topic of penis anatomy and the task of speaking even though most of your straight lines will sound like double entendres, complete with almost nonstop audience laughter. Then you learn that Kelly, a zoologist, actually discovered something new in a field where she was told early on that there was nothing new under the sun--so this becomes a story about scientific curiousity and persistence. You will not be bored, you'll learn something, and you have to admire Kelly's ability to move from discussing that same anatomy with her son last week and talking with you about it now. Would that every speaker be able to display such composure.
Sarah Kay, If I should have a daughter
This spoken word poem demonstrates the power of using poetic language, cadence and pacing when you speak, even if you won't be delivering a poem. This talk, part of TED's commitment to including the performing arts and entertainment as well as talks, shows why audiences yearn to be entertained--they're waiting for something like this. It's also a great example of something I encourage women speakers to do, which is speaking about women's issues. No one else will do it if we don't do it.

Jane Fonda on life's third act
Here's another talk that is in The Eloquent Woman Index, and you can read my analysis of it in this Famous Speech Friday post on Fonda's TEDWomen talk. I love the ease with which Fonda tackles the topic of aging, an ease that draws the audience in and encourages listening. Sprinkled with humor and personal observations as well as data, this is a hopeful talk. You'll learn much from just closing your eyes and listening to Fonda's vocal inflections, which do more than any slide or prop to keep the audience engaged.

Jessi Arrington, wearing nothing new
This designer and blogger got up in front of the TEDActive audience to proclaim that all she packed for the conference were seven pairs of underpants, and bought the rest of her clothes at thrift stores, then proceeds to show them the outfits she developed from inexpensive options that also help her reduce her impact on the environment. This has many sources of appeal: frugality, environmental activism, color, design and shopping. A merry speech that insists upon delighting and amusing the audience, this talk also uses slides appropriately--to show things Arrington can't show on stage (like the underwear) and to illustrate her words, since the visuals are integral to the talk. Thrift dressing never looked so good--there's that improbable concept again.

Diana Nyad, extreme swimming with the world's most dangerous jellyfish
I got to see this one in person, too, and even though it came at the end of a long day, this was more a journey than a talk, and we were along for an amazing ride and story. Nyad takes her time with this, a pacing that's essential for a tale with so many facets, and yet she brings it in at less than 17 minutes. That's not a miracle as much as it is a paean to practice, and it's clear that Nyad trained for this talk the way she trains for her swims. This speech also is part of The Eloquent Woman Index and, as noted in my Famous Speech Friday post on Nyad's talk, this is a talk that left the audience thinking at the very end--the ideal tactic for a speaker who wants to be what's talked about over dinner. The box jellyfish attacks give this speech sting, but the aspirational values make it sing.

If you have other TED favorites by women speakers, please add to this list in the comments.