7 best ever ted talks

Melissa Cowan brings you her 7 fave TED talks and tells you what she learnt from them.

I’ve gone down a TED black hole many a time, where I start listening to a talk about space and end up on the life of bees. Individual stories have the power to create change and inspire us and TED speakers are the very best at it. I’ve watched these seven talks several times and always take something new from them. Enjoy!

  1. The Power of Introverts: Susan Cain 

Growing up, I used to wonder why I wasn’t loud and funny like my cousins. I was quiet rather than shy, preferring a book to a big party. It was many years later that I discovered there was a word for this: introversion. And Susan Cain lets us know that it’s okay to be an introvert, despite our culture’s reverence for all things bold and loud. When it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts to do their thing. We need to give introverts more freedom to be themselves so they’ll be more likely to come up with unique solutions to the world’s problems. This TED talk delivers a powerful message: it’s okay to be you.

  1. Listening to shame: Brené Brown

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Brené Brown fan. Her first TED talk on vulnerability is beautiful, but this one approaches a darker subject: shame. Shame tells us we’re not good enough and stops us from connecting with others in a real and open way. Three things help shame grow: secrecy, silence and judgement. Luckily, there’s an antidote: empathy. With empathy, shame can’t survive. Brené says, “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle are ‘me too’.”

  1. Your body language shapes who you are: Amy Cuddy

Don’t ‘Fake it til you make it’, instead ‘Fake it til you become it’. When we adopt powerful (expansive) body language, we feel and become more powerful. Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy discovered that standing in a posture of confidence affects testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain. People who ‘power posed’ before a job interview were favoured over those who didn’t. Therefore, not only can our minds change our bodies, but our bodies can change our minds.

  1. If I should have a daughter: Sarah Kay

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay delivers the most beautiful spoken letter to her future daughter, spouting wisdom like, “No matter how many landmines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life” and “Your voice is small, but don’t you ever stop singing.” Sarah talks us through her experiences of falling in love with spoken word poetry. It’s not just about ‘writing what you know’; it’s about using poetry to dive into the things you don’t know. She uses spoken word to re-discover wonder and be actively engaged with what goes on around her. It’s an encouraging reminder that everyone has a story to tell that the rest of us can learn from.

  1. How to make stress your friend: Kelly McGonigal

Did you know that changing how you think about stress can make you healthier? It turns out, our belief that stress is ‘bad’ is more harmful than stress itself. If we view stress as our body preparing us to meet a challenge, we see that stress can actually be helpful. We should stop trying to get rid of stress, and start trying to get ‘better’ at stress. Oxytocin is an example of a stress hormone, motivating us to seek support and be around people who care about us. Kelly’s core message? Go after what will bring meaning in your life and trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

  1. A kinder, gentler philosophy of success: Alain de Botton

It’s harder than ever to be free of career anxiety. Why? We’re surrounded by ‘snobs’ – people who will define us by our position in the social hierarchy. Our expectations of what humans can achieve in their lifetime are too high and we’re scared of failure because we fear the judgement and ridicule of others. Alain believes in leaving room for the ‘haphazard’ – the idea that our successes and failures are somewhat random. We should be careful to make our ideas of success our own and not be dictated to by society.

  1. The danger of a single story: Chimamanda Adichie

Novelist Chimamanda grew up in Nigeria reading only British children’s books, and was convinced books had to have foreigners in them and be about things she couldn’t identify with. When she discovered African books, her perception of literature shifted. At university, she realised her roommate had a single story of Africa: one of catastrophe. We don’t think that one story of Americans is representative of all Americans, but many people take single stories of Africans as a stereotype of all Africans. A single story robs people of dignity and emphasises how we are different rather than how we are similar. We need a diverse balance of African stories that represent the smaller, happier moments – not just the negative stories. The single story creates stereotypes, but having many stories breaks them.

What are your favourite TED talks?