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TED: Changing the World, One 15-Minute Presentation at a Time

Rob Enderle | Sept. 29, 2014
If you get a chance to attend a TED event, do it, columnist Rob Enderle writes. The talks are specifically designed to be short, slide-free and inspiring. Even sponsored events are free of sales pitches and data-driven presentations.

Bill Gates Ted talk
TED Talks encourage high-profile speakers to deliver short, poignant presentations. Here, Bill Gates speaks at a recent TED event. Credit: Gisela Giardino

TED conferences tend to be must-see events. TED picks interesting topics and trains the speakers on giving short presentations that don't rely on bullet-point slides. I always walk away amazed.

For the last few years, TED has held sponsored talks. Rather than pitch products, though, researchers and other deep thinkers who work for the sponsor share ideas and concepts on how to make their business and the world better for everyone. This week's TED@IBM in San Francisco covered a fascinating set of topics in just a couple of hours.

Several talks stood out to me. I'll say why below. There were also short films addressing big issues; for instance, Project Lucy highlighted how IBM Watson can improve education in the developing world.

TED Talk Model: Tell Stories, Ditch the PowerPoint
One advantage of going through the Ted process is learning how to be a storyteller, to pace your speech and to be brief. This helps the audience retain much of what you say -- in sharp contrast to the typical data-rich, story-poor vendor talks that go on forever but no one can seem to recall. This skill could benefit any career path, particularly executives who pitch investors, employees and customers on a regular basis. Frankly, it would help a lot of folks in verbal interviews as well. Online resources that can help you learn this amazing skill -- and if you think you have something amazing to say, you can audition for TED.

Solar Power to the Masses
Back to TED@IBM. If global warming concerns you, you likely hope solar power can replace oil and gas refineries eventually. On top of having a PH.D. in physics and nanotechnology, Airlight Energy's Gianluca Ambrosetti is pushing Sunflower, a low-cost, high-powered solar technology with IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. It uses a set of mirrors and solar photovoltaic cells, coupled with concreate and aluminum building materials, to create high-yield sun-tracking solar plants that could be used in individual homes or remote areas in need of power. The result looks like a big oversized sunflower (thus the name). IBM's contribution was cheap warm-water cooling technology to keep the solar cells from melting -- kind of an important feature.

Shared Ideas to Reimagine Our Future
Bryan Kramer, president of PureMatter, got his talk to trend on Twitter: He got us to Tweet our own idea to change the world. Given how many followers the assembled group has, we dented the Internet. Kramer then talked about the impact of shared ideas. He also says we should stop talking about B2B and B2C and instead realize that every interaction is human-to-human. He's one of the few speakers I've seen who actually could change the world largely by motivating his audiences to step up.  


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