Why Ken Robinson’s TED talk is incredibly successful

“Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.”

Working in the field of education you can easily see that the spotlight is rarely on researchers and reform movements only get highlighted if they are controversial. This is despite the fact that education and how to teach children is a continuos topic of conversation among diverse groups from investment bankers to soccer moms. The reform ideas and passion, although admirable, can become stale due to the general lack of momentum and few speakers really find themselves facing high interest from the public.

Sir Ken Robinson seems to be a great exception to this problem. His TED Talk video on creativity in education (which you can watch below) is one of the most watched TED talks ever. It is by far one of the most memorable and searched for talks in the history of the organization. In fact TED avatar image is from Robinson’s talk. Why is that? What is it in that talk that inspires many of us to go back and see it again and recommend it to our friends?

I think there are several reasons for the success of this video:

1. Make people laugh

The entire talk is in fact about a very serious problem in the education system but Robinson takes a significant amount of the time to tell you really unrelated things like his son’s girlfriend and wife’s cooking. All his stories are related in the end to the topic and some like the part about Shakespeare being a kid more so than maybe others. TED Talks are already restricted in length, you have to make your point in 18 minutes, but Robinson basically wastes away most of that time by making jokes. But this is exactly why the talk is so interesting. It keeps the audience glued and after about 4 minutes of a funny anecdotal bit he comes back and seriously lays the important problem in front of you and repeats that for the rest of the speech.

2. Have few points to make and make them well

The field of education is plagued with problems and one could easily have a power point presentation of images and bullet points that try to describe all of them. Robinson’s talk however has a clear purpose, how creativity is stifled in formal education and why that’s a big problem. His main concern is to get you to realize that this is a problem and nothing else. He’s not trying to give you his world view of all things related to creativity in education, but trying to get you to buy-in to the idea.

3. Be passionate

Education is not lacking passion and problems in this field do not lack human stories. Robinson however does a very good job of making the story passionate without making anyone feel guilty or be overwhelmed about the enormous challenges. He describes kids as individuals with great potential who are empowered and shows adults as clueless and dogmatic (but still lovable).

4. Relate your story to others

Not everyone in the audience is an educator, nor is everyone watching this talk. Robinson however ties the entire talk to everything else going on at TED. He says that while this talk about future is exciting and promising, the way we educate the people who are supposed to live in it and make it happen is not going to get us there. No matter what your interest or business, you have to be informed and have an opinion about this issue.

5. Don’t try too hard, be comfortable

Speaking in front of people is not easy and you can always tell when a person is nervous. It takes away from their performance, their message becomes weak, they mix their words and try to overcompensate by talking too much. They never seem to be able to make a point since they are polishing their sentences as they go along from a feeling of insecurity about sounding smart which ends up making little sense. Robinson’s talk does not aim to be smart. He is not trying to use big words. In fact it looks like he didn’t prepare for this speech at all and just stumbled on the stage. But he talks slowly when he is making a point and his tone is comfortable.

His message is of course a significant part of the success of this talk but in fact the message is not incredibly unique. Other people have talked about creativity in education but few have really grasped our attention to this leve. If you haven’t seen this talk yet, get a cup of tea and sit down to watch (You can see the video on TED page as well and join the discussion).

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