- TED talks are some of the most popular online videos.
- For speakers to make it to the TED stage, the staff puts the talk through a three-pronged test.
- Talks must offer a fresh perspective on the world, propose solutions, and inspire people.
Giving a TED talk can be a make-or-break experience for someone's career, so there is often enormous pressure upon taking the stage.
But before speakers can get their 18 minutes (or less) of fame, first they must run their talk by TED staff. There is even a special room inside the New York City headquarters where speakers can video chat with staff on one screen and display their notes on another.
Since not all talks try to accomplish the same thing, employees at TED rely on a three-pronged test to judge the quality of a talk, according to Chris Anderson, the owner and head curator of TED.
The talk should give people a fresh way of seeing the world
One of TED's chief accomplishments is giving people a "more powerful mental model," Anderson told Business Insider. He said a talk should be able to show people their blind spots and present a surprising - perhaps hopeful - picture of how the world works.
His quintessential example is Barry Schwartz's 2005 talk "The Paradox of Choice," in which Schwartz, a psychologist, suggested that people can be paralyzed by how much choice they have, not liberated by it.
The talk should give people a smarter solution to a given problem
The second prong involves essentially putting the first prong into action: using a new perspective to imagine or create positive change.
"Whether you call it invention or innovation or design, or entrepreneurship for that matter, it's revealing the world as it might be," Anderson said. One of the most popular talks to achieve that mission is Sir Ken Robinson's 2006 talk "Do schools kill creativity?" - the most-viewed TED talk in history.
Robinson, a veteran education expert, proposes a new philosophy for Western education. He imagines how much richer learning might be if teachers nurtured kids' creativity like they do with math and science skills.
The talk should be inspiring
If a talk doesn't present a new model of the world or a way to build that model, Anderson said it should at least inspire people to act on or investigate bold ideas.
The talk should convey something personal about the speaker in order to give the audience a window into the issue, such as activist Caroline Casey's 2010 talk on overcoming life's obstacles, "Looking past limits." And it should offer hope that a bad situation could still get better.
According to Anderson, "the more a talk lands on one of those axes, or preferably all three even, the more powerful we consider it."