Watching a good TED Talk can inspire your content marketing team to create really great content. A few years ago, I helped a friend of mine prepare for a local TED event and I learned about the hours of prep that go into even a short talk. Before you ever set foot on a TED stage, you’ve already written four or five iterations, shared it with multiple people, and practiced it until you’re practically repeating it in your sleep. It’s the editing and peer review process we writers aspire to.

Reading and watching well-crafted content is always enjoyable, especially when work like that has been put into it and it shows. But getting to experience great content that simultaneously teaches you to create great content? Well, that’s two birds with one stone. So with that, here are five of my favorite TED Talks, along with the three lessons they’ve taught me:

1. ‘How to Use Data to Make a Hit TV Show,’ by Sebastian Wernicke


In the age where phrases like “big data” and “data science” pepper our tech blogs and our conversations about decision-making, we can often forget about the importance of experimenting, trusting our gut and taking risks. Sebastian Wernicke is a data scientist, and even he doesn’t believe that making decisions purely based off data is a good idea.

Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Similarly, data comes from people, so it can’t tell you what people don’t know they want. Analytics and data-reading tools can tell us a lot, but we have to remember to use our own judgment and, most importantly, our creativity.

Takeaway quote:

“[Amazon] used data all the way to drive their decision-making, first when they held their competition of TV ideas, then when they selected “Alpha House” to make as a show. Which of course was a very safe decision for them, because they could always point at the data, saying, “This is what the data tells us.” But it didn’t lead to the exceptional results that they were hoping for… No matter how powerful, data is just a tool.”

2. ‘Why Videos Go Viral,’ by Kevin Allocca



3. ‘How to Make a Splash in Social Media,’ by Alexis Ohanian


These two talks focus on the same topic: how content goes viral. Virality is about building a community around an idea and then letting that community extend its message. Alexis Ohanian, one of the founders of Reddit, does this by sharing the story of Mister Splashy Pants, a humpback whale from a Greenpeace campaign that was named by the internet. And Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at YouTube, talks about the contributing factors that shot Bear Vasquez, Rebecca Black and Nyan Cat to fame.

Takeaway quotes:

“Unlike the one-way entertainment of the 20th century, this community participation is how we become a part of the phenomenon — either by spreading it or by doing something new with it.” (Kevin Allocca)

“It costs nothing to get content online. There are so many publishing tools available, it only takes a few minutes to produce something. And the cost of iteration is so cheap, you might as well. If you do, be genuine. Be honest, up-front. One of the great lessons Greenpeace learned is that it’s OK to lose control, OK to take yourself a little less seriously…That’s the final message I want to share: You can do well online. But no longer is the message coming from just the top down. If you want to succeed you’ve got to be OK to lose control.” (Alexis Ohanian)

4. ‘The Tribes We Lead,’ by Seth Godin


Seth Godin is a marketing wizard, and his TED talks don’t disappoint. This one about tribes focuses on a revelation marketers have stumbled upon in the last few years: People don’t just buy products because they’re good products; they buy them for the story of the brand behind them and their own identification with it.

Even as the internet makes our potential networks larger and larger and our communities more and more homogenized, Seth argues that we’re seeing the creation of “silos of interest” where groups of people are passionate about the same things and connect with each other: tribes. And we see this with our marketing strategies now, with Facebook Ads and targeted Adwords trumping TV commercials. According to Seth, the way we gain customers in this tribe-based society is to share the story behind your product and letting your customers join a movement by purchasing it.

Takeaway quote:

“The Beatles did not invent teenagers. They merely decided to lead them. That most movements, most leadership that we’re doing is about finding a group that’s disconnected but already has a yearning — not persuading people to want something they don’t have yet.”

5. ‘The Clues to a Great Story,’ by Andrew Stanton


(Be warned, this talk contains a bit of graphic language, so you may want to skip to 1:10 if you have sensitive ears.)

Whether we’re writing blog posts, making videos, or designing infographics, our goal as content marketers is to engage our audience. We want to make people feel something, whether that’s interest, entertainment, or an intent to buy, and then we want them to take an action, which could be anything from sharing a post to signing up for a demo. And when we do this successfully, it’s because we’ve either showed how we can improve someone else’s story or we’ve done a fantastic job of sharing our own.

If you haven’t heard of Andrew Stanton, you’ve definitely heard of the movies he’s helped create as a filmmaker, which include ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ and ‘WALL-E.’ Basically, he’s the master of storytelling, so who better to teach it? It’s a bit of a longer TED talk (nearly 20 minutes), but you’ll barely notice the time going by.

Takeaway quote:

“The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said, ‘Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.’ And the way I like to interpret that is probably the greatest story commandment, which is “Make me care”  please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care.”