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​Speaking about the TED effect

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and the annual Vancouver conference begins next week
Look who's talking! It's TED 05:17

Whatever the topic, whenever an expert gives a TED Talk, millions around the world want to hear what was said. Which is why our David Pogue of Yahoo Tech is Talking Ted with us this morning:

Every February, 1,500 people travel to Vancouver, Canada, for one of the most famous conferences in the world. They sit in a custom-built theater for four days, listening to talks by famous or brilliant people. No talk is more than 18 minutes long. Tickets cost $8,500 -- and it's sold out every year.

This is the TED Conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The conference begins again next week, this time with speakers like Al Gore, Norman Lear, and singer John Legend.

But if you've ever seen a TED talk, it's probably not because you went to the conference. It's probably because you've seen one of the talk videos. Three million people watch TED videos every day -- about a billion views a year -- on, YouTube, Netflix, and even on airplanes. And it's all for free.

"These talks spread because people want to share them; they're excited by the ideas," said Chris Anderson, the curator of TED. He owns and runs it. He believes in the TED slogan: "Ideas worth spreading."

"But you sell tickets to a conference," said Pogue. "And now you're giving it away."

"Right. So that part was definitely scary," Anderson replied. "But the effect of doing this, of giving away our content, was to dramatically increase the demand for the conference -- surprising, and wonderful."

But there's another TED Effect: The effect giving a talk has on the speaker. TED speakers comes from all walks of life. They're not all household names; they just have ideas worth spreading. [Even Pogue has given a TED Talk or two.]

Duke professor Dan Ariely has spoken at TED seven times. He says he's recognized in public once a day on average: "People come and they say, 'I really like the research.' It really touches me."

Or social progress expert Michael Green: "We've got people who are saying, 'You are a serious partner we want to work with, because we know this is a credible idea, because it's been on the TED stage.'"

In 2012, author Susan Cain gave a TED talk about the power of introverts that's been watched online about 13 million times.

"You give a TED talk, and then suddenly everyone's inviting you to speak," Cain told Pogue. "My kids have now been to ten countries."

"And so in the parallel universe where you had NOT spoken at TED, where would you and your book and your life be?" Pogue asked.

"It came out three years ago and it's still now on the bestseller list," she replied. "I don't think, without TED, that that would've been the case."

If you're a TED speaker, you're well aware that a great talk could catapult your career forward. So the pressure is on to put together an amazing talk.

"Speakers are now taking a week, sometimes months of preparation time to really think hard about what they want to say and how they want to say it," Anderson said. His staff also works with speakers to help them prepare.

Of course, if the TED staff tweaks every talk, the risk is that they'll become formulaic. In fact, TED talks have become so distinctive that they've been parodied by "Saturday Night Live" and

"We laugh along with everyone else at the kind of the clichéd, 'Let me move you'-type cliché," laughed Anderson.

"So, you're not still hearing that, the structure becoming too similar?" asked Pogue.

"No. We hear that from people who haven't looked at a lot of them recently. There's a lot more variety than there's ever been."

Nowadays, TED runs more than just one conference. There's also TED Global, TEDActive, TEDWomen, TEDYouth, and TEDIndia.

Then there are the 6,000 conferences that TED has let other people run. That program is called TEDx.

And for the next generation there are TED Ed Clubs, a free high school programs encouraging students to create their own talks.

"When you watch the videos of these talks, it's so exciting to see some little wallflower kid come on with confidence and share something that they're passionate about," said Anderson.

Put together all of these talks and gatherings and videos, and you've got an outfit with a huge impact. But according to curator Chris Anderson, the TED effect still isn't big enough. There's still work to be done.

"The sharing of knowledge is as important a task as humanity has. And we want to continue to figure out how to help do that in whatever way we can. And that's a huge and exciting quest over the next few years."

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