What makes a TED talk go viral

I read this piece Does body language help a TED Talk go viral? 5 nonverbal patterns from blockbuster talks while thinking about the videos of my lectures I’m creating for an online course.

Excerpt: “All TED Talks are good. Why do only some go viral? Over the last year, a human behavior consultancy called Science of People set out to answer this question. To do so, says founder Vanessa Van Edwards, they polled 760 volunteers, asking them to rate hundreds of hours of TED Talks, looking for specific nonverbal and body language patterns. To ensure comparability, they limited talks to videos that had been posted on TED.com in 2010 and were between 15 and 20 minutes long.”

Van Edwards found out that hand gestures matter a lot, so too does spontaneity, and smiling. Smiling matters a lot. Viewers consistently rated those who smiled a lot while talking as more intelligent than those who didn’t. Also you only have 7 seconds to impress or not. That’s the amount of time in which people made up their mind how good a speaker was.

Content actually didn’t make as much difference as you might expect. Videos got the same ratings whether they we were watched with the sound on or off.

“Let’s talk through some of the patterns you noticed. I was pretty shocked by the conclusion that people rate speakers comparably whether they listened to the content of the talk or not. How did you find that?

We did a couple different screenings of the talks. We have about 40,000 subscribers on our website, and get about 100,000 to 200,000 visitors a month, so we’re able to get a lot of data quickly. In one of the screenings, we had half the participants watch talks on silent, and half watch talks with sound. We asked both of the groups the exact same questions: How would you rate this talk overall? How charismatic is the speaker? How intelligent is the speaker? How credible is the speaker? And we found that the people who watched the talks on mute rated speakers almost exactly the same as the people who had watched the talks with sound. The one exception was David Blaine’s TED Talk, I think because it included a lot of videos of him from previous endeavors and that confused people. For his talk, the ratings were different.”

But gender isn’t addressed and it made me wonder. I tend to smile a lot when speaking and I’ve always worried that it undermined judgements about my intelligence and that I ought to try to look more serious. I’ve worried that women who smile too much are thought of as being less smart.

Anyone know what the literature says about this? Hand gestures, I’m sold. But I’m curious about smiling.

2 thoughts on “What makes a TED talk go viral

  1. The opening line of the excerpt makes it hard to take seriously anything that follows. “All TED Talks are good.”

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