Embarking on a quest to uncover the best TED talks ever isn’t just a stroll through an archive of inspirational speeches; it’s a deep dive into a sea of transformative ideas that have shaped minds, stirred souls, and sparked endless conversations.

It had me asking.

“What gets a TED talk to over 54 MILLION views?” and then shortly after to “What makes a GREAT TED talk?”

The purpose of this post is to showcase the best TED talks ever, and show you how I was able to shortlist and come to this conclusion. 

So, what makes a TED talk not just good, but great?

TED’s foundation is built on the concept of “Ideas Worth Spreading,” a mantra that challenges us to discern the wheat from the chaff, the groundbreaking from the mundane. But measuring the impact of an idea is a complex task.

While popularity—measured in views, shares, and comments—offers a snapshot of a talk’s reach, it doesn’t tell the whole story. After all, can a talk from a decade ago truly compete with one released a week ago? This conundrum led me down the rabbit hole of creating a more nuanced scoring system, weighing factors like impact, popularity, originality, and the quality of delivery to curate this list of the best TED talks ever.

-Criteria for Consideration
-Best TED Talk for Motivation
-Best TED Talk for Psychology (Happiness)
-Best TED Talk That Is Funny
-Best TED Talk for Relationships
-Most Popular TED Talk Ever

What are the critera for inclusion on to be crowned the BEST TED Talk of all time?

Impact: The Originality and Real-World Influence of the Idea

The best TED talks ever are those that leave an indelible mark on the world, sparking change, inspiring action, and challenging our perceptions. These talks stand out for their innovative ideas and their tangible impact on society.

Popularity: The Viral Reach and Audience Engagement

While not the sole measure of a talk’s worth, popularity is a testament to its resonance with a global audience. The best TED talks ever are those that transcend borders, becoming shared experiences that unite us in curiosity and wonder.

Speaking: The Art of Delivery

A compelling idea loses its luster without effective delivery. The best TED talks ever are distinguished by their speakers’ ability to connect with the audience, using not just words but body language and emotion to bring their ideas to life.

Originality: At the time of publishing the talk.

Was is something new? Did this trend turn out to be true?

The talk and the time it was published are something that’s quite important. For example, I published my book about remote working and building a Global Career in 2018, but flash forward to now, and the idea is still important, but not as original as it was back then. 

As someone who’s navigated the TED stage, delivering a talk on “How To Travel & Work Remotely Forever,” I’ve experienced firsthand the power of sharing a journey that’s both personal and universal. My talk, inspired by a life of exploration and the lessons learned along the way, underscores the transformative potential of travel and remote work. You can watch my TEDx talk here.

How To Travel & Work Remotely Forever by Mike Swigunski

Before we dive into our list, let’s clarify a common point of confusion: the difference between TED and TEDx. In essence, TEDx events are locally organized, allowing communities to spark conversation and connection through TED-like experiences at a more grassroots level.

While they share the TED philosophy of “ideas worth spreading”, TEDx brings the spirit of TED to local communities around the globe.

Now, without further delay, let’s explore the best TED talks across a variety of categories, all handpicked to resonate with you on some level.

Best TED Talk for Motivation (12 Million Views via TED.com)

Why you should define your fears instead of your goals by Tim Ferriss

In the realm of motivational speaking, Tim Ferriss’s TED talk, “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals,” emerges as a profoundly impactful presentation that challenges conventional wisdom on personal development and goal-setting.

Ferriss, an author, entrepreneur, and public speaker known for his books on productivity and personal optimization, including “The 4-Hour Workweek,” delves into the concept of “fear-setting,” a methodical process that encourages individuals to confront and articulate their deepest fears as a strategy for overcoming them. This approach stands in stark contrast to the more traditional focus on goal setting, offering a fresh perspective on how to navigate obstacles and uncertainties.

Ferriss’s talk is rooted in the Stoic philosophy of differentiating between what we can control and what we cannot, urging us to focus our energy on the former. He argues that the hard choices—the ones we most fear making—are often precisely what we need to do to achieve growth and fulfillment. By systematically breaking down our fears into manageable parts, identifying the worst-case scenarios, and devising plans to mitigate or recover from them, Ferriss demonstrates how fear-setting can empower us to take action in the face of uncertainty. This process not only aids in overcoming self-paralysis but also enhances our ability to thrive in high-stress environments by clarifying our priorities and enabling us to navigate life’s challenges with greater confidence and resilience.

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What makes Ferriss’s TED talk a standout in the category of motivation is not just its innovative approach to personal development, but also its practical applicability. Through personal anecdotes and tangible examples, Ferriss illustrates how fear-setting has been instrumental in his own life, enabling him to make difficult decisions, take calculated risks, and pursue a path of continuous improvement. His candid discussion of his struggles with anxiety and decision-making resonates with a wide audience, offering hope and actionable strategies for those facing similar challenges.

The motivational power of Ferriss’s talk lies in its ability to transform how we perceive and respond to fear. Rather than viewing fear as a barrier to success, Ferriss invites us to see it as a guidepost, directing us toward the actions that hold the greatest potential for personal and professional growth. This shift in perspective is not only liberating but also deeply empowering, providing a framework for tackling life’s obstacles with a proactive and positive mindset.

Tim Ferriss’s TED talk on fear-setting is a must-watch for anyone seeking to overcome inertia, embrace challenges, and pursue their aspirations with greater clarity and courage. It challenges us to redefine our relationship with fear, turning it from an adversary into an ally in our journey toward self-actualization and success. By embracing the principles of fear-setting, we can unlock our potential, achieve our goals, and lead more fulfilling lives, making this talk an invaluable resource for anyone motivated to transform their fears into fuel for achievement.

Click here to give it a watch!

Best TED Talk for Psychology (Happiness) - 20M Views via TED.com

The surprising science of happiness by Dan Gilbert

The quest to understand the human mind takes us to the intersection of psychology and our daily quest for happiness. Dan Gilbert’s TED talk, “The Surprising Science of Happiness,” stands out as a beacon in this exploration, offering profound insights into the nature of happiness and how our perceptions shape our contentment. Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist and the author of the critically acclaimed book “Stumbling on Happiness,” dives deep into the often misunderstood dynamics of happiness, challenging our preconceived notions and inviting us to see joy through a different lens.

Dan Gilbert is renowned for his engaging exploration of human happiness and the cognitive biases that affect our well-being. His research delves into the ways our minds deceive us, leading us to believe that certain outcomes are essential for our happiness. Gilbert’s work, both in academia and in his writing, illuminates the fascinating mechanisms of our “psychological immune system,” a concept he eloquently discusses in his TED talk. This system allows us to maintain a level of happiness even when life doesn’t align with our expectations. His accessible and unexpectedly humorous approach to complex psychological concepts has made his insights invaluable to both the scientific community and the general public.

In his TED talk, Gilbert provides compelling evidence and engaging anecdotes to support the idea that our happiness is not solely dependent on getting what we want. He suggests that our ability to synthesize happiness—finding joy in unexpected outcomes—is a powerful tool for resilience and satisfaction. This notion challenges the pervasive myth that happiness is a destination reached by acquiring external desires. Instead, Gilbert proposes that happiness is more about our reactions to the world around us and less about the world conforming to our desires.

What sets Gilbert’s talk apart is not just the groundbreaking nature of his research, but also his ability to convey these insights with humor and relatability. His presentation is not a dry academic lecture but a lively, engaging conversation that draws the audience into a deeper understanding of their own minds. This approachability is what makes “The Surprising Science of Happiness” a must-watch TED talk for anyone interested in psychology. Gilbert’s ability to blend scientific rigor with engaging storytelling invites viewers to question their assumptions about happiness and consider how they might find contentment in places they least expect.

Dan Gilbert’s TED talk offers a refreshing perspective on the pursuit of happiness, blending psychological research with practical advice on navigating life’s unpredictability with grace and optimism. His exploration of the “psychological immune system” provides not just food for thought but a roadmap for finding joy in the complexity of human existence. Watching this talk is an opportunity to reflect on the surprising ways we can cultivate happiness, regardless of our circumstances.

You can click here to watch his full talk!

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Best TED Talk for Relationships (21M Views via TED.com)

The secret to desire in a long-term relationship by Esther Perel
Relationships shape our lives in ways both big and small. The best TED talk for relationships offers wisdom on connection, love, and empathy, providing tools to build stronger bonds and understand each other better. A standout in this category is Esther Perel’s enlightening talk on “The secret to desire in a long-term relationship,” which delves into the complex dynamics of maintaining passion over time.

Esther Perel is a renowned psychotherapist and bestselling author, celebrated for her insightful exploration of intimacy and relationships. With a career spanning several decades, Perel has become one of the most influential voices in the discourse on marriage, sex, and human connection. Born in Belgium to Holocaust survivors, her multicultural upbringing and fluency in nine languages have significantly influenced her approach to therapy and her understanding of relational dynamics. 

Perel’s work focuses on the tensions between the need for security and the need for freedom in human relationships, exploring how these opposing forces can coexist in love and desire. Her books, “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs,” along with her podcasts and talks, offer invaluable perspectives on modern relationships, making her a trusted authority in the field.

Perel’s TED talk is a brilliant exposition on the paradoxes at the heart of long-term relationships. She articulates a common dilemma: the expectation for our partners to be both a source of comfort and an object of desire. Perel suggests that sustaining desire in a committed relationship requires embracing this contradiction, balancing the familiar with the novel. Her concept of “erotic intelligence” is a call to cultivate an emotional and intellectual understanding of desire that thrives on imagination and curiosity.

What makes Perel’s talk both profound and engaging is her use of humor to address such a nuanced subject. She navigates the complexities of human sexuality and intimacy with a lightness that invites us to laugh at our own relational foibles. By employing wit and stories from her practice, Perel makes the topic of desire in long-term relationships not only accessible but deeply relatable. It’s this blend of levity and depth that makes her talk a must-watch; it offers a fresh perspective on how to keep the spark alive, highlighting the importance of playfulness and surprise in sustaining both emotional and sexual connection over time.

Esther Perel’s insights into maintaining desire in long-term relationships are invaluable, not just for couples but for anyone interested in the art of connection. Her approach to the subject, marked by humor and wisdom, provides a roadmap for navigating the complexities of intimacy with grace and resilience. Watching her talk is not only an opportunity to understand the intricacies of human relationships but also to appreciate the delicate balance between love and desire that makes them so rewarding.

You can watch her full talk here. 

Best TED Talk That Is Funny (21M Views via TED.com)This is what happens when you reply to spam email by James Veitch

Humor has the unique ability to convey truth through laughter.

The best TED talk that is funny blends wit with wisdom, proving that enlightenment can come with a hearty dose of laughter. One standout example is James Veitch’s talk titled “This is what happens when you reply to spam email,” which has garnered more than 64 million views on the TED website. The talk delves into the absurdity of spam emails—those promises of unclaimed insurance bonds, diamond-encrusted safe deposit boxes, and desperate pleas from supposed friends stranded abroad. While the standard advice is to delete these messages on sight, Veitch embarks on a hilarious journey by doing the exact opposite: he replies.

Veitch’s talk shines because it taps into a universal experience—the annoyance of spam emails—and flips it on its head, transforming it into a source of comedy. By engaging with a spammer, he leads us through a whimsical exchange that is as absurd as it is humorous. His deadpan delivery and the sheer ridiculousness of the correspondence underscore the talk’s humor, but it’s the underlying commentary on internet culture and communication that elevates it. Veitch’s ability to find comedy in the mundane, to play along with the scammer’s game, not only makes for a hilarious narrative but also a clever critique of our digital lives. It’s a reminder that sometimes, the best way to deal with the absurdities of life is to laugh at them.

This TED talk is a must-watch because it does more than just make us laugh; it connects us through a shared experience of navigating the digital world’s oddities. Veitch’s storytelling prowess, combined with his comedic timing, makes this talk a standout in demonstrating how humor can illuminate truths about our collective online existence. It’s a testament to the power of comedy in making us reflect on the absurdity of certain aspects of life, all while keeping us thoroughly entertained. Watching Veitch’s talk is not just an opportunity for a good laugh; it’s an invitation to view the nuisances of our digital lives through a lens of humor and light-heartedness.

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You can watch this hilarious talk here.

Most Popular TED Talk Ever (70M Views via TED.com)

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator by Tim Urban.

Popularity isn’t everything, but it’s something. The most popular TED talk ever captures the zeitgeist, offering ideas that resonate across cultures and continents, becoming a touchstone for millions.

Most Popular TED Talk Ever: Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

In the vast expanse of TED talks, few have struck a chord as universally as Tim Urban’s “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.” Urban, the brain behind the popular blog Wait But Why, has a unique knack for delving into complex topics with a blend of humor, insight, and deep humanity. His foray into the intricacies of procrastination is no exception, making it one of the most popular TED talks ever, resonating with audiences worldwide for its relatable content and engaging delivery.

Tim Urban’s exploration of procrastination is not just a surface-level comedy routine; it’s a deep dive into the human psyche. He articulates a common struggle that transcends demographic and cultural boundaries: the tendency to delay essential tasks in favor of immediate gratification, despite knowing better. Urban personifies the procrastinator’s brain through the characters of the Rational Decision-Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster, creating a narrative that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. This anthropomorphic storytelling does more than just amuse; it offers a vivid framework for understanding why we procrastinate, making the psychological underpinnings of this universal behavior accessible to everyone.

What sets Urban’s talk apart is his ability to weave together humor with poignant insights into the human condition. He doesn’t just describe procrastination; he explores its implications for our lives, our dreams, and our potential. The talk goes beyond procrastination as a quirky habit, framing it as a profound challenge to living a fulfilled life.

Urban’s candid admission of his struggles and the visual journey through his procrastination-driven mind captivate the audience, making the phenomenon of procrastination not only understandable but deeply human.

Urban’s call to action is simple yet profound: recognize that our time is finite. By illustrating how procrastination can lead us to squander our most precious resource—time—he encourages a reevaluation of how we prioritize our lives. This message, delivered with Urban’s characteristic wit and wisdom, transforms the talk from a mere analysis of procrastination into a compelling meditation on life, priorities, and the pursuit of meaningful goals.

“Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” stands as the most popular TED talk ever for a reason. It tackles a seemingly trivial subject with such depth, humor, and relatability that it transcends the ordinary, becoming a touchstone for a global audience grappling with the challenge of procrastination.

Tim Urban’s ability to connect with viewers on a personal level, combined with his insightful analysis and engaging storytelling, ensures that this talk remains a beacon for those seeking to understand and overcome the procrastination that pervades their lives.

You can watch the full talk here, or procrastinate and leave it for later. 

As we wrap up this journey through the most impactful TED talks ever delivered, it’s crucial to recognize that the essence of these talks transcends the brilliance of the ideas they present. These talks are more than just presentations; they are catalysts for change, designed to ignite a spark within each of us. They challenge us to not only think differently but to act differently, encouraging a personal journey of discovery, growth, and profound transformation.

The talks we’ve explored serve as beacons, guiding us through the complexities of life and inspiring us to reach for heights we once thought unattainable. They remind us that every individual has the power to effect change, both within themselves and in the wider world. As you reflect on the talks that resonated most deeply with you, I encourage you to embrace them as stepping stones on your own path toward enlightenment and empowerment.

I’m eager to hear about the talks that have moved you the most. Share your favorite TED or TEDx talk in the comments below and join the conversation! Your insights and reflections can spark further exploration and inspiration in our community. And if you’re hungry for more transformative ideas, click here to explore some of the most popular TED talks that have captivated audiences worldwide. Let’s continue to inspire and be inspired, fostering a community of curious minds and passionate hearts dedicated to making a difference.

Click here to view some of the most popular TED talks of all time