One way of determining the speakers who have the broadest and most enduring appeal comes from a U.K.-based speakers bureau, which has recently published its study of the most-searched TED Talk speakers — and some of the most popular presentations were made more than a decade ago.
VBQ Speakers looked at YouTube searches from five English-speaking countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada — and based its findings on the monthly average number of YouTube searches for “name + TED Talk” or “ted talk + name” in a rolling 12-month period.
Several names consistently made the list in each country — Brené Brown, a research professor and author whose TED Talks include “The Power of Vulnerability,” at TEDxHouston in 2010 and “Listening to Shame,” at TED in 2012 — was ranked the top TED speaker searched in the U.S., with an average of 8,300 YouTube searches per month. Brown also came up as the second- most searched TED speaker in Australia and Canada and the third in the U.K. and New Zealand.
Author and leadership expert Simon Sinek was the top-searched TED speaker in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, receiving a combined 1,010 searches among the three countries each month. He came in second in the U.S. and seventh in the U.K. Sinek, who has given two TED Talks — “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” in 2009, and “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” in 2014 — was a Main Stage speaker at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2020, held in January in San Francisco.
Other frequently searched speakers include SpaceX founder Elon Musk, film director Wren Weichman, and Sam Hyde, a comedian who hijacked a Drexel University’s independently organized TEDx speaker series in 2013 with a satire on TED presentations.
Why do viewers continue searching for these particular speakers? VBQ Speakers identified two common themes from its data. First, controversy attracts attention — in addition to Hyde’s prank TED Talk, Elizabeth Holmes, whose health-care company Theranos closed after Holmes faced fraud charges, was among the top-searched speakers in the U.S., Australia, and Canada.
And the top theme, not surprisingly, is emotional support. Speakers who discussed human psychology and emotional wellbeing have been the biggest hit with YouTube viewers, with 62 percent of the speakers ranked in the study discussing “ideas including vulnerability, shame, fear, happiness, leadership, the mindset for success, motivation, mind control, neuroscience, love, and creativity,” according to VBQ Speakers. “Perhaps this is a reflection of an eternal desire to try and understand the human condition,” the organization speculated. “Or perhaps it’s because people are seeking solace in a year of COVID-induced anxiety and fraught politics.”
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.