10 Must-Watch TED Talks That Have the Power to Change Your Life

By Mackayleigh O'HareLast Updated Jan 22, 2021 1:25:10 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: TED/YouTube

These days, just choosing a single topic list on TED Talks can be a tough decision. With hours and hours of content available on every subject under the sun, the site has become a boundless source of motivation and inspiration. When faced with the chance to listen to so many amazing speakers, how do you decide which TED Talks to check out first? Not only do we totally get it, but we've also assembled a collection of 10 talks that’ll help you take the plunge into the world of truly life-changing TED Talks.

10. Adam Driver (feat. Jesse Perez and Matt Johnson) | “My Journey from Marine to Actor”

These days, TED Talks seem to be an even better way to get to know celebrities than late-night talk shows. Adam Driver, a.k.a. Star Wars' Kylo Ren, reveals that before he got into show business, he served as a United States Marine.

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Photo Courtesy: TED/YouTube

In addition to wielding a lightsaber on screen, Driver is the founder of a non-profit called Arts in the Armed Forces. In the talk, the Marine-turned-actor explains that, "Self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder." The presentation even includes a bonus performance of "I am not Batman" by Jesse J. Perez and Matt Johnson.

9. Kelly McGonigal | "How to Make Stress Your Friend"

Kelly McGonigal, who is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, joins the ranks of other TED Talk speakers to reveal a surprising discovery about stress. She talks about a recent study that concluded that our views and reactions to stress actually determine how it affects our health.

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As it turns out, stress itself isn't necessarily as big of a problem as the negativity that we attach to it. By reshaping your beliefs about stress, you can actually change the ways it impacts your body and overall health. This one sounds particularly useful these days, doesn’t it?


8. Sarah Kay | “If I Should Have a Daughter…"

Watch this one and you’ll know quite immediately why this TED Talk performance by spoken word poet Sarah Kay got two standing ovations at TED2011. Kay gives several powerful spoken word performances throughout her tale, which recounts how she grew from a young teenage poet into a teacher.

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Photo Courtesy: TED/YouTube

She also discusses her work with Project V.O.I.C.E., where she now passes along her love of self-expression to the next generation. Particularly inspiring for creatives, this TED Talk leaves an indelible impression.


7. Sir Ken Robinson | “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

Among the most popular TED Talks of all time, this presentation by author and educator Sir Ken Robinson shines a light on our current education system. He points out that our schools are built around a specific type of learning — one that doesn't necessarily nurture creativity.

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Robinson then proceeds to make a powerful argument about why we should consider reshaping the way we educate our children, so that our schools help encourage their natural creative impulses, as opposed to downplaying them. This one is great for students, parents and educators alike.


6. Brene Brown | “The Power of Vulnerability”

This TEDxHouston TED Talk by Brene Brown has garnered over 50,000,000 hits and is ranked among the best TED Talks of all time. An expert on human connection, Brown shares revelations from her research on emotions like shame and vulnerability.

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Throughout this inspirational and funny talk, Brown discusses how her quest to understand humanity took her on a deeply personal journal of transformation. Find out how her discoveries can help you understand difficult emotions and shape the way you connect to yourself and others.


5. Alejandro Aravena | “My Architectural Philosophy? Bring the Community Into the Process”

Alejandro Aravena is an urban architect who has a knack for thinking outside the box. When he took on a project that involved building housing for 100 Chilean families, he ended up finding inspiration from some surprising sources.

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Join Aravena as he shares his designs for several projects, all while demonstrating how creativity can help find simple solutions to complex problems. Another highlight? This talk emphasizes visuals, from chalkboard notations to beautiful renderings of the architect’s designs.


4. Rutger Bregman | “Poverty Isn’t a Lack of Character; It’s a Lack of Cash”

While it may be tempting to believe that poverty is an unsolvable problem, author Rutger Bregman says this is far from the case. Throughout this fascinating TED Talk, he delves into why poverty exists, all while dispelling common myths often associated with folks who live in poverty.

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Think guaranteed basic income is just a pie-in-the-sky idea? "Ideas can and do change the world," Bregman says in this provocative talk that focuses on just "how much energy and talent we would unleash" if we could just eliminate poverty for good.


3. Bryan Stevenson | “We Need to Talk About Injustice”

If you're ready to take an honest, insightful look at racial injustice in America, then this TED Talk by human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson is a great place to start. Stevenson breaks down the issue of race in the American justice system and explains why the cards tend to be stacked against Black Americans.

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As discussed in Stevenson’s talk, a third of America’s Black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives — and this injustice and imbalance is completely wrapped up in a history many white Americans refuse to look at honestly. By tracing injustices through under-examined moments in American history, Stevenson reveals how pervasive and entrenched racism really is in our country and its institutions.


2. Lizzie Velasquez | “How Do You Define Yourself?”

Author and motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez was born with a rare disorder that forced her to confront a great deal of negativity throughout her life. In this TED Talk, Velasquez shares the coping mechanisms she's developed, which have helped her turn negativity into a vehicle for growth.

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Photo Courtesy: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage/Getty Images

"Tell me those negative things," Velasquez says. "I'm gonna turn them around and use them as a ladder to climb up to my goals." Both powerful and funny, her presentation reveals a list of tools that everyone can use to release the hold negativity has over their lives.


1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | “The Danger of a Single Story”

While we may think of stories as mere entertainment, acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reveals that they're so much more than just that. Throughout her talk, Adichie shows listeners how stories shape everything, from our individual lives to our views on other cultures and identities that are unlike our own.

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In addition to discussing how she found her "authentic cultural voice," Adichie delves into the way no work of art can be a monolith — can represent the whole of a person or culture. In doing so, she illustrates just how hearing a single story about another person or group of people actually increases our chances of embracing a misconstrued viewpoint — a viewpoint that leaves out countless critical details.


Honorable Mention: Joe Smith | “How to Use One Paper Towel”

If you're familiar with TED Talks, then you may already know that they can range from the innovative to the hilarious. This one is a mixture of both. In this short talk, Joe Smith explains the proper way to use a single paper towel to dry your hands and manages to make some great points about conservation along the way.

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