Revealed: The most popular TED speakers in the world

TED is a global phenomenon. Known for its punchy sub-18-minute talks, high production values and big-picture ideas, it has come to be seen as the zenith of conference formats and public speaking.

The TED conferences themselves are exclusive events, costing as much as $10,000 per ticket. But their influence worldwide has been driven by the decision to make the talks available for free online, and by creating the TEDx series whereby independent organisers can create their own TED-branded event for local audiences.

To see if there are any particular themes that appear to be chiming with the current zeitgeist and whether this varies by geographic region, VBQ Speakers has conducted research to uncover the most searched-for TED speakers in five English-speaking countries.

Overall Brené Brown’s was the most popular TED speaker, with an average of just over 9,000 searches per month over the period analysed. She was also the most searched-for in the whole of the US. A research professor at the University of Houston, Brown shot to fame when her talk on the power of vulnerability became a viral hit. Brown’s talk discusses human connection and how vulnerability is key to our understanding of humanity. She later returned to TED to speak about listening to shame.

Simon Sinek was in second place, he was also the most searched-for speaker in New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Sinek is an American author and motivational speaker, and his talk on how great leaders inspire action has been widely acclaimed and remains hugely popular. During the speech, Sinek seeks to learn lessons from the leadership styles of figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright brothers, as well as global brands like Apple.

The UK was the only country to have Carole Cadwalladr as its number one speaker, with her talk about her investigation into Facebook’s role in Brexit. Consequently she didn’t make it into the combined list of 10 most popular speakers. The speech questions whether elections can still be free and fair in the age of social media, and what role Silicon Valley played in the UK’s 2016 referendum on its membership of the EU.

When the 5 lists were combined, the 10 most popular TED speakers were:

1. Brené Brown

2. Simon Sinek

3. Wren Weichman

4. Sam Hyde

5. Elizabeth Holmes

6. Cole Bennett

7. Sam Harris

8. Shawn Achor

9. Tim Ferriss

10. Elon Musk

VBQ Speakers Founder & Director, Leo von Bülow-Quirk said: “It’s really interesting to see the most searched-for TED speakers. The data reveal consistency in popularity across the countries analysed: Brené Brown, Simon Sinek and Sam Hyde appear on every list. Brené Brown is also in the top three on every list and Simon Sinek is in the top three of every list except the UK. But there are also some regional differences, for example Carole Cadwalladr’s UK-focused talk and that of New Zealand director Taika Waititi.”

“Human psychology and emotional wellbeing appear to be the most popular topics when you look at the speakers that appear across the lists. This is perhaps to be expected during a pandemic, but could also be a reflection of our perennial desire to try and understand the human condition.”

“Controversy and infamy also seem to attract audiences, as suggested by the popularity of Sam Hyde’s prank TED talk and that of Elizabeth Holmes, former founder of discredited healthtech firm, Theranos.”