Is it possible to consistently run ‘cool corporate conferences with massive impact?’ We think so. By drawing from our vast experience in organizing and speaking at numerous TED conferences, we believe it is now possible to seriously improve any corporate conference.

The TED phenomena

A majority of conferences and events is still focused on trying to sell its tickets to participants, or cajole luke-warm potential participants to simply join. TED Conferences, on the other hand, have a luxury problem by maintaining long waiting lists for its events. What started as a small gathering in 1984, has grown into a multi-media organization with an annual budget of 50$ million.

While the TED organization itself is a non-profit, we notice that many corporate executives are currently trying to copy the almost magical factors, which drive the acceleration of the TED phenomena. TED is currently changing its focus from solely being a platform of inspiration towards one of activation as well. Today, we’re sharing 8 bright ideas to help activating the TED magic within your next corporate conference.

1) Learning 3.0

Within the field of adult education, social learning has grown into one of the most successful ways of teaching employees new ways of thinking and learning. By enriching learning materials with stories and (video-) content, instead of solely focusing on lists, rules and even more lists, the degree of adaptation increases significantly. As the founder of TED, Chris Anderson, already nicely said that “a spreadable package is of utmost importance when spreading ideas.”

2) Extraordinary things are often achieved by ordinary people

Many books and blogs have been written about particular factors, making executives and top entrepreneurs as successful as they are; fresh juice and a run in the early morning, meditation during lunch and goal setting for the next day before dinner. The majority of the TED speakers are ordinary speakers, focusing on the ‘reason why’ they are executing their work, not ‘how.’ Forget titles and shiny stories, major breakthroughs are caused by unexpected individuals.

3) Disruptiveness & Collaborating

Sitting still, waiting for luck to pass by hasn’t made a lot of people successful and rich. The typical TED speaker is disruptive, embracing constraints, collaborative, looking for new ways of working and innovative channels of creativity and triying to simplify key issues.
According to TED Global director Bruno Guissani, “Radical openness is the organizing principle of everything that we do at TED.” The 1+1=3 idea has already caused several interesting collaborations to flourish and new initiatives to be executed.

4) The velvet rope policy

People love to have what they cannot get. TED and a handful TEDx conferences work with a ‘by invitation only policy’, only allowing a selected few into the conference hall. This policy has caused a huge flush of applications and free publicity on loads of off- and online channels. The exclusive approach has clearly contributed to this success and has also already been successfully used by commercial parties, like Pinterest, Groupon and Vault74.

5) Fall in love with your audience, not with your company/product

As a speaker, show how the audience will be better off once you have left the stage. The highlight of any TED conference is neither the speaker, nor the idea, but how the condition of the audience will be improved afterwards.

6) Interaction is overrated

TED Talks are a monologue, not followed by a discussion immediately afterwards. Only after the event, once the different TED talks have been posted on the internet for all to see, the discussion about the content of the talk is started. It allows both speakers and attendees to fully concentrate on the message and doesn’t distract with potential interruptions.

7) People are attracted to knowledge

Within the communication industry, ‘storytelling’ is a very hot topic as part of content strategies. Storytelling avoids showcasing the corporate logo or commercial message, but feeds the receivers with interesting and useful knowledge about a particular topic. The impact on receivers of these content messages have been widely acknowledged on both retention and attention levels.

8) Brevity is the soul of wit

Academic research has proven that “cognitive backlog,” the maximum span of attention to listen to a story continuously, is 20 minutes. TED talks have a maximum length of 18 minutes and a majority of the talks is even shorter; 12 6 or even 3 minutes are most common. By applying laser-like focus and simplicity (the ‘KISS’ principle), TED speakers minimize the risk of losing the audience attention.

Your opportunity to make waves

Corporate meetings can move from endless hours of boredom to peak inspiration, motivation and performance by simply implementing a couple of the ideas which are mentioned before. When starting to implement these TED strategies within your own corporate boundaries, keep in mind to always “Start with Why” (Simon Sinek) and “Dare to Disagree” (Margaret Heffernan) with your fellow board members. It involves a lot of pieces, but the ‘Puzzle of Motivation’ (Dan Pink) can be the missing piece of the success puzzle, when rethinking how to run your next business meeting. After all, why settle for sticking your toe in the water, when you can make waves instead?

About the authors

Paul Rulkens is an expert in achieving business and personal success in the easiest, fastest and most elegant way possible. He is an award-winning speaker, international author and trusted advisor in the field of high performance. Watch his latest TED talk here, or visit his website at

Jan Scheele started his first company at the age of 13 and has helped over 150 multinationals, governments, hospitals, political parties and SMEs, accelerating online with their communication strategies. He has organized 20+ large TEDx events in Amsterdam, Baghdad, Eutropolis, Maastricht and for organizations like CERN, United Nations, the Dutch Police Force and the Ministry of Defence. 

Picture: TEDxMaastricht