How to give the most popular TEDx talk ever: Will Elliott6 min read

 Will Elliott at TEDxLFHS
Will Elliott at TEDxLFHS

Full text of Will Elliott’s talk: How to give the most popular TEDx talk ever at TEDxLFHS conference.

What is the formula for creating the most popular TEDx talk of all time? High school junior and TEDxpert Will Elliott analyzes patterns and trends of the top 10 most viewed TEDx talks to see if, together, we can engineer virality.

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Folks, I’ve watched a lot of TED talks. admittedly at this point, an embarrassing amount of Ted talks. I’ve seen some with millions of views that you’ve probably seen and some with literally 24 views online. I guess you can say that makes me a bit of a TED expert, If you see what I did there.

Now, quite honestly, when I found out that I was going to be speaking at this TED event, I had the question:

What sets those videos with millions of views apart from the ones that literally nobody has seen?

And my question quickly snowballed into a much more ambitious one:

If you were to formulate the most popular TED talk of all time, what would it look like?

And don’t tell Big Brother Ted, but we’re going to do that right now. So I’ve been researching. I took a sample of the top 10 most popular TED talks of all time that are appropriate for all audiences. And I want to show you the kind of scale of viewership that we’re looking at here.

Now, Ted EXs Channel average is about 22 thousand views and our top ten average, 28 million views. And I want to know what our hypothetical talk would have to do to bridge that gap. And it should come down to two things:

  1. Engaging 10x its core audience.
  2. And, following patterns that are consistent among the top 10 talks.

Now, let’s start with number one engagement. Engagement isn’t just viewership. It is liking.It is disliking. It is sharing. It is watching for a long duration of time and re-watching again. Now, engagement is crucial. Once Ted X’s core audience engages, YouTube’s algorithm shows it to the rest of 10x its historical audience. And then so you do more broadly. This is what makes the difference between a video with a thousand views and a video with 10 million views.

Now, you might say, well, it can’t be that hard to get TEDx’s audience to engage. It must be massive. And you’re right. They’ve got 23 million subscribers and they’ve got the 102nd  most subscribers of any channel on YouTube.

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They’ve got 4.2 billion channel views. But when it comes to engagement, those numbers actually aren’t that helpful because really they’ve a 151  thousand videos. That’s insane.

Let me compare that to the largest independent creator on YouTube: Pew Die Pie. He’s got 4000 videos and TEDx uploads 60 videos a day. That is killing their engagement rate.

I ran a statistical analysis on all 151 thousand of TEDx uploads and it’s kind of embarrassing, honestly. One out of every thousand of their audience members, their subscriber base will watch a video. And when it comes to engagement, 2 out of every 100,000 try to find those red dots, honestly.

So we need to find a place where our video, our hypothetical video, can live and breathe its own space, not interrupted in the feed by TEDx’s 60 other videos.

And lucky enough when it comes to timing, TEDx’s upload schedule is pretty convenient. They upload about half their videos right at midday. Right at noon. That gives us the entire morning to slot our talk right in there.

More about timing: Saturday, It’s actually the most popular day to watch a TED talk. And July is their most engaged month. So keep that in mind as we create our talk.

Now, the demographics. It’s mostly American and Indian men between the ages of 18 and 35. Keep those things in mind when we talk about content.

So there’s engagement. Now we’ve got to create those patterns and the other top 10 talks. Now, there’s no fancy algorithm I can run on these. I tried to watch these over and over and over again and create these.

So what are the patterns in the top 10 TED talks look like? What’s consistent?

Well, they quite obviously have a higher engagement rate, closer to two to three percent as opposed to the point 0.0002 percent for the average upload.

Now, half of them have a question where in the title like how or why. So we can we can do that easily. Their average duration is about 16 minutes and they have a series of ten highly engaged tags, which you’ll see in a second. That’s in the metadata of the video. And that’s what that’s what allows YouTube search to recommend it to people.

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Now, the speaker is usually an expert. 9 out of 10 of the most popular talks can be considered an expert in their field. And they usually include a demo and they’re structured a little bit like this.

The expert speaker will pose a question about their field, will introduce themselves and what they’ve been doing in their field and make an argument about that question they pose.

We’ll do it with a series of structured points, one of which is usually that demo and will end with a show like ‘Why is this relevant to you?’  So we’ve made it.

Now it’s time to formulate our most popular talk of all time, the one that rack up millions of views and soar to the top of TEDx most popular uploads.

You ready? Deep breath. Here’s the title:

                 “How to make a Bollywood hit.”

                               by *Bollywood Songwriter*

Boom! See what that did for us?

An American Indian audience ages 18 to 35. They’re consuming that culture. There’s a question more in the title- ‘how’, it’s right there. It’s given by an expert, who better than a Bollywood songwriter. There’s a speaker demo. You can make the song right there live. It’s remarkable and shareable because of that song.

And here’s the so what? You can do it, too. You want to know why you can do it, too?

Because it’s broken down into a series of easy steps: Make it 60 minutes long. It’s not that easy to write a song any little. A little bit of time to explain the song. Your process today.

Here’s how you upload it: 6 A.M. on a Saturday, in July. Right there. And here’s like a tag at any incarnation of the TED named Ted X TED talk.

Ted, you you talking today. Education, music. Learning English. Speaker, native speaker. Location.

Whoo! There it is. We did it. The most popular TED talk of all time.

Right. Not many. I mean, because to be honest, I kind of lied to a little bit about the patterns because those patterns are consistent among all of Ted X’s top 10 uploads. Except for one.

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Except for number one. Number one is just Tom Thum beatboxing

He’s got no thesis. He’s gotten unstructured points. He’s gotten us. So what thing for the audience to take home is just him doing a really cool thing that the audience like to watch and shared. And he’s not number one by a little bit. He’s number one by a lot.

So, What did number two do to set itself so far behind?

Well, no, to use my formula and that’s just it. Because when it comes down to it, my formula has a high likelihood of receiving a substantial amount of use.

But there’s no real way to calculate whether or not it’ll reach that tipping point to go viral. Do you think videos like Gangnam Style or Nyan Cat or Shia Labeouf stand in front of a green screen saying just do it had a thesis or structured points or carefully constructed metadata tags?

Now, just like Tom Thumb, they were really cool things that people like to watch and shared. So, look, I can’t change TEDx’s upload schedule. I can’t tinker with their tags. I can’t change what tags audience will think of me before they even click on the video. My talk isn’t 60 minutes long, and I am not a Bollywood expert, but I am a tech expert and I am getting to my so what.

So to be honest, I’m not about to make the talk that I just described. So how can this be the most popular TED talk of all time? Like, please, you know, can you online if you’re watching this online looking, you can you like or dislike or share or comment or and watch over and over again.?

And I know you can you can help out just like that, because then maybe in the mysterious beauty of veracity, a bunch of people will see Will doing a really cool thing that they enjoyed watching and will share. And then even if I don’t make it to number one, isn’t a happy audience all this people could ask for.

Thank you.

– Will Elliott

Will Elliott’s talk: How to give the most popular TEDx talk ever at TEDxLFHS conference.