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Case Study: TED Speakers and Their Secrets to Success

Updated on November 25, 2013


Technology, Entertainment and Design: TED is a small nonprofit organization devoted to sharing ideas that can change the world. Not surprisingly, their slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. It began in 1984 as a small conference in Long Beach, CA, but has been exhibiting remarkable growth ever since. TED now has several conferences a year in various locations around the world, a website that features many of their excellent speeches and an annual TED prize, just to name a few.

TED’s concept is truly amazing; however, it is not what they are known for. They have had success because they have been able to persuade arguably the greatest minds in the world to give speeches at their conferences. Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Al Gore and Richard Dawkins have all given speeches in recent years. The surprising thing is that the people-you’ve-never-heard-of give some of the most brilliant, inspiring speeches of all. The question: What characteristics do all of these people, who are on the leading edge of technology, entertainment, design, business, science and global issues, have in common?


In order to measure one’s potential for success, it is necessary to define the characteristics that successful people exhibit. By examining several of the speakers, we can compile a list of attributes associated with their personal success. The speeches examined are on various topics but they are all intended to motivate and inspire the audience. Each speaker at TED has his or her own individual personality, but there are traits that they all have in common and these traits make them successful. This case study will identify which specific traits and characteristics are held in common by the majority of TED speakers. As it turns out, it is much more than just hard work.


Stephen Hawking –

Stephen Hawking is probably the best person to start with when examining characteristics of success because of his precarious situation. He suffers from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a disease that has progressively taken away his motor functions and the ability to speak without the use of a voice box. However, what he lacks in physicality, he compensates with intrinsic motivation. He is renowned worldwide for his contribution to the field of theoretical physics and the books he has written about the universe, life and the future of humankind (Stephen Hawking, 2010).

While watching his speech on the Big Questions about the Universe, you’ll notice how excited he is about his work. Even though he can’t express his emotions through facial expressions or vocal tones, his words exemplify his passion. Near the end of the speech, he says that he is thankful for being disabled and having the time to contemplate the subjects he is most passionate about. Without this intense passion, he would never have achieved the success that he has (TED Video1, 2008).

Bill Gates –

Before I watched Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and once richest man in the world, speak about finding new energy sources to replace crude oil, I was under the assumption that it was going to be very dry and technical (Bill Gates, 2010). To my amazement, it was quite the opposite. His speech was full of information and inspiration, obvious signs that he is passionate about his work, but there was an even more significant aspect: His ability to set goals and plan. Why is this important? Because successful people know exactly where they are and where they have to get to accomplish their tasks. He set benchmarks for 2020, 2050 and 2080. Each benchmark has a specific number of objectives that must be completed by that date. He was also quite clear about another point: If we do not have a new, highly efficient energy source by 2080, things will not be looking too good for humankind (TED Video2, 2010).

Gary Vaynerchuk –

You have probably never heard of this person, but he is phenomenal at motivating people. Gary is a New York Times bestselling author and an entrepreneur. In 2006, he launched Wine Library TV, a blog dedicated to wine (Gary Vaynerchuk, About). He is an eccentric person, but he knows how to do business and get people excited about their ideas. His speech, titled Do what you love (no excuses!), was full of expletives, mildly sporadic and a bit redundant, but, this is what made it so intriguing. He knew exactly what he wanted the audience to get from the speech: Do what you love and work your ass off doing it.

While most of us believe we can’t monetize our passions, Gary is extremely exuberant about persuading you that this is a false, self-restricting belief and it needs to be abandoned in order to obtain true success. He asserts that money is only a by-product of what you do in life. It is an additive to happiness, but no amount of money can complete you. At the end of the speech, he asks the entire audience to swear that they’ll only do what they truly love because we “only play this game one time”. To Gary, success is equivalent to happiness and happiness is equivalent to doing what you love to do (TED Video3, 2008).

Cameron Herold -

In Cameron’s speech Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs, he reveals that although he did quite poor in school at a young age, he knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and own a business. He loved money and was constantly experimenting with new ways of obtaining it. His Father, brother and sister are entrepreneurs as well. So, what is it that excels this family towards success?

Cameron exhibits seventeen of the eighteen signs of Attention Deficit Disorder. He’s eccentric but determined and precise. He informs the audience that Bipolar Disorder has been named the CEO disease because many people suffering from the disorder have been quite successful in business. His point is that we shouldn’t be concentrating on fixing what we lack but rather capitalizing on what we excel at. He wants people to realize that we can create our own businesses through creativity, devotion and a lot of hard work. We don’t always need to fit into the roles that society has laid out for us (TED Video4, 2010).


There are ten basic characteristics of successful people: hard work, a desire to learn, access to a network of people, the desire to constantly improve, creativity, the ability to hold oneself accountable for the outcomes of one’s life, very firm values, the ability to live in the present and act quickly, excellent time management and detailed planning for the future (Phillip Humbert, 2000). The speakers presented in this study emulate these characteristics constantly. They are passionate about what they do, they have detailed plans that specify exactly what needs to be done to accomplish various tasks, their values are very consistent and precise, they constantly reinforce their strengths and they rid themselves of self-limiting beliefs. In Brian Tracy’s book Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible, he asserts that self-limiting beliefs are the most difficult, yet most essential, mental roadblock to overcome. He believes that by practicing “blue-sky thinking”, which is brainstorming without restrictions, people can start undoing their self-restricting beliefs.

Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking are excellent examples of this kind of thinking. They set an objective and then get busy discovering how they can accomplish it. They figure out what they’re trying to get to and then they plan. Successful entrepreneurs follow a very similar train of thought. They have a basic idea for a business and then figure out what needs to be done in order to make it into a reality. They understand that failure is merely a tool for learning.

There are very precise characteristics that lead people to success. There are no accidents. Successful people capitalize on opportunities. They dream big. Most importantly, they do what they love and strive to be the best in their field. It is not an easy path, but through perseverance, dedication, hard work and passion anyone can become a success and change the world.

Work Cited

Bill Gates. (2010). Woopidoo Biographies. Retrieved July 3, 2010 from

2Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to Zero. (2010, February). Retrieved July 4, 2010 from

4Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs. (2010, March). Retrieved July 3, 2010 from

3Gary Vaynerchuk: Do what you love (no excuses!). (2008, September). Retrieved July 1, 2010 from

Gary Vaynerchuk. (Unknown Date). On his website under About Gary.

Retrieved July 1, 2010 from

Phillip E. Humbert. (2000). Retrieved July 7, 2010 from

Stephen Hawking. (2010, July 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:13, July 9, 2010, from

1Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe. (2008, April). Retrieved July 1, 2010 from

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      yeast infection 7 years ago

      That would be fantastic to have these great people serve as speakers for you. How inspiring! Thanks for laying this all out - this is a great resource! And thanks for visiting my Hub!

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      peacefulparadox 7 years ago

      I love watching the TED Talk videos at

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

      Wow, easier said than done! That would be fantastic to have these great people serve as speakers for you. How inspiring! Thanks for laying this all out - this is a great resource! And thanks for visiting my Hub!