When you hear the words “effective communication,” what do you think?
You might imagine people having a conversation in which they’re truly engaged and absorbed in what’s being discussed. Or you might think of a team making progress on a project together.
And while those scenarios fall under the umbrella of effective communication, it’s so much more than an exchange of words.
Truly effective communication happens when we’re comfortable in our own skin, sure of our ideas, and confident enough in the security of our environments to speak up. And that means communication is about more than words. It runs right to the core of who we are. The nine TED talks below touch on every aspect of communication, from what we say, how we say it, who we say it to, and just as importantly, what we don’t say.
9 Thought-Provoking TED Talks About Effective Communication
1) “Connected, But Alone?” by Sherry Turkle
We live in a world where it’s easier than ever to reach out to people across generations, cities, and even continents. Yet go to any restaurant, concert, or even funeral and you’ll find people disengaged from their companions because they’re on their phones, MIT social sciences and technology professor Sherry Turkle says.
Besides the fact that it’s bad manners, this increasingly common behavior is preventing us from relating to each other and self-reflecting. In Turkle’s TED talk, you’ll hear about how being overly connected is actually isolating us from our communities, and what we can do to unplug from our phones and plug back into our relationships.
2) “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” by Celeste Headlee
Words are our primary way of relating to other people — whether it’s building strong friendships, getting into arguments, or persuading coworkers to follow your plans. And yet we suck at it — a Pew Research study found that Americans are more polarized than we’ve ever been.
Radio host Celeste Headlee has some experience using words to move people. In her TED talk, Headlee explores the components of a truly great conversation and shares 10 strategies to improve conversational competence.
3) “The Power of Vulnerability,” by Brené Brown
Of course, true connections can’t be formed if we don’t bring our whole selves to our relationships — no matter how conversationally competent we are. In this TED talk, Brené Brown, who researches vulnerability, courage, and shame, suggests that only by confronting what we’re most afraid of can we truly connect with other people.
In her research, Brown found that her subjects who felt the most love and belonging had one thing in common — they were willing to make themselves vulnerable. It’s not easy to get to that point, but Brown argues that if we’re willing to put in the time and effort, we’ll be able to reach a kinder, gentler world.
4) “Listen, Learn … Then Lead” by Stanley McChrystal
If you think the United States Army is a rigid organization where decisions and orders come from the top and must be followed without exception, you might be surprised by former U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal’s TED talk.
In this talk, McChrystal — who joined the Army at age 22 — shares the different leadership styles he encountered as he rose through the ranks, then shares the lessons he’s learned as a general. As the armed forces changed, McChrystal found himself leading groups of people who had vastly different experiences than himself.
“We’re operating a force that must have shared purpose and shared consciousness, and yet [direct reports] have different experiences, in many cases a different vocabulary,” McChrystal says.
To bridge gaps of understanding, it falls to leaders to build credibility through being transparent, willing to listen, and open to being reverse-mentored, McChrystal says.
5) “Remember to Say Thank You,” by Laura Trice
Productive communication doesn’t require agreement — in fact, some of the best meetings I’ve ever had involved disagreement. And that’s to be expected when you work with smart people who have strong opinions. But in order to have productive discussions and keep your team moving forward after conflict, people need to feel heard and appreciated.
In this TED talk, doctor and life coach Laura Trice poses a simple question — why don’t people ask to be thanked for the value they bring to the table, whether in their personal or professional lives? She thinks it’s because by asking for praise, we make ourselves vulnerable.
In this talk, you’ll explore the value of saying “thank you,” asking to be thanked, and the implications of freely giving gratitude.
6) “The Danger of Silence” by Clint Smith
In this powerful spoken word TED Talk, Clint Smith addresses what happens when we simply don’t communicate. Smith, a teacher and poet, gave up speaking for Lent one year — and realized how much he’d already silenced himself.
How many times do you see something happening in the workplace or your personal life that makes you uncomfortable? How many times do you speak up for yourself, a coworker, or a customer? In his TED talk, Smith argues that the price of staying silent is injustice — and that’s too high a price to pay.
7) “The Secret Structure of Great Talks” by Nancy Duarte
Whether you’re in sales or not, you pitch people every day. Want to hire more people on your team? A promotion? A new project? You have to influence the people around you to get your way — and that’s where Nancy Duarte comes in. Duarte, a presentation expert who helped Vice President Al Gore with “An Inconvenient Truth,” believes that all great presentations follow a specific arc.
As a presenter, it’s your job to tell a story that draws in your audience and convinces them of something. In this TED talk, Duarte shares actionable tips to rework how you tell stories — and hopefully help you get closer to what you want.
8) “How to Save the World (or at Least Yourself) From Bad Meetings,” by David Grady
Communication is a good thing. Transparency and openness are both good things. Pulling people from different teams to give input on important projects is a good thing. So you would think that the concept of the work meeting — something designed to deliver information, gather opinions, and make progress, would be good as well.
Unfortunately, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. David Grady, a cybersecurity manager, believes that we’re being deluged by pointless meetings that waste our time. In this TED talk, you’ll learn Grady’s “No MAS” technique for making meetings more productive and valuable — so that when you’re communicating with your coworkers, you’re only talking about what really matters.
9) “Comedy is Translation,” by Chris Bliss
When I was younger, I thought Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show were just funny. And they are, but they’re also shows that delivery commentary in a way that makes people laugh and think at the same time.
In this TED talk, standup comedian Chris Bliss explains that comedy isn’t just about entertainment, although humor is obviously central. The elements of comedy — misdirection, its inherent virality, economy of language, and deliberate juxtaposition of seemingly opposite or unrelated concepts — make it a delightful way to entertain people and convey important messages.
What are your favorite TED talks about effective communication? Let us know in the comments below.