If you haven’t seen a few TED talks (live or via TED.com), you are missing out. If you have, well, you know how great the talks are.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) and TEDx – independently organized conferences focusing on local communities– are well-run and inspiring events that happen (and are streamed) all over the globe. Founded in 1984, TED’s mission is to facilitate the spread of great ideas that can make the world a better place.  Today, many of these talks go beyond technology, entertainment and design to include elements of business, philanthropy and social innovation, for example.

A truly global community, it has grown largely by word of mouth, the best kind of marketing an organization can get. That TED has mastered the trifecta of great marketing simple, short, and story –is ironic for an organization that typically eschews having marketers in its roster of speakers. 

Its success offers up some key reminders for all marketers when it comes to content.

Simple.  Each TED talk focuses on communicating one simple idea. That’s it. It’s not about selling anything – except an idea that can simplify lives. Every marketer should remember he or she is in the simplicity business. Our job is to communicate simply in order to make customers’ lives less complex.

Short. TED talks, or mini keynotes, are short as far as talks go. Each speaker typically gets 18 minutes. I’ve been to two TEDx conferences where 18 speakers spoke for 18 minutes each. That’s just long enough for a talk to communicate a few great points, and leave the audience wanting more. In a world of noise, we have to be brief to grab and keep attention. You always want to leave your audience ready to come back.

Story. TED speakers are some of the most powerful and inspiring storytellers I’ve seen. Ideas are presented not through a deluge of facts; rather, they are packaged together with compelling and inspiring personal stories from the speakers’ lives. The key point for anyone - not just marketers – is that facts never inspire or move people to action, and they won’t make a lasting impression. Stories will. To make a lasting impact on your audience, tell stories that show who you are, not what you sell.

Content, Packaging and…Surprise!

TED actually delivers another “S,” Surprise. Some of the best talks I’ve seen have been on topics I didn’t think would be so invaluable, except that these extraordinary speakers delivered unexpectedly compelling “a-ha” moments. The ability to consistently surprise your audience will keep people coming back.

In the marketplace of thought leadership, compelling and inspiring ideas win. Packaging matters, too, and TED delivers both. While its organizers and speakers don’t label themselves as marketers, TED’s (and TEDx’s) growth shows just how masterfully adept at marketing they are.

What marketing lessons have you learned from TED? Let me know. kathy@keepingithuman.com