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TED Talk falls flat, finds new life as animated presentation

Chris Anderson posted a great piece on the TED blog today entitled "Why this might just be the most significant TED Talk ever posted." In this post, the TED curator features an animated version of a 2012 TED talk presented by psychologist Steven Pinker and the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. The talk, however, was rated too low by the TED audience for it to appear on the TED website. This talk was different from the typical TED talk since it featured a conversation between two people—albeit a scripted one—standing on the center stage at TED. All the presenters in this session called "The Dinner Party" sat at a large table near the back of the stage with their host Chris Anderson and took turns giving talks on the red carpet center stage, returning to the table to have follow-up discussions after their talk.

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Pinker and Goldstein presenting live in 2012 at TED. Note "The Dinner Party" in the background. Photo: James Duncan Davidson (image source).

Goldstein and Pinker discussed Reason and whether or not it was a more powerful force historically than it's given credit. In the end Pinker is convinced by Goldstein's argument. "I have become convinced," Pinker says, "that reason is a better angel that deserves the greatest credit for the moral progress our species has enjoyed and that holds out the greatest hope for continuing moral progress in the future." And the audience offers up a bit of polite applause. "The script was clever, the argument powerful," says Anderson. "However on the day, they bombed." Why did they bomb? "Somehow the chemistry of the dinner guests never ignited. And perhaps the biggest reason for that was that I, as head of the table trying to moderate the conversation, had my back to the audience. The audience disengaged, the evening fell flat."

Another go at it — this time with animation
Usually a talk that receives a low rating at the TED conference never gets posted, however, in this case Anderson says the content was so important and so central to the TED mission of spreading ideas that matter that he wondered if there was not "a way to rescue the talk." And that's where the idea of using animation and cleaning up the audio came in. Andrew Park and his team at Cognitive did indeed do a remarkable job with the animation. Andrew Park does amazing work and his RSA Animate series has been seen by millions. The animated version below uses a bit of humor and is engaging and illustrative. The speed of the talking and the animation is quite fast a lot of the time so I found myself occasionally stopping the video so that I could take in the visuals displayed or simply read all the labels. I would love to see the original live recording of the on-stage dialog with the audio cleaned up and then compare it to the animated version. (Watch it below.)



Presentation tip by Chris Anderson
One thing Anderson mentions in his blog post is that he regrets turning his back on the audience to host "The Dinner Table" session on stage. He is spot on about that. It is not likely that this act alone was responsible for the session becoming generally less engaging than others, but it surely did not help.

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This photo by James Duncan Davidson shared on the TED blog shows curator Chris Andserson hosting "The Dinner Party" session. "An experiment I will never try again: hosting a session with my back to the audience." Words of wisdom.

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