Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

December 16, 2016.
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Sebastian Wernicke:
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Sebastian Wernicke. Head of the Data Science Department at Solon Strategy, in Germany, which provides consultation to support companies and investors in the media, entertainment, telecoms and technology industries. He was previously at Seven Bridges Genomics, in the U.S. and the U.K.  His educational background is in bioinformation and theoretical computer science, from the universities of Jena and Tubingen, in Germany.

TED Talks have become a standard against which successful speaking can be measured.  With so many TED Talks now available, though, how do they compare with each other ?  Is there some analysis of what differentiates one from another?  The answer is: Yes.  In the TED Talk featured here, Sebastian Wernicke takes a humorous look at what makes for a successful TED Talk.

TED2010 2.1 million views on

Wernicke starts by looking at TED Talk statistics over a 4-year period:

over one week’s worth of videos
over 1.3 million words
over 2 million ratings

Which is a lot of information to analyse, and although Wernicke’s talk was given almost seven years ago, in February 2010, and many more TED Talks have been given and rated since then, the basics are unlikely to have changed.  Wernicke goes on to highlight three key ways in which TED Talks can be rated—by:


TOPIC. Wernicke lists up the 20 best words, used in the most popular talks.  Number one on the list is the word ‘You’.  This word creates a connection with the audience, bringing them into the world of the speaker.  Audiences also connect best with speakers and topics that they can easily associate with and which cover basic issues that affect all of us, like emotions, food, and our own body.  In contrast, topics that are more technical, such as architecture, materials and transportation, tend to be less popular.

DELIVERY. One of TED’s key rules is for speakers to keep within their allotted time, and not over run.  This might lead to the assumption that shorter TED Talks are more frequent and perhaps popular, but Wernicke’s analysis is that the longer the talk, the more popular it is likely to be—unless its theme is beauty, ingenuity or humour, in which case shorter talks are more popular and, as it happens, Wernicke’s own talk is quite short.  Furthermore, talks that appear to be offering something to the audience, like saying ‘I’ll give you …’, tend to be more popular, while talks that are more strident are less popular.

VISUALS. Using slides and props helps make talks more interesting and appealing.  Wernicke also produces a colour chart, picking out the ‘right’ colour for each topic.


Finally, Wernicke wraps up his talk by referring to his creation, the ‘Tedpad’, a handy matrix which you can use to make your own successful TED Talk, and which can be found here:

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

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