Is TED elitist? In a nutshell, no. It certainly attracts people who are regarded as elite in their area of expertise. But the word 'elitist' implies exclusionary, and we've taken many steps in recent years to open up the live conferences to as broad an audience as possible.
- We've expanded significantly the number of non-US attendees, as well as the number of women.
- The TED Fellows program allows talented individuals from all over the world to attend TED without paying.
- The TEDx program offers local organizers a free license of our brand. It has led to more than 5,000 events around the world based on the TED format, many allowing free admission.
- Perhaps most important, since June 2006 we've been posting the best talks recorded at TED so that anyone can watch them free of charge.
Indeed, the whole mission of the nonprofit foundation that owns TED is to leverage the power of good ideas and let them spread as widely and effectively as possible. TEDTalks have been viewed almost 1 billion times by people around the world (as of October 2012).
Why not just charge less money to attend?
That wouldn't allow any more people to come to TED. It would just lengthen the waiting list. And it would take away our ability to do the things that have allowed TED Talks to spread around the world. Things like: - state-of-the-art staging, lighting and camerawork that give TED Talks their sense of theater. - a major website operation. - the bandwidth to support more than half a million TED Talk views every day. - support for the global TEDx program.
How do you decide who gets admitted to the live TED events?
As indicated above, our goal is a diverse community of amazing people from numerous different fields. We also try to maintain a balance between longstanding TEDsters and invaluable newcomers. We are admitting around 1,500 people to TED, and a year ahead of each conference there is already demand from far more people than will fit. We give preference to people who:
- are curious, passionate, open-minded
- have done something fascinating with their lives
- show evidence of creativity, innovation, insight, or brilliance
- would be wonderful to sit next to at lunch and have a conversation with
- are well placed to help make a difference in the world
- have made a contribution to the TED community (for example, by supporting a TED Prize wish)
What happens to TED's profits?
They are recycled to advance the mission of "ideas worth spreading." The TED Conference is owned by the Sapling Foundation, a 501(c)3 private foundation set up by TED's Curator, Chris Anderson, in 1996. The two main annual conferences are financially successful. The profits are used: to fund the growth of this website and distribute TEDTalks free to the world to support the TED Prize and the projects that come out of it to invest in other TED initiatives, such as the growing TEDx program, the TED Fellows program, the Open Translation Project and the TED-Ed program There are no outside shareholders or investors. TED's Curator Chris Anderson, founder of the Sapling Foundation, does not draw a salary from TED and is not paid any portion of the profits.
You claim all these worthy goals, but isn't TED just another talking shop?
It's not just talk. Ideas reshape minds and change the way people act. To paraphrase Victor Hugo: there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Most TED attendees (and regular TED Talk listeners) would tell you the experience has impacted how they think and what they do. The passionate response of volunteer translators and TEDx organizers all over the world indicates widespread belief in the power of ideas to actually make a difference. More than 10,000 people in more than 100 countries are spending a substantial number of hours ensuring that TED is not just talk, but has on-the-ground impact.
Finally, there's the TED Prize. This is a deliberate attempt to turn ideas into action. The TED Prize grants an individual "one wish to change the world." The prize has seeded a series of projects in which multiple TED companies and individuals work with each other to do something truly great. Examples include one.org, Pangea Day, Open Architecture Network, the Encyclopedia of Life , the Once Upon a School initiative, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and Inside Out.
Of course, none of this is perfect. Every year we try to learn a little more on (a) how to make a great conference and (b)how to turn it into a positive force in the world. If you have suggestions, we'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.