About TED » What people say » Is TED elitist?

Is TED elitist? In a nutshell, no.

TED certainly attracts people regarded as elite in their area of expertise, but the word 'elitist' implies exclusionary -- and we've taken major 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 at TED events, as well as the number of women.
  • We've created the TED Fellows program, which allows talented individuals from all over the world to attend TED without paying.
  • We launched the TEDx program, which offers local organizers a free license of our brand. It has led to thousands of events around the world based on the TED format, many with free admission.
  • Perhaps most importantly, since June 2006, we've been posting the best talks recorded at TED so that anyone can watch them free of charge. TED Talks have now been watched more than a billion times all around the globe.

The mission of TED, and the nonprofit foundation that owns it, is to leverage the power of good ideas and let them spread as widely as possible. Below, answers to some frequently asked questions about our policies.

Why not just charge less money to attend?

That wouldn't allow any more people to come to a TED conference. It would just lengthen the waiting list, and take away our ability to do the things that have allowed TED Talks to spread. Things like:

  • state-of-the-art staging
  • lighting and camerawork that give TED Talks their sense of theater
  • the operation of a major website
  • the bandwidth to support more than half a million TED Talk views every day
  • the operation of the global TEDx program

How do you decide who gets admitted to the live TED events?

Our goal is a diverse community of amazing people from numerous 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 and 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 already

What happens to TED's profits?

TED is owned by the Sapling Foundation, a 501(c)3 private foundation set up by TED's Curator, Chris Anderson, in 1996. TED's two main annual conferences are financially successful, and the profits are recycled to advance the mission of "ideas worth spreading." They are used: to fund the growth of this website, to distribute TED Talks 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 TEDx, the TED Fellows, the Open Translation Project and TED-Ed). There are no outside shareholders or investors. TED's Curator Chris Anderson 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?

We strongly believe that it's more than 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.

Every day, ideas unleashed in TED Talks lead to change. One place where this is most visible: the TED Prize. The TED Prize grants an individual "one wish to change the world" and has seeded a series of projects in which the TED community works together to do something truly great: Pangea Day, the Open Architecture Network, the Encyclopedia of Life , Once Upon a School, 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 change. If you have suggestions, we'd love to hear from you at contact@ted.com.