Top 3 TED Talks for Writers

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Looking for a little inspiration? TED conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design) cost $7500 per year to attend, but dozens of its speakers appear online on videos. Many are short enough that you can watch a few at a time.

Here are three picks for food writers based on storytelling, inspiration, and passion:

1. Filmmaker Andrew Stanton: “The clues to a great story.” Yes, the presentation is about animation (Stanton works for Pixar and includes some film clips), but his advice is spot-on for any writer. Plus, he opens with a hilarious joke to illustrate why writers should know what happens at the end.

I also loved his idea that it’s a writer’s job to instill a sense of wonder. Do you agree that should be part of storytelling? How would you go about it?


2. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert: “A New Way to Think About Creativity.” The author of Eat, Pray, Love has millions of fans, and I am not one. But several people told me to watch this speech because they found it inspirational and motivating. And they were right.

Gilbert is the opposite of Stanton. She’s not practical or didactic. Instead, she talks about an idea she came up with to keep writing paralysis at bay after the huge success of her novel. Wouldn’t you love to be the poet she references, who only had to transcribe the poems that came to her fully articulated? So much less work!


3. Here’s a clip of one of our own: Penny De Los Santos, a senior contributing photographer for Saveur and a cookbook photographer. She talks about what it was like to take one photo of men eating a meal in Iraq.

I’ve always said that people fall in love with Penny within five minutes of hearing her speak, and this talk shows you why. Her fierceness and passion to get the story comes from the heart.

Do you watch TED videos? If so, which do you recommend?


  1. says

    I know you shudder at comments such as mine, Dianne, but “Wow!” I listened to all three and they touched me in very different ways. I think I need to learn to be more of a story-teller.

    • diannejacob says

      Wonderful, Liz. This is the first time I put videos on the blog and I was hoping people would watch them. I am delighted by your comment. No shuddering here.

  2. says

    I believe that a great storyteller like Penny sees the story in moments others let pass by. It is easy to assume that her stories come from her travels around the world…and then I look at the photo of her father at her mother’s grave, and know that she will tell us magnificent stories from anywhere she happens to be.
    Thank you for posting these three great videos.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, that is a good way to put it. She understands those moments. I loved that photo as well, Marge. I hope you’ll watch the other two videos too.

  3. says

    I went to Mexico City last summer with Penny and it was such a big, bold, life-changing experience.

    I’ve never gotten into the Ted videos but everyone raves about them…I need to jump on this bandwagon.

    • diannejacob says

      I had only watched a few but when I found these I had to share them because they were so specific to writers. How fun that you went to Mexico City with Penny.

  4. says

    Storytelling is important. In Ireland we have what is called a Seanacha’ed ( ShanAkey)
    and years ago every village had one. Their job was to pass the stories along from generation to generation about familys and traditions and history. These storytellers are fading fast and I think there is a danger, with the written and very electronic communicative world we live in, that the art of storytelling might die. I read A LOT of non fiction, always looking for the story but find that it is stifled with historic fact and not enough information shared on who the characters really were. I am a big fan of TED talks..mostly all the educational ones but love the ones you have shared too Dianne. PENNY is inspirational.

    • diannejacob says

      I did not know about that, Mona — how fascinating. I suppose when people are not transient and they stay whole as a culture, they can pass down stories to a whole village. I loved the first video’s lessons about storytelling and his message about wonder.

  5. says

    Thank you so much for sharing these! I can’t wait to watch; they seem to each offer a different perspective. I am also not an eat pray love fan, but sounds like I will have to listen to her talk! There’s a great one with Dan Barber that’s also particularly well suited for food lovers. I’m super excited to be giving a Tedx talk in Israel in May about food and communication. My nerves are already starting to act up :-)

    • diannejacob says

      Whoa Katherine, Congratulations! I’m sure you’re going to be great. I loved the Dan Barber talk. Also the one by Jamie Oliver.

      I suppose there are a few of us who are not EPL fans. Maybe I’ll try another one of her books.

  6. says

    Thanks, Diane! JUST what I needed this morning. I’ve not been a Gilbert fan either, although I did enjoy her book “Committed”. Her words are inspiring and make sense to me.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh good, Kate. It takes you back to the essence of writing and how the brain works to get the words down.

  7. says

    I watched all 3 TED talks and this was the best hour of my day. Extremely inspiring in very different ways. I will take wonder, ol’e9 ol’e9 and savoring the moments with me and come back to rewatch these talks when I forget. Sometimes we all need a reminder of what is really important in life, thanks Dianne – and please post more like this in the future.

  8. says

    Wow, would at honour it is to see these 3 talks. I watched the 3 of them but only finished Penny’s all the way through. Something resonated with me about her, all that emotion!!! She is definately doing what she has been put on this earth to do… Thank you Dianne, I have never heard of TED up until now. Cheers, Johanna.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, she does get people worked up! The other two speakers are quite different, but I loved their messages too. You can spend a lot of time poking around on the TED website looking at videos, Johanna. I encourage it!

  9. says

    Thanks Dianne for posting these. I’m a huge fan of Penny De Los Santos photos and her passion. I also thought the other two were truly inspiring and lots of lessons to learn from.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Leah, thanks for chiming in. I was interested in the first video’s message about wonder. I’m not quite sure how it applies to us as food writers but it’s a good one to explore. Great to meet you in person in NY.

  10. says

    This is a wonderful means of sharing ideas through the old-fashioned, heartfelt storytelling connection — via technology! I’m so glad you put these out to your readers. Thanks Dianne!

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Laura. Usually I just stick with text but I thought I should try getting more modern. It’s an uphill battle, I’m telling you. I’m glad you found the messages old-fashioned. It’s true — good storytellers are golden, no matter what the medium.

  11. says

    Penny De Los Santos’ talk is intense, true, profoundly moving.
    “It’s about being open, present, and brave enough”.
    Not easy, but oh so much worth it.
    Thank you Dianne.

    • diannejacob says

      You are welcome, Flo. The rest of us aren’t out in battle zones doing this kind of work, but we all have our own issues that require bravery. Just the simple act of getting our work out there is enough sometimes.

  12. says

    Hi, Dianne! Thank you very much for sharing these intense and deep TED talkings! I was reaaly surprised with so beautiful, human and touching presentations about storytelling! I got paralysed in front of the PC, just inside their talkings, because their storytelling are alive, are breathing, and it seemed I was truly in there, just listenig and feeling, and nothing else. Sharing these videos was a great gift, they make me feel, under the skin, what the writing means to me. Thank you!

    I wish you have a very happy easter!!

    Nice regards,

    • diannejacob says

      How nice of you to write, Betina. It is so satisfying to me that you watched all three of them.

      • says

        Thanks, Dianne! Yes, the three of them are truly deep and moving. In my blog, recently created, I shared the link for your blog as a major reference for food writing knowledge, and shared also in facebook. Friends watched and liked it very much. Thank you again for having shared the ideas presented in the TED conferences. They produced a lot of reflection on my writing proccess, each one in a different form.
        Kind regards,

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