13 April, 2020

40 TED Talks for Project Managers

I’m sure that you are already aware of what a fantastic resource TED is. But what are the best TED talks for Project Managers?

This is an update of an earlier article. Like the original, it goes out during the holiday period. But, of course, after preparing the update, we’re all now aware that holidays are a limited thing. We have the implications of COVID-19 to deal with.


If you worked through the original ’24 TED Talks…’ videos and want to see what’s new, I’ve summarized the changes.

I have selflessly spent many hours watching TED talks looking for new talks to add to my essential list for Project Managers. But I have also looked for the best TED content I can find on the Coronavirus crisis of 2020.

Let’s hope that, if you are reading this after summer 2020, that will be all be out of date in a good way!

Before we start properly though, we should avoid making assumptions. Not everybody will know what TED is…

What are TED Talks?

TED is a marvelous organization. Founded by Chris Anderson, it organizes conferences, events, and much more. And, at these events, it invites pre-eminent speakers. They come from every conceivable branch of human endeavor.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. This sets out their original span of interest. But now it is far wider. Their mission is simple: to spread ideas. On TED stages, you can find:

  • jugglers and philosophers
  • social reformers and scientists
  • managers and historians
  • chefs and educators

What they all have in common are two things:

  1. They are pre-eminent in their field
  2. They have a great story to tell

TED challenges them to tell their story in 22 minutes or less. And, while they are at it, to give the best talk of their lives. As a result, what TED creates is entertaining, informative, and a lesson in how to speak to an audience. Who cannot love that?

But they go further. TED records their talks. And then, it makes the videos available, on the internet, for free. They have created a vast archive of fantastic material. And smaller, spin-off TEDx events produce even more content. Some of it also makes it to the TED.com site. The rest is available on YouTube.

40 TED Talks for Project Managers

But there’s a problem…

There’s a reason why, even now, I hesitate to advocate TED videos. You see, I am intellectually curious. I love new ideas and enjoy hearing about them presented in a clear, entertaining and succinct way.

And if you are the same, then telling you about TED carries a risk. It’s like introducing you to a drug. It’s very easy to become addicted to watching these wonderful videos.

So don’t spend time browsing the wonders of TED.com. Unless you know what you are doing.

Don’t let yourself get seduced by brilliant people who want to share their ideas and passions. It can too easily lead to hours of happy viewing. And then you’ll find yourself learning new ideas. These will only open your mind and stretch your thinking. Take care.

TED Heaven

I often run senior management team events. Sometimes they are about learning, sometimes about thinking, and sometimes about doing. Often, I suggest a shortlist of TED Talks to watch, to stimulate thinking.

At one event, a participant referred to his preparation as an afternoon of ‘TED Heaven’. There are enough TED Talks here for one a week, to beyond the end of the year. So, you can either pace yourself and learn loads over the coming months. Or you can indulge yourself in a few afternoons of TED Heaven.

From 24 to 40 TED Talks

The original version of this article had 24 TED talks, arranged in no particular order. I wanted more. There were too many good talks I had to leave off.

So, for this article, I have found 40. But that’s a lot of content to offer in an unstructured way. So, this time, I have grouped them under 10 topics – 4 talks in each. This way, you can focus on the talks that most interest you at the moment.

For readers who have watched the original 24 videos, I have clearly marked all of the new TED Talks in this update.

Coronavirus 2020

After preparing the bulk of this update, it has become obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic is an important topic for us all. And the TED organization has responded with some impressive resources. So, I have added a section to the end of this article with my pick of them. 

I sincerely hope that this part will become out of date for all the right reasons. But while this article is fresh, I will come back to that section and update it from time-to-time.

The Ten (+1) Topics

The section titles in this list are links for quick access.

  1. Professional Project Manager
  2. Personal Effectiveness
  3. Project Teams and Team Working
  4. Leadership
  5. Getting the Best from People
  6. Project Culture
  7. Effective Project Communication
  8. Problem Solving and Creativity
  9. Inspiring Projects
  10. Thought-provoking TED Talks
  11. TED Talks in The Time of COVID-19

Professional Project Manager

This first section looks at some of the aspects of building a successful career as a professional Project Manager.

Casey Brown: Know Your Worth and then Ask for it [NEW]


People won't pay you what you are worth. Rather, they pay what they think you are worth.  Nothing will boost your confidence as a professional more than knowing people value you properly, so find out how Casey did that.

Tres Roeder: A Sixth Sense for Project Management [NEW]


Roeder's sixth sense is people skills. So, he's very much aligned with our own way of thinking. Here, he takes us through his six priority disciplines, if you want to be a leader of positive change. The talk follows the structure of his book, A Sixth Sense for Project Management.

Richard St John: 8 Secrets of Success

8 words and 3 minutes, 7 years research and 500 interviews. How can you be successful as a Project Manager? These 8 answers are applicable to YOU.

The Power of Introverts – by Susan Cain [NEW]


Susan Cain is the author of the massive-selling book, Quiet. her book and in this TED Talk, she explains why introverts, can be influential. She'll tell you it's okay to be a quiet, introverted Project Manager, and  to hire introverts onto your team.

Personal Effectiveness

As a project professional, you need to be highly effective. These TED Talks offer some valuable advice.

Julia Galef: Why You Think You’re Right – Even if You’re Wrong


When I first heard this TED Talk, I thought Galef’s ‘Scout Mindset’ metaphor was brilliant. And I still do. To me, this is a key to good Project management.

Adam Galinsky: How to Speak up for Yourself [NEW]


Adam Galinsky is a psychologist. If you find it hard to speak up and be assertive when you need to be; this talk is vital watching. He'll show you how to increase yu personal power. Let's face it, Project Managers need to assert ourselves from time-to-time!

Daniel Levitin: How to Stay Calm when You Know You’ll be Stressed

Stress is often a big issue for Project Managers. And the implications are bad. Are there systems you can put in place to to prevent those implications? It turns out there are.

Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend

McGonigal offers another approach to handling stress… by making it into a positive thing. This will also give a route to reduce your chance of dying early. Can you afford to ignore this? Especially if you’re choosing a stressful role.

Project Teams and Team Working

Projects are collaborative ventures. A big part of your role as a Project Manager is to get the best from team-working.

Tom Wujek: Build a Tower, Build a Team


Agile or Traditional Project Management? What skills do you need to manage a process? And what process will work best in building a challenging structure? And a valuable insight into the nature of incentives. From 'Oh-oh' to 'ta-da'.

David Grady: How to Save the World (or at least yourself) from Bad Meetings

Meetings are a symptom of unproductive projects. They are also a cause. This is one of the more polemical TED Talks. But it will make you laugh and think. Are you afflicted with MAS?

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work


If you haven’t yet engaged with the ideas of Positive Psychology, here is a great place to start. Not only important ideas, but delivery like a top stand-up comic.  Don’t be ‘merely average’. Better still, move the average up.


Patrice Thompson: Closing the gap. A Millennial Proposal for a Happy Multigenerational Workplace


Are Millennials self-centered, with a sense of entitlement? Are Gen X bosses too stuck in the past? Here’s how the generations rub along in the modern workplace. And how they can learn from each other.



If you are a regular reader of our articles, you'll know how important we regard leadership to be. So, here are four favorite TED Talks on this vital subject.


Jim Hemmerling: 5 Ways to Lead in an Era of Constant Change [NEW]


Organizational change is a part of our business. And it can e stressfu for us and for the people around us. Jim Hemmerling shows us how to put people first, and avoid crisis mode. He talks about the role of the 'Inclusive Leader'.

Rosalind Torres: What it Takes to be a Great Leader


This talk is aimed at CEOs, but to my mind it’s equally valuable for Project Leaders. Torres’ ideas of Adaptive Leadership are powerful and in this TED Talk, she highlights three thought provoking questions you should be asking… And looking for answers to.

Itay Talgam: Lead Like the Great Conductors


Talgam offers you different styles of leadership (or project leadership). And they are all suggested through the metaphor of orchestral conductors.

Elizabeth Lyle: How to Break Bad Management Habits before they Reach the Next Generation of Leaders [NEW]


Elizabeth Lyle is acoach who sets out to prevent us form perpetuating bad habits. As new leaders arise, they need to find new ways to do things and to constructively break the unwritten rules that the current leaders follow.


Getting the Best from People

We've looked at getting the best from your team. And we've also seen four TED Talks about leadership. Now, here are four more insights into how to get the best from the people you lead and the stakeholders you need to influence.

Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation [NEW]


Dan Pink's books are massive best-sellers. And in this TED Talk, he'll give you a summary of the ideas n his book about motivation, 'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us'. rticular, he focuses on why it's important to give your people control over their own work (autonomy).

Nilofer Merchant: Got a Meeting? Take a Walk


Project Managers spend a lot of time in meetings. We sit down or we stand up. In this short (3.5 minute) talk, Nilofer Merchant advocates we walk. When I was deep in my active project management career, I met another PM. He would ‘take people for a walk around the car park’when he needed to have a in depth conversation with them. At first, I thought that was just a metaphor. But, on one rainy autumn morning, I arrived for a meeting. And there he was, with one of his team. They were soaking wet and deep in conversation!


Chieh Huang: Confessions of a Recovering Micromanager [NEW]


What are the pros and cons of micromanagement? Huang is both wise and funny. And he has learned that if you want to be able to take credit for more things than you can do yourself, you need to abandon micromanagement in favor of trusting your team. 

William Ury: The Walk from “No" to “Yes" [NEW]


William Ury (along with Roger Fisher) is a co-author of the single most influential book on negotitaion, 'Getting to Yes'. Here, he talks about some of those ideas, and how you can get agreement in even the most tricky circumstances.

Project Culture

t kind of culture do you want, for your project? And how can you go about creating it? These four TED Talks will give you some ideas.

Adam Grant: Are You a Giver or a Taker


I’ve talked about Grant’s research in my weekly email. This talk will give you new ideas about how to craft a project culture. He finds that it certainly is better to give than to receive.

Margaret Heffernan: Forget the Pecking Order at Work


Do your superchickens achieve their great results at the expense of the rest? Heffernan suggest that competition, status, and stars are toxic. But there’s an alternative… And you can apply this to your projects to get a higher achieving group.

Julia Dhar: How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground [NEW]


Julia Dhar is a debating champion. So, when uses here expertise to explain how to tackle disagreements by finding common ground from which to build agreeement. We know how important it is to encourage divergent ides and challenges. So, here is a way to handle them, rather than react and challenge the person.

Peter Biddle: Plucky Rebels - Being Agile in a Non-agile Place [NEW]


This is one of the few TED Talks that is absolutely about Project Management. Biddle talks about being an agile agitator inside the vast corporation of Intel. And he defines what he means by his term 'Plucky Rebel'. If you want practical transformation tips, this is one to watch.

Effective Project Communication

I'm a great believer in the saying that 'Project Management is 80 percent communication'. So, these four TED Talks will be important in helping you hone your skills.

Melinda Epler: 3 Ways to be a Better Ally in the Workplace [NEW]


Unfortunately, there is more to success than hard work and dedication. Gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and sexual orientation all factor in. And they can hold you back. Epler talks about how to communicate in ways that support people who face discrimination. And, at the same time, it will mae you a better leader.

Frances Frei: How to Build (and rebuild) Trust [NEW]


If you ever need to restore trust in yourself, or in your project, you need to work on three things: authenticity, logic, and empathy. Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei will show you how.

Uri Hasson: This is Your Brain on Communication [NEW]


If you want to understand more about the neural basis for how we communicate, check out this enchanting TED Talk from Neuroscientist Uri Hasson.

Camille Langston: How to Use Rhetoric to Get What You Want [NEW]


For hundreds.. no, thousands of years, professional people have learned to persuade through the art of rhetoric. In this short TED Talks, Camille Langston, shows you the ancient Greek skill of using ethos, logos, and pathos to persuade.

Problem-Solving and Creativity

Projects continually challenge us with new problems to solve. So, the more creative we can be, and the more adept our teams can become at problem-solving, the better the results we'll get.

Linda Hill: How to Manage for Collective Creativity [NEW]


Leading a team for innovation is diffferent to traditional leadership. You need to find a way to unleash creative talent. Hil studied people who make creative leadership work and has found patterns you can apply.


Tom Wujec: Got a Wicked Problem? First, tell me how you make toast


Tom again – this time looking at how we think. Nodes and links should be familiar to Project Managers. But here are some lessons about how to communicate well. It will show you how to produce better models and solve problems better.


Navi Radjou: Creative Problem Solving in the Face of Extreme Limits


Invention and innovation do not need to build on the newest technology. They can harness simple, frugal principles. Three principles your projects can apply to do more with less. It’s the third one that struck me.

Adam Grant: The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers


How do ‘Originals’ drive creativity and change in the world? And how do you recognize them? Perhaps more important, how can you become more like them?

Inspiring Projects

What list of project-related TED talks could be complete with some of TED's huge array of inspiring examples?

Elon Musk: The Future we’re Building – and Boring


Not only is this longer than most TED talks, but it’s not a talk. It’s an interview between TED founder, Chris Anderson, and Elon Musk. Musk is an incredible thinker and a hugely energetic doer. His ambition is global and empowering.

Aziza Chaouni: How I Brought a River, and my City, Back to Life


Chaouni offers us a transformative goal and exmplary stakeholder engagement.

Ben Saunders: Why Did I Ski to the North Pole?


This TED talk offers a little bit of project management and a big dose of 'Why the *** would he do that?' Witty tales of derring do from the north pole.

Shubhendu Sharma: An Engineer’s Vision for Tiny Forests, Everywhere


Uplifting? Yes. But also a guide to how you can take ideas from one domain and apply it to another, completely different one.

Thought Provoking TED Talks

Or, to put it another way, four more brilliant TED talks that have ideas that were too good to leave out... And topics that were hared to classify!

Yves Morieux: As Work gets more Complex, 6 Rules to Simplify


You are familiar with the two pillars of any change: hard and soft components. Morieux will tell you these are now obsolete. We have multi-dimensional matrices and huge interconnectivity. But instead, let’s start to simplify, and Morieux offers you six simple rules.

Ben Ambridge: 9 Myths about Psychology, Debunked


I expect you’ve picked up a fair amount of psychology on your way to where you are. We all do. And being an effective Project Manager means knowing a fair bit about how people tick. The problem is that there are a lot of persistent myths about psychology, so watch this talk to see how many of them you thought were true… and aren’t.

Ari Wallach: 3 Ways to Plan for the Very Long Term


As a Project Manager, you know the importance of planning. Yet short-termism pervades our lives. In this TED talk, Wallach offers reasons and tactics for long-term thinking. He’ll introduce you to his isea of Longpath.


Liv Boeree: 3 Lessons on Decision-making from a Poker Champion [NEW]


What are the roles of luck, intuition, and communication in Project Management? How do the forces of luck and skill compete? In a short but powerful talk, based on her experience as a poker player, Liv Boeree will give you some insihts that should read across well to your own professional life. And, of course, understanding probability is vital for your role in leading project risk management.

TED Talks in The Time of COVID-19

I hope these will soon be of no more than historical interest. But if you are reading this article during the Coronavirus pandemic, then these TED Talks will be of interest. 

And do return: I shall keep this list updated.

Adam Kucharski: How can we Control the Coronavirus Pandemic?


As the threat of COVID-19 continues, infectious disease expert Adam Kucharski answers five key questions about the novel coronavirus on TED: ‘How can we Control the Coronavirus Pandemic?’ And, if you want the full conversation with founder of TED Chris Anderson, you can listen to the full 70-minute interview.

David Heyman: What we do (and don’t) know about the coronavirus

TED Talk by David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He led the World Health Organization’s global response to the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: How we can navigate the coronavirus pandemic with courage and hope

Sack speaks about leadership, fear, death, hope and how we could use this moment to build a more just world.

Priya Parker: How to create meaningful connections while apart

'We don't need to gather more: we need to gather better.' How to make meaningful connections with friends, family and coworkers during the coronavirus pandemic.


Bill Gates: How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic


Why testing and self-isolation are essential, which medical advancements show promise, and what it will take for the world to endure this crisis.

Plus - Gates actually predicted this 5 years ago on a TED stage!


Susan David: How to be your best self in times of crisis


Psychologist Susan David she shares wisdom on how to build resilience, courage, and joy during the Coronavirus pandemic. She answers questions from across the globe, and offers ways to: talk to your children about their emotions, keep focus during the crisis, and help those working on the front lines. 

Never miss an article or video!

Get notified of every new article or video we publish, when we publish it.

Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Never miss an article or video!

 Get notified of every new article or video we publish, when we publish it.