Tim Ferriss + TED Talk…What Could Go Wrong?

Matt KramerPublic Speaking2 Comments

relatable ted talk tactical talks tim ferriss public speaking

I'm pretty accommodating when it comes to just about everything. Over the years I've endured some pretty bad movies, teachers, and uncomfortable situations only to describe them as, "not so bad."

In other words, I'm not much of critic. Rarely a harsh one.

Sometimes, though, there comes a time when you just gotta call things out like you see 'em. 

I recently watched Tim Ferriss’s TED Talk called Smash Fear, Learn Anything.


I’m sad to say this, but I'm sorry I did. I think the title was misleading because I didn't learn anything, and the only thing I wanted to smash was my computer screen. 


I read his book The 4-Hour Workweek before watching his TED Talk and the book had some good stuff. In fact, I was actually looking forward to his talk!

He’s even a good fundamental speaker in my eyes. He appears comfortable and confident, body language is good, articulate, pacing of his words is nice...

I mean, he wanders a bit, looks at the floor often, and could add some contrast to his volume at times, but other than that, a pretty good controlled speaker when it comes to the mechanics.


But something he completely lacked which is of HUGE importance, he didn’t relate to the audience...AT ALL.


The message I took from his speech was “Look at what I did! Look what I can do! Look at me dammit!”


He seems to be very accomplished, very intelligent, and definitely adds value to the world. Heck, I don’t even care that he’s struttin’ his stuff, he’s earned it. But, if you want to get your message through to your audience, you’d better bring yourself down a notch closer to reality and relate to them in some way.


Well, I take that back, he did show a picture of himself as a child. I guess we were all kids at one point, right? Oh yeah, and he had a traumatic experience with water and a bully which is not uncommon for children. So, a couple of small elements.


But there was no balance. It was 5% “I’m on your level” and 95% “I’m a genius.”


I didn’t feel the struggle that I’m sure he absolutely did endure to learn the lessons he attempted to deliver.


It was the equivalent to this story I just made up:

A kid goes to the store to buy a candy bar, goes to the counter to buy it, and finds out he's short a few cents. “Ah, shucks!” the kid says. He starts to walk away empty handed when he hears some jingling in his pocket. He reaches into his right-front pocket and finds the exact amount he was short. Buys the candy and life is good.




Not much of a struggle, right?


That’s my point. 

At least that story had some hope and wonder in it!


He could have added an anecdote or two about how he is a dummy just like the rest of us, tone down super-human abilities, and how it was perseverance or at least that he struggled a bit more until he found the “secret.”

The other thing about this talk is that he said a whole lot (too many unnecessary details), but didn't give many (if anyactionable steps for the audience to take home and apply to their lives.

I like the idea of conquering fear more than most, especially of public speaking, but that isn't the message that I took from the talk.

I got a few random examples of things Tim did like swimming, dancing, learning Japanese and even actual tidbits of technical information about each one of those activities (not sure how that helps with conquering fear, though).

I suppose those were his fears and now he has conquered them? I guess, if I were to give him the benefit of the doubt, the message would be to do what you fear? That could have been summed up in a sentence and a single story.  


My guess is that the majority of the people in the audience felt overwhelmed and maybe even left thinking “I’ll never be that good”—a sense of hopelessness rather than hope.


Again, I believe he really did struggle and work hard to become the sharp fellow that he is now. And power to him.


All I’m sayin’ is he would've had a better TED Talk by making a couple of adjustments:

  1. Be relatable and less "ME" focused
  2. Have a CLEAR message and call to action that the audience can actually use to improve their lives

Please share this post to save all future TED Talks!!!


About this guy...


Matt Kramer - Tactical Talks - Public Speaking

Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life. In less than a year since, I’ve started this website, Tactical Talks, competed and won 3 separate public speaking contests, wrote a book, and spoke at one of the top universities in southern California (SDSU).

And look, I’m not telling you this to “show off.” My purpose is to show you that it’s possible to start doing the things that YOU want to do. And that’s my goal. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.


  • Bill Burns says:

    Good points, Matt. Individually, each of his stories is a great one: fascinating, inspiring, all those things. But I agree that in the context of the whole presentation, I would have recommended using a little less detail and adding more application. (As a presentation coach myself, I learned this mantra the hard way: “It’s not about your metaphor, it’s about your message.”) I’ve noticed that some very successful people who are naturally good speakers often seem to fall into that trap: their stories are so compelling that they become the meat of the presentation, with only a final application comment like, “So be more courageous/creative/attentive. Thanks very much.” As a result, they miss the opportunity to inspire the audience to become successful themselves. That’s my goal: have people come in one way, and leave another: inspired, encouraged, changed for the better in their views of themselves, not me.
    Thanks for writing!

    • Matt says:

      I agree with how they just sort of sprinkle in some call to action at the end. “Uhhh, my time is up…Get out there and do stuff!”

      That’s a solid goal you have. Many speakers could benefit from it!