As I write this post, my TED Lesson on How Interpreters Juggle Two Languages at Once has been viewed nearly 800,000 times.
In an animated video that is barely five minutes long, the lesson sheds light on an insanely stressful occupation most people know nothing about. The TED lesson makes viewers aware of the key role played by conference interpreters in brokering peace. Exposing a miscommunication incident from the Cold War days, the piece also reveals how interpreters work behind the scenes to prevent the escalation of a conflict. Finally, it unlocks the secrets these professionals learn after years of training and real-time exposure to world leaders and events of historic significance.
It is my most successful piece of writing to date, and the one carrying the most impact. It was subtitled into as many as 136 languages, which will likely fuel further penetration among non-English speakers. I think it safe to predict that at least a million people will have watched it in the next two months.
Yet as tempted as I am to attribute its success to my superior writing skills and prestige, that is not entirely so.
I have since authored a second TED Lesson, about Magellan’s epic circumnavigation of the Earth and how his interpreter, Enrique, beat everyone else on that race around the globe. That one got 300K views and counting. You can watch it here:
Landing Your Own TED Lesson
A TED-Ed lesson combines the power of words, sound, color and movement, basically engaging one’s every sense. Laden with relevant information and loads of rigorously verified facts, a TED lesson aims at tapping into another sense shared only by humans: the sense of humor. The videos are truly fun to watch.
TED-Ed’s greatest strength, however, lies in the power of collaboration and in how their team brings people together. First off, they make it easy for anyone with ‘an idea worth sharing’ — and the will to share it — to nominate themselves as educators and pitch a project online. Yes. That includes you!
If found worthy, the idea is discussed further over a few interviews, and the educator gets to write the script. At that point, a number of other professionals jump on the band wagon with the author and the magic of synergistic collaboration begins. A fact-checker will review the text for accuracy and concision, to ensure it complies with the 650-word limit and that any boisterous claims are backed by factual evidence.
Once the script is locked, the team is enlarged by the addition of a narrator, an animation director, an artist and a sound designer. And while TED gets to pick those professionals based on their track record, the author is consulted at every step of the way and has a say in most changes, be them cosmetic or substantive.
As in any synergistic endeavor, the whole is way more than the sum of the parts. I was humbled to acknowledge that a few of the dates and places I had indicated were inaccurate (reality check on my penchant for the generic). I also learned that writing for animation is different than drafting an article or column. When the images tell half of the story, the words need not be so prolific (a hard blow to my proverbial long-windedness).
TED’s network reaches into the millions, and will naturally amplify any message that speaks to people’s minds and hearts. TED has also mastered a seamless and extremely effective method of collaboration, where everybody shares generously, and everybody is eager to learn from one another.
The experience drove an important point home, which I will summarize by paraphrasing an old African proverb:
If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far… be sure to get on TED-Ed.
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