From Inspiration to Connection: TED Meets Circl.es

In early 2020, TED.com launched a partnership with Circl.es. The Circl.es System™ offers a new way to engage with TED Talks, helping turn inspiration into  action, and routine conversation to meaningful connection, again and again. The Circl.es platform allows people to watch a TED Talk together online, enable a meaningful discussion afterward and then see what develops. 

Everybody has a favorite TED Talk. Whether it’s Ken Robinson’s ideas on creativity, Brene Brown’s deep dive into vulnerability, or the offbeat genius of Ze Frank, with over 2,600 videos and 11 billion views there seems to be a TED Talk for everyone. With that many views, you’d think we’d all be inspired to live our best lives, or at least finally getting around to turning our dreams into realities. However, for many people, inspiration isn’t enough. TED Talks are usually viewed alone, and it can be tough to find an outlet for the wonderful new energy and ideas they give us. Over time, that motivation tends to fade, and we’re back to where we started. 

Circl.es is a one-of-a-kind interface that facilitates conversation and connection…

“I notice that people really feel comfortable using this platform to share. It’s different to the other video call tools that we’ve been using. Circl.es allows us to replicate the actual experience of being together, sitting in a room and talking in a group.” – Stefania Bette, Host

TED Circle

And that feeling, that difference, is by design. Circl.es was built for collaborative peer learning. It’s about more than simply helping people talk online; Circl.es helps people have meaningful conversations online. After delivering program after program, Circl.es baked the best practices into software… the platform’s user-friendly features have been carefully curated to ensure everyone feels part of a productive, inclusive and authentic conversation. It’s unlike the common video call.  

Ting-Ya Liang, a TED Circles host in Taiwan, started hosting as a way of reconnecting with friends. In her experience as a moderator, she’s grateful for the deeper connections and in-depth conversations the platform helps create. She said,

“It’s like I’ve been able to get to know those people again, even after knowing them already for 5-10 years.” – Ting-Ya Liang, Host – Taiwan

It’s exactly that kind of deeper knowing that Alyssa Hampton, TED Circles Program Manager, envisions. In late 2019,  Alyssa found Circl.es, and saw in it a way for her community to connect more deeply. TED Circles did a 3-month pilot, and set up themed monthly content to guide the groups’ hosts. Circl.es provided the process, platform and people to enable the accessible, intentional dialogue that Alyssa wanted for the TED experience. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic forced people into isolation, and human connection became more important than ever before. Usage exploded.

Alyssa recalls how one participant described getting to know a coworker for the first time, even though they’d “known” each other on a surface level for years. So often, we regularly encounter someone without really knowing their amazing ideas or their powerful stories

In 2020, diversity and social justice came to the forefront of global focus. The topic of resilience was scheduled for a June TED Circles discussion, but one host decided to have the talk early. It turned out to be an intense and rewarding experience, deepening understanding and broadening perspectives. The Circl.es System™ provided a psychologically safe space to have the conversation, and the technology designed to foster depth of presence and sharing. 

TED Circles is not only helpful for reconnecting with friends or reaching a deeper level of conversational intimacy, but it could also lead to your next job opportunity. Hannes Gänzler, a host in Germany, credits the platform with helping people network into their next career move.

“It’s great because it sparks great conversations. Quite a few people that have met during TED Circles have then gone and gotten jobs because they have connected with the right people.” – Hannes Gänzler, Host – Germany

Through Circl.es, TED Talks became a shared journey for anyone who wants to grow. The transformational post-talk experience, once only afforded to those who gathered in-person, is accessible at scale. Whether showing up as a host or participant, every person can be part of a profound exchange of ideas and emotions. 

Even when a chosen video doesn’t resonate with everyone, because of deeper conversions that Circles generates, the discussion is still worth it.

“I hosted a session where a couple of people didn’t love the video that we watched, but the participants said at the end that even though they didn’t love what they watched, they still came away having had a great conversation and took something from it. – Jennie Zeiner, Host

It also affords participants the opportunity to discuss topics they might otherwise not engage with…

“I enjoy the fact that so many people get a chance to share their views on a subject that we might not get to discuss on a day to day basis. For example, this week’s topic was resilience – I would never call my friend and ask him how he feels about resilience, but the fact that there’s an actual team structure, talk, and takeaways as well as people sharing their own stories and experiences means that it really works. These sessions are expanding our community without us ever having met each other physically.” – Mukund Hari Nathan, Host – India

What started as a one-off conference turned into a global non-profit that continues to inspire audiences to open their minds to new ideas.

In 2012, Head of TED, Chris Anderson explained,

“It used to be 800 people getting together once a year; now it’s about a million people a day watching TED Talks online. When we first put up a few of the talks as an experiment, we got such impassioned responses that we decided to flip the organization on its head and think of ourselves not so much as a conference but as ‘ideas worth spreading.” – Chris Anderson, Head of TED

Anderson himself started hosting Circles in March. After his first conversation wrapped, he tweeted his reaction to his 1.5 million followers, “I loved this.” Clearly, TED Circles, and the Circl.es platform that enable it, are ideas he thinks are worth spreading.

In a world of physical distance, circles facilitate authentic human connection.

In a circle, 3-12 participants contribute equally, share openly, and push each other to act.

We spent years with academics and practitioners, honing best practices and building a technology platform. Our circles have helped scale peer learning, sustain manager and leadership development, move live training online, onboard new employees, support career development, teach collaboration, and build community.

We’ve been grateful for the support and the referrals from our large corporate partners, schools, and communities who have been hiring us to help design, facilitate and manage Circles programs.

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