Ruth’s Top 20 Talks

Today is the 20th anniversary of my entrepreneurial journey. Many of you know I started as a general communications operative and consultant (Speechwriting, PR, Media, Crisis) and made a hard turn into Executive Speech Coaching and Training after I curated and hosted the first TEDxColumbus event in 2009 with Nancy Kramer.


I’ll finally also publicly admit that we quietly retired from “official TEDx” duties last year. (thanks, COVID and life stages!) But after 12 years of coaching over 1,000 TEDx, TED-Like, Science, Innovation, Research, and Leadership experts, I closed my eyes and thought about this:


Which 20 talks and people moved me most?




This list is NOT the best or the most watched (although some do fit into those categories), but the list of people I got to sit down with and watch their journey, see their struggle, celebrate their victory and carry something very profound with me.


For that, I’m forever grateful.


I’ve added a very concise note of WHY these people mattered to me, not just why their message was profound. I don’t expect you to order up this playlist on YouTube (although we have done it for you here) and watch them all, but I do encourage you to find one or two and let them spark you, too.


And for the record, we love our training engagements – teaching storytelling, message method, style and delivery, making your science accessible and more – as much as we love coaching. We reach more people but don’t see the impact first hand as much as we do in our one-to-one coaching.


Speakers who changed my world view.


Casey Brown – She taught me about value, period. “People don’t pay you what you are worth – they pay you what you think you are worth, but you control their thinking.” Not to mention, her talk has the most views of any we’ve published.


James White – In the wake of Ferguson, he kicked off my still-ongoing journey to understanding white privilege and equity. And he did it without judgment or shame. What a gift.


Theresa Flores – She took me to the unthinkable place of someone being human trafficked in a graceful and embracing way. I’ve never cried harder inside a coaching session. And she still remains one of our most powerful and memorable speakers ever.


Decker Moss – I asked questions of Decker I never imagined before:  “So you were a woman dating a woman, now you are a man dating a man? So you were lesbians together, now you are gay men together?”  He was my teacher and gentle guide through a complex world of gender, orientation, and identity. I carry our conversations with me every day.


Speakers who embraced the process 110%, in an almost humbling way.


Debbie Goff – I’ve never worked with someone who nailed a talk so squarely. (And practiced so relentlessly!) And she talked for years after how it opened doors she didn’t think possible.


Lara Mckenzie – After stretching herself to a new style of speaking, she took us with her back to her organization passionate to have all of her colleagues experience the same. We are still at it six years later.


Daron Larson – He worked for several years to earn a spot on the TEDx stage and poured his heart inside and out to produce a remarkable talk. I still see him reflect on the experience to this day.


Yiem Sunbhanich – Yiem came to us just wanting to up his skills and eventually did the same with his story. He dug in like a serious student. And his idea is killing it as a result, because he embraced great storytelling and clarity, not to mention improved delivery and confidence.


Ones who are still changing the world.


Donte Woods-Spikes – Donte talks about how he never thought he’d be chosen for a talk, and now he’s taken the confidence into teaching and publishing a first book. I generously got a nod in his book preface. Not worthy, but deeply grateful.


Cindy Foley – She came to the stage with that crisp and provocative point of view that the world needed then, and now, about creativity, art, and education. She’s one of the top three most viewed talks, one worthy of watching again and again.


Marshall Shorts –  Another needed provocative view, Marshall’s confidence on the stage has only been accelerated in his relentless and positive pursuit to raise black voices, start ups, ideas, and ventures.


And there are so many more, but these three stand out to me.


The one who left a hole in my heart.


Jennifer Kempton – There isn’t enough space to explain the heartache we felt both in working with her through her story, seeing her strength, and then losing her tragically within the year. I’ll just leave it there.


Speakers I want to forget.


I told you this was a list of my top 20 times I felt something profound, right? Not all of them were happy. Some were a little off-kilter, but great lessons. No names used, of course, just behaviors.


The one who insisted he was a $50,000 keynote speaker, and didn’t need coaching. He was also the one who was given 10 minutes to speak, instead took 18 and sounded ego-maniacal the whole time. Cringe defining.


The one who didn’t sign the speaker release waiver fully, because he didn’t own the rights to the critical video content inside the talk. It turned out it was the most important part of the talk, and as a result, we couldn’t post it at all. What a frustrating loss.


The one who called me in to tell me why we were flat wrong in not choosing them for the TEDx stage. In doing so, threw all the other speakers under the bus. Please people, don’t ever, ever do that. Your time will come.


The one who didn’t know they went 13 minutes over because they were deep inside a rabbit hole of an emotional story and couldn’t pull out. I’d say that was top three most awkward conversations I’ve had to have with a speaker, explaining we couldn’t post a 31-minute talk. It all worked out with some very careful editing. (Phew).


The one who presented with some very odd planning and processing behaviors in preparing a talk at an inside company event. These are moments when you say “things I didn’t need to see…” because you know they probably won’t end well for that person’s career. And indeed, we were sadly right.


My top TED teaching go-tos. (Not our clients, we wish!)


This also might be the answer to what are your favorite talks… (that list is too long but these would be at the top).


Susan Cain – For her storytelling (the suitcase!) and teaching on introversion. As an extrovert, I needed this and recommend it all the time for others like me.


Brene Brown (her first one)  – I just love how it was a TEDx event that found her first! And she presented a research talk with no graphs or slides, how much I embrace that. And so much more.


Bryan Stevenson – I watched his first talk live at TEDActive and still remember leaning next to a friend saying, “He’s going to get a VERY big standing ovation” during the middle of the talk. (Hello, grandmother chat in the backyard.) And – he indeed had the longest standing ovation of any speaker. IYKYK. If you don’t – go watch it.


Eli Parsier – (First talk, Filter Bubbles) – He gave his talk in 2012, and I’ve reverse engineered it for training audiences ever since. Concise, compelling, both story and data rich. And probably more relevant today than back then.


Okay, that was 21. Since technically, it’s a 20th anniversary of 21 calendar years – right? And there were at least 20 more I wanted to include. You know who you are!

Thanks to all the speakers who have allowed us to deliver transparent, direct and authentic coaching over the years. We have undoubtedly grown up together.