Tips & Resources

Inspiring Talks and Content Platforms for Undergraduate Students

Besides academic achievement, many undergraduate students are preoccupied with their future and developing a life vision. For this it is often useful to learn about others’ experiences and successes, so Al-Fanar Media has researched a list of free video resources and content platforms.

We start with a sampling of talks from the popular TED and TEDx conferences that we think students will find inspiring and beneficial, both to cultivate their cognitive skills and to enrich their lives.

TED (“technology, entertainment and design”) began in 1984 as an annual conference in Monterey, California. Today, it sponsors series of talks that try to cover almost all topics. The TED platform has a library of more than 4,000 talks available in nearly 100 different languages with content it hopes will inspire ideas around the world.

The related TEDx movement features smaller, local and regional conferences that are independently organised under license from TED.

Many of the talks we suggest are in Arabic and are from recent TEDx events at universities in the Arab world.

Think Outside the Box

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Ahmed Al-Asad, a management expert and trainer, started his talk at a TEDx event at the University of Jordan in October with this quote from Steve Jobs, the late chief executive of the Apple technology company. Jobs’ point was that he believed that daring to think “outside the box” could lead to real, radical change in the world.

Al-Asad said he believed this could be achieved by persisting, not being frustrated by failure, confronting mind-sets which discourage new experiences, and making the best use of available resources.

The Decision Making Dehliz’

Omneya Kandil, a fifth-year medical student at Egypt’s Alexandria University, gave this talk at a TedX event at the university in February. Speaking on successful decision-making strategies, she pointed out five common mistakes that stop the mind from making the best decision:

  • Believing that the first information we receive is correct and the reference for all subsequent information.
  • Giving undue weight to bad information because our minds find it more memorable.
  • Exaggerating the influence of new information when choosing from multiple options.
  • Perceiving reality as a single harmonious bloc, pushing the mind to reach conclusions based on incomplete or distorted data.
  • Thinking too much about the privileges you will lose if you make one decision rather than another. This can make you try to distort the choices you will abandon.

How Reading Books Changed My Life

In this talk at a TEDx event at Palestine’s Birzeit University in October, Mohamed Sawan explained how reading books had changed his life. He gave an example of a true story he used to hear as a child about how reading books led one American child towards academia and learning and eventually becoming a famous surgeon. Sawan linked that child’s story to his own experience, describing how reading had made him a better person. It helped him learn how to address an audience and memorise information easily because reading activates specific areas of the brain. These assets have helped him enormously in his career, he said.

Self-Learning Is the Future

In one inspiring TEDx Talk, also from the TEDx Birzeit event in October, Sewar Isaid, a child, spoke about the value of self-learning’, and how the effects of Covid-19 had increased the need for this type of learning. Sewar talked about how she had learnt about many subjects during the lockdowns the pandemic imposed by searching for information on the Internet. This new knowledge gave her independence and self-confidence, she said.

The Art of Communicating Information

In this talk, from a TEDx event at Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal University last May, Omar Zahir, a presenter of medical explanations on social networking sites, discussed the best ways to communicate information. His insights include:

  • Work on explaining something well rather than simply relaying source information.
  • Give easy, clear examples free of complex scientific and academic terms.
  • Keep a logical sequence when presenting ideas, to Make a subject easy to understand and memorise.
  • Link new concepts to ideas with which the audience is already familiar.

Humanitarian Volunteering and Its Importance

In her talk at a TEDx event at Arab East College, in Riyadh, Deema Al-Wohaibi, a Saudi hospital dentist, described the rewards she had found from humanitarian volunteering – giving her time to help others. She told the audience about the moral rewards her volunteer work in different parts of the world had given her, how it had helped her succeed in her career as a dentist, and how she would always continue to volunteer, no matter what the difficulties.

What Do Top Students Do Differently?

This talk, in English, was given at a 2014 TEDx [email protected] conference, in Estonia. In it, Douglas Barton, founder of the company Elevate Education, which specialises in student and school improvement, highlighted the habits, techniques and practices of top-performing students.

It’s a common misconception that the students who get top marks are simply smarter or work harder, he said. Instead, he said, his company has found that a small set of skills that can be taught to all students are more important than IQ or just hard work to improve school results.

These include self-motivation, self-discipline and resilience. For example, top students do as many practice exams as possible. They know how to reduce distractions like social media. And they know how to pick themselves up and start over after a disappointing result.

The Art of Asking

In this TED Talk from 2013, Amanda Palmer, an American singer-songwriter, describes how she managed to get huge financial funding from her fans to produce her own music.

Palmer relates how creating random moments of closeness with people was the secret of her success. She worked on building individual links with her fans so that they would trust her and her work, which made them feel involved and ready to help her.

Platforms with Inspiring Content

There are plenty of other platforms that aim to provide inspiring content. Here are some suggestions.

IdeaCity. This platform offers 1,000 speakers from different fields. There are talks by authors, environmentalists, musicians, inventors, and others who have taken part in IdeaCity’s annual conferences in Toronto, Canada, organised by Tajik born Canadian media executive Moses Znaimer. All their talks are on the platform’s YouTube channel.

Big Think. This multimedia web portal presents short video interviews with experts and conversations among thinkers on topics like “Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?” and “Will true AI turn against us?” The goal is to help viewers explore new ways of living and working, and understand the world around them.

The Do Lectures. This platform started as an ideas event in Wales, and has now held events across America and Australia. It has over 380 talks online by people who talk about inspiring experiences and ideas. Speakers are not required to be specialists, just to be able to convey an experience that can add a new dimension to the audience’s view of life. The platform describes them as “doers – disruptors and change makers, experts and pioneers – (who) share their stories to encourage you to go and do amazing things too.

Behance–99U. Behance is a platform of the Adobe software company, and 99U is an annual conference organized by Adobe. The conference presents speakers, master classes and workshops by leaders in the creative professions. Sessions are designed to help creative people implement their own ideas. Videos of all events are available on the Behance platform.

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