TED Talk of the Week: Tim Ferriss

Welcome to our Weekly TED Talk series. We’ll choose a new presentation each week to break down using our presentation concepts from The Big Fish Experience. First, we give you a quick look, followed by more specific insights, and end with some takeaways. Let us know what you think about the speech in the comments, or suggest a TED Talk for us to analyze in a future article.

At a Glance

The Speaker: Tim Ferriss

The Topic: Stoicism and Fear Setting

Who Should Watch and Why: Anyone who is experiencing self-paralysis due to fear. Ferris developed an easy to follow practice to overcome your fears and move forward.

Strengths of the Presentation: Energy Control and Storytelling

The Speaker

Tim Ferriss is an influential tech investor and best-selling writer. His book include The 4-Hour Work Week, and his newest publication, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, a collection of Ferriss’s interviews with some of the most influential and high-level performers. Ferriss is a great speaker, provides actionable advice, and leaves an impression on his audience .

The Topic

“Why you should define your fears instead of your goals.”

Ferriss begins with a story about his closest brush with suicide, which leads to how stoicism helped him change his life. While most people may have heard the term, Ferriss does a great job of explaining the ancient Greek philosophy, which in simple terms is “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.” He utilized this practice to create his big idea, a “recipe for avoiding self-destruction” which he calls “fear setting,” the other side of the coin to goal setting. The practice asks you to define your fear, decide how to prevent the fear from happening, and know how you can repair the results should the fear occur.

Easy Choices, Hard Life. Hard Choices, Easy Life. -Jerzy Gregorek

Who Should Watch and Why

This speech is for anyone who is experiencing self-paralysis due to fears they believe they cannot control. The entire presentation is under fifteen minutes, but is packed with practical advice, delivered with history, modern day examples, and personal story. Ferriss explains how he utilizes his three-step goal setting exercise to make some of his biggest and smallest decisions in life. The strength of this practice is that once you define your fear, know how to prevent what you fear, and understand how to deal with the outcome should you have to, it’s no longer a fear, just another decision or task, like choosing what to eat for lunch or writing an email.

Strengths of the Presentation

As a stoic, Ferriss is a master of controlling his energy. (Check out Chapter 4: Delivery, in The Big Fish Experience, or this article about Tony Robbins) He delivers his ideas with just enough inflection for emphasis, he smiles, and he pauses for affect. This control of energy is a practice in stoicism, but his careful, concise delivery makes his presentation easy to follow and more impactful.

Ferris begins and ends with a story. The first is his experience with suicidal thoughts. Beginning with a story allows the audience to create a personal connection with you. In this case, Ferriss shows how much was a stake, his life, and how he turned those negatives thoughts around. The story he ends with is a profile of a man who has endured more hardships than most anyone, but is a perfect example of stoicism and the power of defining your fears. Stories drive our lives, and that is why they engage audiences.


  • Explain concepts with specific examples
  • Tell a personal story to engage your audience and to define what is at stake
  • Control your energy
  • Make everything about your big idea

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