The Worst TED Talk I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve known of a TED talk for quite awhile, but never took the time to actually watch it. Until now. This TED talk, “The perils of unconventional aircraft design: Snorri Gudmundsson at TEDxEmbryRiddle”, is by far the worst I have ever seen. It’s easy to rag on a poor talk, but this can serve as an important lesson into what not to do when giving a presentation. With that said, let’s talk about what went wrong.

1. The Title

From the title alone, you know that this is not going to be an inspirational talk. Talks don’t always have to be inspirational, but a lecture on not deviating from the norm is not appropriate for this kind of event. This setting is a TEDx talk, and their catchphrase is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. As a scientist, I have to believe that encouraging everyone to never try anything new is by no means an idea worth spreading.

2. The Examples

Now, unconventional aircraft design has led to some serious issues in the past. However, Gudmundsson fails to mention a single one. He uses textbook examples, such as the NASA blended wing body. It may be the de facto textbook representation of the original, but it has never been flown or even built for that matter.

Instead, he pulled a single example of a real-life flying plane, a B-2 Spirit bomber. That is an exceptionally performing aircraft. The B-2 is capable of a range of more than 13,000 miles. That’s insane! They may be incredibly expensive, but they’re still in service, so I guess the military still has no quarrels with well-done unconventional designs. Worse, towards the end of the presentation, he briefly notes of the “this actually has very promising characteristics”.

These example makes me want to do the opposite of what he says, which defeats the purpose of the presentation.

3. The Structure

Instead, his time could have been so much better spent briefly touching on when poorly-designed unconvential aircraft. There are so many great examples of bad examples. The homebuilt market is particularly plagued with aeronautical engineers pushing a wild-looking craft to market without proper testing while simultaneously claiming outstanding performance gains.

Consider the BD-5 or perhaps the Mini-IMP, which both had a unique pusher arrangement. Forgetting the aeronautics (pushers are more efficient), that drive assembly is complicated and specially produced. Further, pushers always have problems operating from unimproved runways. Also, the BD-5’s poor choice of an unconventional airfoil killed many “wannabe” fighter pilots.

He could have mentioned how Burt Rutan’s pusher canards were incredibly successful in the homebuilt market and were relatively safe by avoiding stalls. More importantly, he could discuss how the majority of lift in such a design has to be produced by the poor little canard, which produces a very large amount of drag, counteracting the use of a laminar airfoil in the main wing. Perhaps he could discuss how the higher landing speeds adversely affected your survival chances in an off-field landing after an engine failure.

These are points that can be understood without a degree in engineering.

4. The Timing

Gudmundsson has a lot of setup. Actually, he has way too much setup. In fact, for this 17 minute presentation, he finally talks about airplanes after more than six minutes! When planning a setup, one has to think about the minimum information needed to present your material while considering the background possessed by your audience.

At around the 14:30 mark, he notes, “I’m running out of time.” Yes, he’s running out of time because he exhausted his time limit on the setup and the first example. He then proceeds to skip through a lot his slides and says, “you’ll have to read this quickly”. Simply put: it’s incredibly unprofessional. It’s pretty clear he didn’t even practice once to get a rough idea of his timing.


Practice. Know how to alot your time. Focus on what you are trying to persuade your audience and stick with it. Don’t be like that guy!