How you (yes you) can take your “normal” ideas, discover an inspiring TED Talk within you, get a TED Talk, then get more opportunities and prestige than you thought possible. All this year.
Hey, I’m Ryan, and I started a TEDx event in 2015. I help people like you unlock a TEDx Talk that connects with the audience, get selected to speak at a TED Talks event, then get a flood of opportunities from their TED Talk. I created this guide to answer your biggest questions and help you see the entire process from start to finish.
(If you’re well-versed in how TED and TEDx works and just want to know how to apply to events, check out my post on how to apply to how to apply to speak at a TEDx event or how to speak at a TEDxWomen event)
I’ll also show you a behind-the-scenes peek at the event organizers and what they want, the most common myths about doing a TED Talk, and a ton of insider secrets so you’re irresistible to events
Even if you don’t have a topic or a unique angle on your ideas yet, you’re not sure if you’re ready, or you’re not sure if you’re experienced enough, this guide is for you. Check out the whole thing. By the end, you’ll be confident about the whole process.
This guide is for…
- Ambitious professionals, who want to get a TED Talk to land their dream job, build an audience and network of people around the world, and skyrocket their impact
- Business owners and entrepreneurs, who want to get a TED Talk to become sought-after experts or recognized thought leaders, land lucrative paid speaking or consulting opportunities, and grow their business
- Speakers, authors, or coaches, who want to use a TED Talk to get a flood of clients and boost their credibility
- Artists and creatives, who want to get a TED Talk to grow awareness for their art, grow their audience and sell more at premium prices
- People trying to change the world, who want to do a TED Talk to reach a wider audience and inspire millions
For example, lawyers, engineers, personal trainers, bloggers, chefs, dance choreographers, doctors, and teachers have all done TED Talks. The most successful people in your field have either done a TED Talk or would envy you if you did one.The most successful people in your field have either done a TED Talk or would envy you if you did one.Click To Tweet
In this free guide, you’ll learn…
- How you can go out and GET a TED Talk, rather just waiting for someone to discover you
- 12 absurdly common myths about TED Talks (you don’t need more speaking experience…and 11 more)
- 6 life-changing opportunities your TED Talk can bring you
- Why a TED Talk is the best way to gain credibility, raise awareness for your business, and become a sought-after expert in your field
- Why you’re better off doing a TED Talk now rather than waiting to feel “ready” or “more experienced”
- Your 12-month Roadmap to do a TED Talk This Year (a month-by-month plan including screenshots and insider tips so you can see exactly how it’s done and what I recommend)
- How to choose a great TED Talks topic that inspires the audience, makes your talk go viral, and makes you a sought-after expert (even if you don’t have any ideas or have too many ideas)
- How to do a little upfront brainstorming and get opportunities coming to you for YEARS after your TED Talk.
I’ll share with you several free tools you can use to find an incredible TED Talks topic inside you and find specific events to speak at so that you know how to get started.
This is a very comprehensive guide (11,000 words…a 55 minute read time), but I wrote it in a way that’s easy to read and work through. If you’d rather get it as a PDF to read later, enter your email below.asdf
Once you’re done, you’ll be ready with a full understanding of how to get a TED Talk, including a complete action plan for how to do a TED Talk this year.
Let’s dive in.
- What are TED Talks?
- Why a TED Talk is the best way to become a recognized thought leader or sought-after expert
- Why you can get a TED Talk this year
- 12 Myths about TED Talks
- What kind of people should NOT do a TED Talk?
- What kind of people should do a TED Talk?
- Get an Edge with these Insider Secrets about TED and TEDx
- What TEDx Event Organizers Secretly Want
- Some TEDx Events are Better Than Others (and Why it Matters)
- Why TEDx Events Prefer Local Speakers
- Your 12-month Action Plan to Get a TED Talk
- Frequently Asked Questions
TED started in California in 1984 to bring together the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The purpose of TED was (and is) to share great ideas with the world from a variety of fields. TED is an invite-only event.
TED decided to take its most popular talks and publish them online in 2006 so that anyone in the world could watch and share them.
The first TEDx event was held in 2009. TEDx events are independently-run (which means organizers are not employees of TED, but still must uphold TED rules for the event and talks). TEDx events have been held in 166 countries around the world, and more than 4,500 TEDx events happen annually (12 every day!). The popularity of TED Talks has since exploded and today, they have been viewed over 1 billion times.
Everyone important to your future success watches TED Talks: your boss’s boss, the CEO of the company you want to work for, your industry’s biggest influencers, the customer you’re trying to land, journalists at the New York Times, and Barack Obama. When you do a TED Talk, you’ll showcase your ideas to the smartest people in the world. There is no other platform like it.
When people try to make a breakthrough to the next level of credibility, there’s the popular (i.e.: prohibitively competitive) way that used to be new and lucrative, and there’s the slightly-more-difficult (i.e.: much less popular; therefore, less competitive) way.
Some people try to post content on Facebook/LinkedIn, on their blog, or YouTube to raise awareness for their message and gain a following. Social media and blogging is an approach recommended by many business experts. Why? It’s accessible. Anyone can start a blog or a Facebook page with a few clicks, whether they’re a beginner or expert.
People would notice your blog post when blogging first began. Today, there are 1.97 million blog posts published each day. Standing out in a crowd of almost 2 million is an uphill battle. You’re competing for attention with anyone that feels like starting a blog. Yikes.
Write a Book
Some other people publish books. A book is longer-form content than a blog, so readers have time to digest more of your ideas. In the early days of printing, books used to be exclusive, but Amazon has given rise to an army of self-published authors that add 5,000 books to the site daily. If you’re one in 5,000 daily, is being an author the mark of prestige it once was?
Networking Your way up the Value Chain
Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about networking – people want to talk to interesting people that have done cool things. The first step in networking isn’t “hand out business cards and send pitch emails”, it’s “do something (like a TED Talk), then share that value with people”. Networking with something cool to talk about is 100x easier. When you do a TED Talk, people pitch you. They want to network with you. They connect you with the most influential people they know because they know you’re legit.
TED Talks – the Holy Grail
A TED Talk is the ultimate credibility marker. Despite the popularity of TED Talks, it’s still rare to do a TED Talk compared to other ways to gain exposure. There are only 30 TED Talks published each day worldwide.1.97 million blog posts and 5000 books published daily, but there are only 30 #TEDTalks published each day worldwide.Click To Tweet
When TED publishes your talk, tens of millions of the smartest people in the world will be waiting to watch it. It’s the ultimate endorsement of your credibility.
If you publish a blog post today, you’re one in 1.97 million. You’ll compete with low-value (and highly advertised) Buzzfeed clickbait, hustling for a few viewers. If you publish a book today, you’re one in 5,000 authors in the rat race struggling to make it above a few hundred sales each year. If you publish a TED Talk today, you’re one in 30 worldwide, with an audience of CEOs, entrepreneurs, political leaders, major media, and influencers hanging off your every word.
Then, your TED Talk will cause people to read your blog posts, buy your book, and connect you with top influencers because you’ve now become one yourself.
A TED Talk is one of the best ways to demonstrate credibility, raise awareness for your knowledge, get prestige, and become a sought-after expert in your field.
There are many benefits you can get as a result of your TED Talk. For example:
- Your first major book deal or a long-term boost in book sales
- Unsolicited job offers for your dream job
- Getting featured in national media (e.g.: TV, top-end podcasts, major websites)
- A flood of customers for your business
- Lucrative paid speaking opportunities in exotic locations
- A global audience and network of the smartest people in the world
In short, if opportunities grew on trees, a TED Talk would be your tree. Do a TED Talk once, get opportunities for life.
Here are some case studies of how real people like you have benefited from their TED Talk.
Roger Frampton is an English fashion model and trainer, had no blogging experience, and no prior paid speaking experience. He was working to grow his personal training business and in 2015 spoke at TEDxLeamingtonSpa. His talk amassed an incredible 1.5 million views after only the first year. He then had 3 book agents approach him and suggest he write a book, which led to a book deal.
Roger has booked his first paid speaking engagement as a result of the success of his TED Talk, and his success with the talk continues to grow.
Simon Sinek was a leadership consultant. Then, he did a talk at TEDxPugetSound in 2009, then TED invited him to speak in 2014. His talk led to his book, Start With Why (2009), then 2 more books. His speaking fee is now $100,000 for a single talk, and by 2015, his net worth had topped $15 million.
Dr.Brené Brown was a vulnerability researcher at the University of Houston. She did her first TED Talk at TEDxHouston in 2010, which was then followed by a talk at TEDxKC, then at TED in 2012. As a result, she published her book, Daring Greatly, in 2012 which sold more than 1 million copies. Since then she has published 2 other books. Her speaking fee is now $30,000 – $50,000.
“As a result of my TED Talk, I have booked paid speaking opportunities, more workshop clients, and more corporate consulting. All told, it has been worth about $50,000 in the last 2 years alone.”
Action Step: Now that you know the opportunities that can come from your TED Talk…why do you want to do one? Take a minute to think about (or write down) your answers to these questions:
- What 3 specific opportunities you’d like next year as a result of your TED Talk? (e.g.: get featured in Inc magazine? Get flown to Paris and earn $5000 for a speaking engagement? A new job or promotion?)
- What hero or thought leader would you like to meet in 3 years time (e.g.: Oprah Winfrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michelle Obama)?
- What 3 specific opportunities would you like in 5 years? (e.g.: get featured in the 40 under 40? Publish a New York Times Bestselling book?)
You may be thinking it’ll be tough to do a TED Talk, or you’re not sure if you’re ready yet, or if it’s smart to fit in right now. In fact, there are fewer barriers than you think, and you might be more ready now than you expect.
There are many myths about TED Talks, due to the few number of people that have done one. Here are the biggest myths I hear most often:
Myth #1: I don’t have an amazing idea or unique angle
You’re right. But you’re assuming you don’t already have an idea in your head, that you’d know it when you see it, and that you can’t find and develop a unique angle in a matter of weeks or months (let alone years). You’re overvaluing the idea, but undervaluing the process. You’re assuming you have nothing to provide without even trying.
One of my favorite articles is The Myth of the Great Idea. Here’s an excerpt:
“The myth of The Great Idea is a dangerous one. It makes you constantly search and search for something that you’ll probably never find…How many of you know an older person (maybe a parent?) who is always tinkering and muttering about the Great Idea he wants to find?
Success almost never comes from a mind-blowing idea, so sitting around trying to find one is a waste of time. Success comes from a basic idea executed amazingly well. Ideas are rarely found by thinking. They’re found by doing.”-Ramit Sethi
The point is this – great things don’t come to be because the idea is amazing. Amazing things often start as simple ideas (e.g.: “why don’t we make a website to sell things online?”). What matters is the execution. Waiting for a GREAT idea and ignoring the value of execution keeps you stuck forever.
Your idea is the same. There are simple frameworks I can teach you (in Unlock Your TED Talk) to uncover and evaluate ideas then choose one for a TED Talk. These frameworks help you see your knowledge with fresh eyes, the way others that are inexperienced in your field see them. To you, your ideas seem simple and unoriginal, but that’s because you think about them all day. Of course, they’re simple to you.
And you know what? You’ve got unique perspectives on the world. Some of them are not good for a TED Talk (like your opinion on crunchy peanut butter), but some of them can make a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand people think in a different way. And people can’t WAIT for you to show them a new way of thinking about the world.
Myth #2: Only professional/motivational speakers can get a TED Talk
It’s fine if you’re not a professional speaker and don’t have any interest in a career in public speaking. In fact, TED says the opposite. TED Talks are not a platform for professional speakers.
Instead, it’s a platform for people that don’t often have one (like you). That said if you’re a professional speaker or motivational speaker you CAN apply for a TED Talk.
A lot of speakers that do TED Talks are good speakers, but most of them aren’t professional speakers. Many TEDx events provide speaker coaching to help non-professional speakers prepare. Many talks are motivating in nature because the speaker’s ideas connect well with the audience (more on how to do this later).
If you do want to break into paid speaking, a TED Talk is a credible way to demonstrate your speaking skills and your message.
Myth #3: I don’t have enough speaking experience
Many TED Talk speakers haven’t had a lot of experience. In fact, one of the most popular TED Talks ever is from a 17-year-old speaker. I bet you’ve got more speaking experience than she does, and she did an amazing job. TED even provides a waiver form for under 18 speakers because this is so common.
What matters much more than your speaking experience is your idea. Does the audience love it? If they do, they’ll forgive many speaking mishaps because they’ll want to understand what you’re saying. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how good of a speaker you are. TED themselves even focuses on ideas in their slogan:
More on how to find a great idea hidden inside what you already know later in the guide.
Myth #4: Events have to invite me to speak…so I’ll wait to get lucky
This is partly true. Some events do discover speakers then invite them to speak (about 10-15%) and some speakers apply to events proactively. Those that get invited perpetuate the myth that this is the ONLY way. This is the big issue with listening to speakers that have done TED Talks – they know only how they got a TED Talk, not how anyone can get a TED Talk.
That said, sometimes my students feel like they need to wait to get discovered because they’re nervous about pursuing a TED Talk. They’re not sure if they’re ready, they’re afraid to look bad on stage, and they’re afraid to fail. They hope that someday, someone will come along and offer them a TED Talk, and that’ll mean that they’re “good enough”. That way, they can’t get rejected.
If this is how you’re feeling, I know it’s tough. There’s a voice inside of you that tries to keep you from doing things you could fail at. It tries you keep you safe, but often this inner voice prevents you from pursuing the life you want. You don’t have to do a TED Talk before you’re ready, but it is an amazing opportunity. And you can pursue this opportunity. You’ll feel ready by the end of this guide, I promise.
Myth #5: TED Talks are only for people with a big platform or a bestselling book
Yes, there are well-known speakers that do TED Talks. That said, you likely haven’t heard of 99% of TED Talks speakers. Some of our speakers had small followings. Only about 30% have books and about 25% don’t have websites or social media accounts at all (let alone a big following). A following or a bestselling book is never a bad thing, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
Some people become more well-known as a result of their TED Talk (e.g.: Simon Sinek or Brene Brown). You don’t have to be famous to do a TED Talk.
Myth #6: You need to have an inspirational story
Some TED Talks speakers have a story how they climbed Mount Everest in flip-flops while 8 months pregnant to raise money for the time machine they invented…these speakers are rare. In fact, one of the most famous TED Talks of all time doesn’t have any of the speaker’s stories at all. Instead, Simon Sinek shares stories from other people.
There are speakers that do demonstrations, talk about technological inventions, share a performance, and more. Later in the guide, I’ll show you the best type of TED Talk for you depending on whether you want to share a performance, have a simple idea, a big idea, are an artist, and so on.
Myth #7: A TED Talk is 18min long…I can’t talk for that long!
Nope again. TED Talks are a maximum of 18 minutes long. There is no minimum. In fact, TED maintains a list of 3-minute TED Talks. Event organizers prefer MUCH shorter talks. With a fixed-length event, a short talk is easier to fit into the program, and it helps the audience’s energy to have talks of varied length.
It also helps your long-term results as a speaker to have a short talk. It’s VERY difficult to keep an online viewer’s attention. Instead, many viewers either avoid watching long talks in the first place or stop watching part way through (ask any YouTuber). Wouldn’t you rather your viewers saw your entire talk than stopped part way through?
Aim for a short talk. 8-10 minutes is plenty. Remember, you’re not sharing your entire life’s work, you’re leaving people with one idea.
Myth #8: Events happen only once a year in Vancouver. There isn’t one near me.
Nope. There are 4 TED events every year (TED, TEDWomen, TEDGlobal, TEDYouth) and about 4,500 TEDx events in 166 countries. Many of these have quality almost indistinguishable from that of TED. There are a variety of event themes to fit any topget ic. He’s a detailed strategy on finding TEDx speaking opportunities near you.
Myth #9: The quality of TEDx events sucks. It’s not worth it unless you speak at TED
Some TEDx events are poor quality, yes. Both the production quality (stage design, video quality, photography) and speaker quality varies between events. That said, some events have high-quality production almost on par with TED and attract phenomenal speakers. As an example of a great talk, check out this talk by Nick Gray at TEDxFoggyBottom:
Nick has earned $50,000 over the last 2 years as a result of this TED Talk, through paid speaking, consulting, and new customers for his business. Not bad.
Not every TEDx event is like this, so that’s why it’s important to pick the right event and work hard on a talk that connects with the audience (discussed later). If you do, the video quality will be high, and the in-person and online audiences will connect with your message, both of which will get you the long-term results you want.
There are even reasons to specifically target TEDx events (instead of TED, at least for now):
- TED gets more than 25,000 applications to speak every year for 100 opportunities. A typical TEDx event gets 50-250 for around 10-15 spots. So, speaking at a TEDx event is 10-50x easier.
- Speaking at TEDx helps your chances to speak at TED. TED reviews every TEDx talk video and reserves speaking slots for past TEDx speakers.
- Most people that love “TED Talks” think of a speaker that has spoken at a TEDx event as having “done a TED Talk”. TED and TEDx are equivalent to most people. For proof of this, check out the comments on any TEDx YouTube video for the praise of the speaker’s “TED Talk”. If most of your audience doesn’t care, why should you?
- The audience and online following for a TEDx event live locally. That means your local exposure and credibility will be much higher than if you were to speak at TED. If you want opportunities (jobs, media, customers) in your region, TEDx is much more potent than TED due to the concentration of local viewers.
Aiming for a TED Talk without speaking at a TEDx event first is like refusing to compete in athletics unless you’re at the Olympics. It’s almost impossible, and lots of athletes are very successful without ever competing in the Olympics. Same goes for TED and TEDx.
Myth #10: I’ll just organize an event and speak at that…
This breaks TED’s rules for TEDx events. If you are an event organizer, you are not allowed to speak at your event. Even if TED allowed this, do you want to take time and energy away from creating a great talk by also organizing an entire conference? This will result in a sub-par talk (and sub-par results for your talk), which defeats your goal in the first place.
Myth #11: I’ll do a TED Talk later in my career. I’ll have more experience then and my ideas will be more developed…
This assumes you can do only one TED Talk in your life. What if you do one now, which then raises your credibility, allows you more opportunities to expose your thinking and hone it further, so your second (or third) TED Talk is even better (like Brené Brown, Derek Sivers, Tim Ferriss, Simon Sinek, and countless others have done).
There are very few opportunities that are once-in-a-lifetime. Great athletes go to the Olympics early to maximize the length of their careers. Great authors publish more than one book. Great thought leaders and experts do more than one TED Talk. If not this year, when will you start?
Myth #12: People don’t want to hear about my idea/field, so I won’t try for a TED Talk
It can be tough to know what people will like, I agree. You’ve got ideas and knowledge, but it’s hard to “get out of your own head” and see if anyone cares. Rather than assuming people won’t like your talk, why don’t you test it out?
That’s why I advocate for an approach to developing your topic that involves feedback and testing from the early stages: you don’t have to do a lot of work on a talk that nobody likes and get rejected, and you always know if there are tiny tweaks you could make so your talk connects with the audience (More on how to do this in the action plan below).
Your talk breaks TED’s Content Guidelines
If your talk breaks TED’s content guidelines (i.e.: you want to sell your products from the stage, or endorse a religion or political candidate, or share pseudoscience), you should change your message before doing a TED Talk.
For example, you can’t share a talk about how the Republican Party is best, but you can talk about your views on the environment, or why our tax structure needs to change. You can be religious as long as you don’t advocate that your religion is the best. You can mention that you have a book or consult, as long as you don’t include a sales pitch in your talk itself.
You just want public speaking practice
Some speakers want to do a TED Talk for only the speaking experience. After the event, they’ll stop sharing whatever idea they spoke about. If you speak for the sake of speaking (not to share an idea), you shouldn’t do a TED Talk. Instead, speak to share an idea (more on how to find this idea later).
- Ambitious professionals, who can do a TED Talk to land their dream job, build an audience and network of people around the world, and skyrocket their impact
- Business owners and entrepreneurs, who can do a TED Talk to become sought-after experts or recognized thought leaders, land lucrative paid speaking or consulting opportunities, and grow their business
- Speakers, authors, or coaches, who can use a TED Talk to get a flood of clients and boost their credibility
- Artists and creatives, who can do a TED Talk to grow awareness for their art, grow their audience and sell more at premium prices
- People trying to change the world, who can do a TED Talk to reach a wider audience and inspire millions
For example, lawyers, engineers, personal trainers, bloggers, chefs, dance choreographers, doctors, and teachers have all done TED Talks. The most successful people in your field have either done a TED Talk or would envy and admire you if you did a TED Talk.The most successful people in your field have either done a TED Talk or would envy you if you did a TED Talk.Click To Tweet
Your boss’s boss, the CEO of the company you want to work for, Oprah, the customer you’re trying to land, journalists at the New York Times, and Barack Obama all watch TED Talks. When you do a TED Talk, you’ll showcase your ideas to the smartest people in the world. There is no other platform like it.
Now that you know why and how you can speak at a TEDx event this year, you need some background on how TEDx events work so you can get selected to events. In this section, I’ll give you some information on TEDx organizers, and how the nature of TEDx events affects how you go about getting opportunities to speak at these events.
To run a TEDx event, organizers have to first apply for a license from TED. You can’t run a TEDx without their permission. Here are the main rules all TEDx organizers have to follow:
- Every TEDx event can have live speakers. They don’t have to. Some events choose to show several TED Talks videos and have a discussion (which means you can’t speak at any TEDx event)
- The application process varies from event to event, and there is no central application form (which means you can apply to as many as you like, but you’ll have to apply to each separately)
- TEDx event organizers can’t speak or make a profit from the event (so they have other motivations…most on this later)
- Every event is self-funded (I paid personally for our event expenses until ticket revenue came in..more on why this matters later)
- TEDx events don’t pay speakers (but it is free to apply to TEDx events, and some reimburse travel costs if you live close)
- Every talk must be less than 18 minutes (but there is no minimum length)
- Organizers have to apply for a license renewal every year (so if the organizer does a bad job, TED can choose not to let them run the event again)
- TEDx organizers must live in the city where the event is held (they can run only one event, and there are no regional organizers for TEDx)
Organizers don’t get paid..? What’s up with that?
I bet you thought TED had employees run a TEDx event in a given city based on a careful analysis. Nope. TEDx organizers live in the city. They have day jobs or run their own (unrelated) business. They choose on their own to apply to TED for a license to create a TEDx event in their city.
Why the hell do they choose to volunteer their time and risk their own finances to run a TEDx event? After all, starting a conference is a ton of work (I know…I did it).
This is big. If you can understand why the founder of your local TEDx event chooses to give their time and expertise for free to start and run the event, you can tap into this as part of your pitch/networking. You’ll be irresistible as a speaker.
If TEDx event organizers don’t get paid and can’t make a profit…what do they really want?
They want to create something incredible (and hope you like it)
TEDxLeamingtonSpa has had a smoke machine, a sex therapist, a model, and an obscenely loud drum solo by an AI researcher. The event sold out in 73 minutes flat in 2015, despite a ticket price 2-3 times higher than other TEDx events in the area. In years since it’s gotten even better.
I don’t say all this to impress you, rather share one of the hidden motivators of TEDx organizers. TEDx organizers LOVE creating cool things. You’ll be successful if you take advantage of this:
- If you show that you’re excited about their event, they’ll appreciate it. Make your pitch tailored to each event.
- If you show how weird and cool you are, they’ll be excited to make you part of their event
- If you show your work ethic, this eases their fears that they’ll select you as a speaker and you’ll procrastinate. Speaker procrastination makes the end talk (and whole event) worse, and it looks bad on the organizer.
They want to meet you
The production team for the TEDx event I started is one of the most interesting groups of people I know, and I cherish the relationships I was able to build. One major benefit to running the event is being the hub for the entire network – volunteers, the audience, sponsors, videographers, photographers, and speakers.
TEDx organizers don’t just want to have you speak and forget about you, they want to have amazing people like you as part of their network and they hope you’re excited about it too.
They want to have a positive impact on the community and the world
It feels great to know the world is a different place because of something you were able to do. If I see a speaker’s topic and I think “wow, it would be so cool if more people heard this idea”, I’ll want to put them on stage.
If you can connect your topic to a need in the world, all the better. Have a big vision, it excites people. Show that you’ll continue spreading your message long after the event. It respects their investment in you.
Production/video quality varies
Professional videography and photography cost money. Lots of it. Because TEDx events are all independently organized, there’s no magic startup fund to pay for things. TEDx organizers finance things personally until ticket revenue or sponsorship comes in.
If an event isn’t able to get videography and photography provided from sponsorship (which is what I did, and we ended up with quality like this), they’re stuck with someone doing it on a volunteer basis, which affects quality. TED’s rules state that every talk must be filmed and photographed…there is no standard for the quality of video or photography.
When choosing events, it’s wise to check out past videos to assess quality
Application processes vary
Every event is in charge of selecting their own speakers, which means:
- There isn’t one central application form to apply to speak at any event worldwide. Each event will have it’s own independent application process (though most of what they really want is similar from event to event…I’ll show you an exact example later)
- Some events have an online application form (some won’t, and you’ll have to email them to pitch yourself as a speaker)
- Some won’t have speakers (and will show videos from TED.com and have a discussion)
Some event websites may be comprehensive (with clearly-listed contact details, the event date, the theme, and so on), and some may not.Some #TEDx events don't have an application form (but you can email them and pitch your topic)Click To Tweet
Every speaker is part of the marketing team. When we selected a speaker, we wanted them to tell everyone they knew that they were speaking at OUR TEDx EVENT! The people they tell could attend (buy tickets!), volunteer, sponsor, or apply to speak next year. Local speakers are great for marketing! If all of those people are far away, the investment in the speaker is lost.
Reduce the Volume of Speaker Applicants
TEDx events almost always have enough great speakers locally, so accepting non-local speakers is counter-productive. Eliminating non-local speakers is one way to make your life as an organizer more manageable.
Coordinating Speakers Pre-Event
If organizers want to arrange for speaker social events or practice sessions, local speakers make this easy. Speakers that have to travel from far away make this a pain, even if they finance their own travel. One other major benefit for organizers is getting to meet the speakers, who tend to be very interesting people. Someone overseas in your network isn’t as good as someone in the local community that you get to talk to more than once.
It feels good to do something for the community
Since the people buying tickets are local, it’s nice to give them a local speaker to hear from. It helps the long-term reputation of the event (remember, they want to sell tickets next year too).
You can apply to events outside your local area despite these factors. Some of my students have gotten invitations to speak this way, it’s just more difficult than speaking locally.
If you haven’t read the first part of the article, I encourage you to go back as this section depends on the background knowledge above.
This part of the article is tactical and walks you through exactly what you should do and when if you want a TED Talk in 12 months time.
Why 12 months? TEDx application deadlines are often 6+ months before the event, so you’ll select and develop your TED Talk then and plan out which events to pursue before the deadline. You won’t be working full-time for a year on your TED Talk, you’ll just need to spread out some tasks.
You don’t need to have your talk written before you apply to an event, but you do need to know what you’ll talk about so you can pitch it to events. When my TEDx team was selecting speakers, the biggest reason we turned away a speaker is that of their idea (not that they weren’t qualified or they weren’t a good speaker). Your idea is critically important to your success in getting your TED Talk.the biggest reason we turned away a speaker is because their idea wasn't great (not because of their qualifications)Click To Tweet
You may have preconceived notions about what a TED Talk is, but you’ve got more options than you think. Let’s take a look at the types of TED Talks (source):
Start thinking of topics next. Rather than hoping for an idea to pop in your head, I suggest a systematic approach.
Action Step: If you don’t already know what you would do a TED Talk about yet, join the Find a Winning TED Talk video series. It’s a free 3-day video training system to help you identify TED Talks topics you could share and prioritize them. In this training, you’ll learn:
- The Gap Strategy — uncover a list of winning TED Talks Topics hidden within you…even if you don’t have any ideas yet
- Extract the TED Talks Topics from your personal stories and existing topic ideas, and make sure they meet the TED Talks criteria and best practices
- The TED Talks Prioritization Framework – hone in on a specific topic you know is the best choice for you, even if you’ve got lots of ideas
- Your TED Topic Tracker – A downloadable tool that shows you the math behind topic selection so you’re sure you made the right choice
NOTE: Applying to a TEDx event is free. You won’t get paid as a speaker, though some events will reimburse travel costs.
TEDx events often close speaker applications as soon as 6-7 months before the event, so you’ll need to plan early to avoid disappointment.#TEDx events often close speaker applications 6-7 months before the eventClick To Tweet
Insider Tip: Why not apply earlier?
TEDx event organizers plan events on a yearly cycle. One event finishes then the planning for the next year begins (often after a short break). If you ask about the speaker application process too early, the theme won’t be finalized and planning won’t even have begun for the next year’s event yet.
It’s important to have an idea of which events you’d like to speak at and be aware of their individual speaker application process at least 7-8 months in advance to be safe. For example, TEDxLeamingtonSpa is held in late November every year, and speaker applications close on July 1st (almost 5 months before the event date). Some events are even further out. I have one student that was interested in an event in February, but the application deadline was in July (over 6 months before).
Once you find opportunities, you’ll notice there are different types of TEDx events. Each is run in a similar way, but the audience and the organizers differ.
- Standard – these are the “main” TEDx events, normally named after a city (e.g.: TEDxLondon, TEDxVancouver). Regardless of your message, these events are suitable.
- University – these are events held at universities and organized/attended by students (e.g.: TEDxUniversityofNevada). If your message is relevant to students, these events are a good choice.
- TEDxWomen – these happen in conjunction with every TEDWomen conference (most recently in November), and mostly have women as speakers or talks that are specifically beneficial to women (e.g.: TEDxLeamingtonSpaWomen). These are frequently run by the same team that runs the associated Standard event (e.g.: TEDxLeamingtonSpa and TEDxLeamingtonSpaWomen are the same team)
- Salon – these events are run by the same team as the corresponding Standard event (e.g.: TEDxLondonSalon is run by the TEDxLondon team), and are held throughout the year and are smaller than the “main” Standard event.
- Library – these events are held at libraries, and often organized by library staff (e.g.: TEDxPembrokePublicLibrary). They often don’t have live speakers.
- Youth – these events are targeted at under 18s (e.g.: TEDxYouth@Manchester). If your message is perfect for under 18s, these are great events to pursue.
Regardless of the event type, all TEDx events film their speakers and your talk will go on the TEDx YouTube channel (more on how to maximize how many views it gets and the opportunities from it later).
Insider Tip: Which event type is best?
Standard events are suitable for almost every speaker (unless your message is only valuable to university students or under 18s). The same team runs “Salon” “TEDxWomen” and the corresponding Standard event (e.g.: “TEDxLondonSalon”, “TEDxLondonWomen” and “TEDxLondon” are the same team), but the team will put the most effort into the “main” event (e.g.: “TEDxLondon”). If you were to get selected to speak at one event type of every kind, I’d go for the Standard event.
That said, the higher the production value, the better the marketing is for an event, and the more speaker applicants have heard of the event. It’ll be more difficult to be chosen to speak.
The live audience at these events is entrepreneurial, ambitious, creative, and spread across many industries. People in attendance tend to be 25-50 years old (with the exception of University events and Youth events, where attendees are university students or are under 18, respectively).
Consider the following when choosing which events to apply to:
- The theme – does it match your topic? (if not, can you adapt it?)
- The audience – does this audience fit your topic? (e.g.: if your talk is aimed at business leaders, don’t bother applying to a University event. They’re not likely to select you)
- The quality of the event – does their website look sloppy? Are their past videos low quality?
- The location – it’ll be easier to get selected for a local event, but you can apply anywhere you like.
Action Step: Look at the TEDx event map and zoom into your region. Click on several of the dots to get more information about the event date and name.
Plan How to Apply
Let’s say you want to apply to speak at TEDxGrandePrairie:
By clicking on the “TEDxGrandePrairie” title, you can see more information about the event (like the main organizer). The profile page sometimes shows the theme, website, Facebook page, Twitter etc. It looks like the event organizers haven’t updated it yet. That’s ok. All hope is not lost!
Use Google to find the rest of the information we need (website, social media links, etc.).
A quick search shows the website (TEDxGrandePrairie.com), Facebook page, and the Twitter profile.
Now that you’ve found the website and social media accounts for the event, it’s time to find more information about how to apply to speak.
On the TEDxGrandePrairie website, I found a “Speaker Application” link. If you can’t find an application link like this, I recommend you connect with them in any way possible — join the email list, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and bookmark the website. You’ll want to stay informed as to when they open speaker applications, the theme, or anything else that would be useful to submit a better application.
What if I Can’t Find the Application Information?
If you haven’t heard anything 5-6 months before the event date, email the organizers and ask for details.
Here’s an email script you can copy/paste to ask for the application process:
Hi [organizer name], I see that this year’s TEDx[Event Name] theme is “[theme]”. I’ve got a topic that I know the audience will love to hear that goes right along with the theme, but didn’t see any details on how I could apply to speak.
What’s the best way to apply, and when is the deadline?
Now that you know the application form you need to fill out, the next step is to actually do it. What should you include in the application?
Insider Tip: A TEDx Application Formula
Here’s what I recommend you include in any TEDx application (whether you’re submitting a form, or sending an application via email):
- Detailed contact information
- First and last name
- Phone number
- More about you
- Website (if you have one and it presents you in a positive light…don’t link a site that’s out of date)
- Social links (LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter etc – anything that’s up to date and related to your topic)
- Summarize your idea and its connection to the event theme
- Why you want to speak at this event this year with this theme
- What is your idea worth spreading? Why does it matter? How does it relate to the theme?
- Summarize your credibility (no, you don’t have to be famous)
- Why should they choose you for this particular event to speak about this idea? (education, research, professional background, what’s the story of how you came to this idea)
- Demonstrate (don’t describe, unless explicitly asked) your speaking ability
- Record a short (2-3 minute video) outlining your idea so that they can see your communication style and personality
- I don’t recommend you describe your speaking experience (eg: “I am an experienced speaker and have won many awards….”). If you’re a great speaker, demonstrate it on video. Exception – if you have a comedy background or theatre background. Mention this casually, it’ll let events know you’ve got an unconventional style.
- Avoid the following
- Don’t describe yourself as “motivational” or “inspirational”. You can be inspirational, but this should be obvious (show, don’t tell).
- Don’t sell you. Sell your idea (remember, “ideas worth spreading”). Your idea should be the focus of your pitch.
- Don’t be vague about your idea (e.g.: not “I would like to speak about relationships”, but “My talk is about what we can learn from the sex lives of penguins, the points I’ll make are X, Y, Z”)
- Don’t spell the event name incorrectly (i.e.: “TEDxLondon” not “TedxLondon” or “tedxlondon”. Capital “TED”, little “x”, place name capitalized. Same goes with wanting to do a “ted talk” vs “TED Talk”).
Let’s see how this applies to the TEDxGrandePrairie application process. Here’s their application form:
It looks like applications are reviewed by a committee (this is pretty standard), and they’ll ask for an interview. You can also see that preference is given to speakers from the area. These are all pretty standard.
You also see that the theme is “Connection”. 95% of events will have a theme, and you’ll want to build this theme into your pitch so it’s obvious that your topic is connected. Most themes will be very abstract to encourage a variety of ideas. They’ll want speakers to explore the theme from various angles.
Next, we see some basic contact information they’d like:
Again, all this is straightforward. They’re just looking for an easy way to get hold of you. If you do put a website (or LinkedIn profile), be sure it is up-to-date and relates to your topic as much as possible.
The next section is where things get interesting:
Here, they’re asking for a topic and outline. The “topic” is there so they can get a quick idea of what your talk would be about.
Insider Tip: How NOT to choose a title for your talk
Here are my recommendations for a “topic” or “title” field:
- Use plain English, not made-up words or catchy phrases that obfuscate what you mean (e.g.: not “How to find your inner sniper” but “How to focus on one thing at a time”)
- Summarize your thesis/talk in a sentence, rather than using an overall subject (e.g.: not “Thinking in business”, which doesn’t tell us what you are going to say, but “Why your thinking matters more to your bottom line than you’d realize”)
To drive home this point, check out the titles on the most popular TED Talks of all time. Notice the simplicity of the language (“Do schools kill creativity?”, “How great leaders inspire action”, “The power of vulnerability”). Many speakers try to come up with a clever title. Instead, just be clear. At this stage, the description of the idea is more important than the “topic” description.
Next, in the outline, put your tested, specific, compelling outline of the idea you’d like to share. 200-300 words is a perfect length unless they ask for something else (less, and you likely don’t have enough detail, more, and the event organizers won’t want to read it and you’re probably not being concise enough). Make it clear how your idea fits the theme, and specify the main points you are going to make.
Insider Tip: A TED Talk makeover in 30 seconds
Here’s an example of a real TED Talks application we got:
“Thinking in business.
In particular my interest is thinking in sales in business.
Businesses spend fortunes training their people to behave differently but behaviour rarely changes. My obsession is to show people that it’s only thought that stops you doing the things you need to do. Thought creates your experience of life and we treat it as though it always knows best, yet its nothing more than some random firings in the brain that we then decide or don’t decide to act upon.
I want to introduce the world to the idea that they don’t have to feel the way they do about the things they know they should do but don’t!”
When our team received this pitch, we were concerned. Not because the speaker lacked qualifications, but because we didn’t understand her one idea. We were concerned because this talk could be about one thing or another, and this ambiguity suggests a lack of clarity in the speaker’s mind about what she wants to say.
Instead, what if her topic read something like this:
“My business clients spend years thinking about raising their prices, they stall, then they feel bad about it. Likewise, people in everyday life feel bad about having high self-esteem. They don’t set boundaries. This talk is about how real people can use the same techniques I teach to business about pricing and apply them to improving their own self-esteem and setting boundaries. More broadly, it will introduce the idea that business principles apply to any situation in life, and how to apply them.”
Is this what she meant originally when she described “thinking in sales in business”? We can’t be sure, but at least it’s clear this time what the proposed topic is.
On to the next section:
Here, the organizers want to know why you should be the one chosen to speak on this subject. Credentials can take on any form: the university you studied at, research you’ve done, the company you founded or work for, a specific life experience, your book/blog, awards you’ve won, and so forth.
They are trying to get the answer to three questions:
- Why should we choose YOU to speak about this idea and not someone else?
- Do you know what you’re talking about?
- How can we brag about you to our audience?
In the last section, they want to know about your previous speaking experience. If asked to do this, I recommend not describing what you are (e.g.: “I’m a very motivating speaker, I always speak in an inspiring way”), but rather, share what you’ve done (e.g.: “I have delivered workshops to corporate clients, have acted in 3 theatrical performances, and have spoken at 2 academic conferences, links for this are here:___”)
In addition to describing this (which is what most people do), I recommend demonstrating it: feel free to include a speaker reel or video of past talks if you have it but also include a short (2-3 min) video to show how you speak. Upload it to YouTube as an “unlisted” video and include the link in the application.
Insider Tip: Talk Length
You’ll notice that they also ask for the length of your proposed talk (most application forms won’t do this). Shorter is better for 2 reasons:
- Time – if there are 15 people that all insist on an 18min talk, it’s hard for an organizer to fit in a 16th due to time constraints
- Variety – if there are 15 people that all have long talks, a short one is a nice way to mix it up and keep the audience’s energy high at the event.
What happens after you apply?
Step 1: After you send the application form (or apply by email), make sure you know what the next application steps are. These vary per event, but could include things like:
- More detail about your topic (in written or video form)
- In-person auditions
- Skype or phone interviews
I recommend you follow the event (i.e.: join the email list and follow them on Facebook and Twitter), as they may share things that are useful to you later on (i.e.: notes on why they chose their particular theme).
Speakers are typically announced 2-3 months before the event.
Step 2: Use the time after you apply to further refine and research your topic so that when there is another application step, you’re ready for it.
Step 3: Don’t just apply to one event and hope for the best. Look for other opportunities and pursue those too!
Insider Tip: If you don’t get selected, there are 2 things to do:
- Get feedback on things you could have done differently (it’s fair game to ask for some brutally honest feedback from the decision makers):
I’m sorry to hear that my pitch wasn’t a good fit for TEDx[EventName]. I strongly believe this is an important message to spread, so am planning to approach other TEDx events (or maybe TEDx[EventName] in future years)!
I’d love your brutally honest feedback — was my topic just not suitable for your theme, or are there other things you think I could do to improve?
Thanks for your advice, and I’m looking forward to seeing your event unfold!
- Don’t stress about it too much. TEDx events get a lot of speakers, and we turn down speakers for all sorts of reasons (sometimes, the speaker would do a great job for another event, and their talk just didn’t fit our theme). Some speakers we turned down got selected for other events shortly after.
You’ve just been selected to speak at a TEDx event. Congratulations! There are a few main things to do between now and the event day.
First, celebrate! You’ve done an awesome job to get selected! Not many people get to where you are, and you should be very proud of yourself. Let your network, friends, and family know that you got a TED Talk! Once your talk is live you’ll have a raving group of fans that can’t wait to see it.
Second, learn your talk. Use books (e.g.: Talk Like TED), TEDx speaker coaches (my friend and fellow TEDx event founder Alex Merry works with people to write and practice their TED Talk and support you through the journey. He helped Roger Frampton craft a talk that has received 1.8 million views so far), or do this on your own. Some events provide free speaker coaching.
You’ll need to learn your talk without reading it from a tablet (iPad etc). TED will explicitly not feature your video on TED.com if you read your talk from an iPad (slide 51).
Third, support the event.
TEDx events want speakers to share news about the event! There’s a team of volunteers that worked hard to put on the event, and they’re excited. There are also other speakers just like you that you’ll be speaking alongside. Cheer on the event, share their social media posts and get excited. Events love it when speakers help them spread the word.
Fourth, prep for the event. About a month before the event, make sure you know more about what to expect. Specifically, ask the organizers about:
- a dress rehearsal (if not, ask to see the venue before event day so you can get a feel for the stage)
- the stage and lighting setup (so you know which color of clothes will look great on video)
- microphone (if a lapel mic, make sure you don’t wear a necklace that’ll rub on the mic)
- the running order of the day
- technical requirements for slides (if you have any – make sure you know if you need Powerpoint or Keynote and the right resolution, especially for visuals)
- Available speaker aids (e.g.: a screen facing you so that you can see the current slide without looking over your shoulder, a timer etc.)
Fifth, embrace your support system. Your friends, family, colleagues, and especially the event organizers want you to succeed. If you need someone to practice your talk with, provide feedback, encourage you or anything else, ask. The other speakers also want to support you. After all, you’re on the same journey as they are. You can reach out to them to get to know them, share tips on preparation, and be a support for one another.
You should be allowed to bring a guest with you for support to the event, though some people prefer to have their inner circle wait outside while they speak.
Sixth…ignore some things for now. You don’t need to worry about perfecting your talk title, who to spread your talk to on YouTube, or anything else for now. All that can be sorted out after the event (and will just distract you from your talk).
It’s here! On event day, you’ll be expected to arrive early (I recommend you get there as early as possible to account for unexpected delays, get a feel for the day, and get in the zone). Ask the event organizers where you need to be and when. There’s often no need for you to watch the talks that are before yours, so feel free to sit alone and get ready.
After you’re done your talk, it’s time to relax! Take in the day, enjoy the other talks, and chat with the audience.
A few days after the event, reflect and plan ahead. After all, the most valuable part of your talk is actually the video of you speaking. Follow up with the organizers and let them know that you’d like some time to think of a great title and bio for your talk, and see if you can see the video of your talk before it goes live (the video crew may be able to cut some of your mistakes if you’d like them to).
Next, get to work on 2 things:
- A title that’ll make people want to watch your talk (for YouTube)
- A bio for your talk (which will be the description on YouTube)
After the film crew is done editing, the organizers will upload your talk to TED, who then publishes the talks to their TEDx YouTube channel. Organizers will need both the title and bio before your talk goes on YouTube. If you don’t give them one, they may make one up (you don’t want this, as it’ll negatively affect your results for years).
Come up with 20-30 titles for your talk that are specific (distinguish your talk from others), clear (no made-up or complicated words), and surprising (make people want to click). Then, ask your friends to vote on which they are most likely to click on. Roger Frampton used this strategy, and his talk reached 1.5 million views after just one year!
Your bio will be seen by people interested in your talk, and you can use it to link people to your website or social media (I would suggest at most one social media account, and ideally a website that has an email capture form).
The popularity of the individual TED Talks varies widely, even for the same event. Some talks will get a thousand views, some will be in the millions. Most of the difference is as a result of what the speakers do to promote their talk.
Luckily, there are several proactive things you can do once your talk is published to ensure that it spreads.
First, link it. Add links to your talk in your social media profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc), your email signature, website, and anywhere else where you have an online profile (i.e.: if your employer has an employee profile page for you).
Second, help others share it. You can simply tell people, “hey, here’s my TED Talk! Please watch”. People that know you may watch or share it in this case, but there’s no reason for people you don’t know to watch it. Instead, come up with a few sentences about why they would want to watch it. What could they learn? What kind of people is it for?
Start with your friends and network by posting a message enticing people to watch by telling them one or two things they’ll learn, for example:
“My TED Talk is live! If you’ve always wanted to learn why a delicious custard swimming pool is a little like living with anxious feelings (or how I learned to escape my own anxious feelings), check it out, and please share! (link)”
Third, embrace your new network. Connect with the other speakers and volunteers from the event. They’re influential people to have in your network. Share their talks, share how much you loved the event, and so on.
Fourth, keep going. For months and years after your talk, you can tell people about it. After all, you worked hard coming up with an idea, practicing your talk, and delivering it. You can reap the rewards for years to come! Specifically:
- Tell prospective employers, clients, or gatekeepers about your TED Talk as a way to get new opportunities
- If there are influencers that may like your talk, send it to them! You may connect with them or they may share it. Selena Soo helps people reach top influencers and media companies. Once you’ve got a TED Talk, you’ll be irresistible.
What are the odds of being selected for a TEDx event?
First-time TEDx in smaller towns or cities tend to get about 50-100 speakers in their first year (depending on how well the event is marketed) and will select 10-15 speakers. Established events or events in bigger cities can get up to 250-300 speakers applying for the same number of spots. So, your odds are about 3-30% of being selected for any given event.
However, just because the odds are good at a first-time event doesn’t necessarily mean you want to speak there, given the variance in quality. Since you’re (most likely) doing a TED Talk to get a certain result (say, getting business leads, or showcasing your speaking), you may want to aim for an event that has a track record of providing better support for speakers (e.g.: high-quality video, better marketing support for your talk, and speaker training).
TED receives more than 25,000 applications to speak for one of 100 speaking spots every year, so your odds are about 1 in 250 (0.4%). However, if you speak at TEDx first, your odds are higher. TED reviews every TEDx video and reserves 1 session at TED for past TEDx speakers.
That said, you don’t need to speak at TED to get incredible results from your TED Talk. Many speakers have skyrocketed their careers as a result of a talk at a TEDx event (ie: Simon Sinek, Brené Brown).
That’s why I recommend, even if you want to speak at TED eventually, that you start with TEDx.
The first step is to speak at TEDx and do a great job. If your message doesn’t connect well with the audience, your chances of being invited to speak at TED are slim to none. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any other tricks to speaking at TED.
If you’re lucky enough to be selected simultaneously for 2 different TEDx events…congratulations! Getting accepted twice isn’t easy at all. If it does happen, you’ve got a couple options:
- You could share the same message at both events (which is, frankly, a lot of work for not much of a win)
- You could develop a second message for the second event (which is lots more work if you want to do a good job, but you’ve got 2 talks now, so you can see which does better)
- You could choose one event (the one that looks to you like it’ll do the best job producing a great quality video of you), and focus your energy on doing a great job for this event.
Now what? a CHALLENGE.
Now that you’ve seen the entire start-to-finish process of how to select a great topic, choose an event that matches your topic and goals, and get selected for an event, what now?
Instead of letting this knowledge sit in your brain (right next to “buy more pickles”), choose just 1 action step you’ll commit to. You don’t have to complete anything today, just commit to one and I’ll send you everything you need to get started on this journey.
Knowing your TED Talks Topic is a powerful feeling. You’ll have 10x more confidence that a TED Talk is achievable for you, this year, and irresistible to events.
To give you exact strategies to do this, join the Find a Winning TED Talk video series. It’s a free 3-day training system to help you identify TED Talks topics you could share and prioritize them. In this training, you’ll learn:
- The Gap Strategy — uncover a list of winning TED Talks Topics hidden within you…even if you don’t have any ideas yet
- Extract the TED Talks Topics from your personal stories and existing topic ideas, and make sure they meet the TED Talks criteria and best practices
- The TED Talks Prioritization Framework – hone in on a specific topic you know is the best choice for you, even if you’ve got lots of ideas
- Your TED Topic Tracker – A downloadable tool that shows you the math behind topic selection so you’re sure you made the right choice
That’s it! Did you complete one of the action steps above? Shoot me an email and let me know the one action you’ve chosen to take today.
If you’ve got friends or colleagues that would love to do a TED Talk, Share this Ultimate Guide with them! Use the share buttons (and tag a friend or two that you think should do a TED Talk).
I can’t wait to see your TED Talk, and more importantly, the results it gets you.