How to Be a TEDx Speaker

Have you always wondered how to do a TEDx talk? This article will show you how to get on TEDx from start to finish.

how to do a tedx talk

How Long Does it Take to Become a TEDx Speaker?

A TEDx event will start its speaker selection process about six months before the event date. After this initial speaker selection deadline, there may be one or more rounds of interviews or auditions, and you’ll typically be notified if you got selected about 2-3 months before the event date.

(insert image of TEDx timeline)

Then, about 4-6 weeks after the event (if it’s one of the best TEDx events…if not, your talk may not be filmed at all), your filmed talk will be live on YouTube for the world to see.

Don’t You Have to be Invited to Get On TEDx?

Some people don’t know this, but TEDx is a little like a job. Sure, some people are discovered and invited, but you probably want a more reliable and faster method if you’re reading this. So, it’s encouraging to know that most TEDx speakers simply find events and apply.

Are some “discovered” and invited? Of course. Do some people apply and get turned down? Undoubtedly. But the best way to get on TEDx as quickly as possible, at the best TEDx event possible, is to apply.

So, while anyone can apply to speak at TEDx, and many people in the world are capable of delivering a TED-style talk, not anyone has an equal chance of applying successfully.

Can Anyone Do a TEDx Talk?

When some people ask “How to become a TEDx speaker,” they mean, “what qualifications do I need to GET a TEDx talk?”

This is very different than asking “how to write a TED Talk” (which doesn’t imply that you’ve been invited yet, and can merely mean you wrote a talk and delivered it to your Toastmasters group), but rather, “how do you speak AT a TEDx event?”

This implies qualification and selection, which is accurate because you can get turned down because of a lack of credentials.

Minimum (Recommended) Credentials To Do a TEDx Talk

Basic Public Speaking Skill

I’m assuming you already have a bare minimum amount of public speaking comfort and at least a little skill at it. This doesn’t have to be all gained from public speaking itself – several of my clients have very little formal “public speaking” experience but gained their comfort on stage from being YouTubers, teachers, or actors.

However, since everyone that applies to TEDx has this, mere skill at speaking isn’t nearly enough.

If you want to become a TEDx speaker, it’s about more than just being able to mimic a certain speaking style. You’ve got to pass the application process and be selected. In order to do this, I’d recommend these two things at a minimum.

Demonstration of Passion

A TEDx event wants to see that you’re so passionate about your message that you’ve already put in the work to spread it. For instance, a book you’ve published, the blog you run that talks about the message, the business you started, and so on.

If you’re still working on publishing your book, almost done with your website, and thinking of starting up a coaching business, then becoming a TEDx speaker is a little farther off – a TEDx event organizer won’t take you seriously because it’ll seem like you aren’t as serious about your message than the other applicants (who have already published the book, started the business or non-profit, etc.) and they will have a clear advantage.

Demonstration of Expertise:

A website or book doesn’t mean you’re good at what you do — it just shows that you like it. In addition, signals of expertise are valuable. For instance, the awards you’ve won, the research you’ve done for your Ph.D. or masters’ degree (or separate research project), the results you’ve created for clients, etc.

You’re certainly qualified to speak at TEDx if you have all these things. You can still get turned down, of course, but your credentials will have nothing to do with it (if you want to hire me as a TED Talks coach, I can help you through this process, and I guarantee you’ll get booked)

Think you’re qualified and ok with the time commitment? Then it’s time to get started!

How To Do a TEDx Talk

Step 1: Determine Your Topic

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine what you’ll talk about. You don’t need to know how to write a TED Talk yet (you can wait until after you’re booked to finalize this), but you do need to know some possible TED Talks topics, given your expertise and passion.

NOTE: Do NOT Write Your Talk Yet!

Some events have a projector for visuals, and some do not.

Some events allow you to use the full 18 minutes. Some events ask speakers (especially the larger events) to fit their talk into a shorter time slot, like 6-8 minutes or even less.

It’s for these reasons I recommend you do NOT write your talk until you’re booked at an event! Events will give you plenty of time to finalize your talk. All you need to apply is a brief synopsis/description of your topic. You don’t need the visuals and script finalized yet.

Step 2: Prepare Your Application Template

When you apply for TEDx events, they will generally ask questions about your qualifications, as well as your topic. Every event will phrase things differently, but I recommend you create a separate document where you write out answers to things like:

  • Why are you the best person to speak about this idea?
  • What is your idea worth spreading?
  • What is the proposed title of your talk? (here’s my guide on how to title a TED Talk)
  • What are the takeaways for the audience?

This allows you to check for grammar and spelling before you submit, save your answers so you know what you submitted, and makes it easy to copy/paste and apply for multiple TEDx events (which I recommend).

Step 3: Find Events Looking For Speakers

Unfortunately, there is no central place where you can apply for every TEDx event at once. You’ll need to apply to each event individually, and the first step of that is to find these events looking for speakers.

Some TEDx events don’t film talks at all. Some are in the wrong location for you, and some are not looking for speakers at the moment, and so on.

This is one major difference between TED and TEDx – some events don’t film talks at all, some have unprofessional-looking stages, and some don’t have speakers at all! (they just show pre-recorded videos from TED and have a discussion).

how to become a tedx speaker - avoid this stage
how to become a tedx speaker - you can only do it from a great stage

(aim for events like the one on the right, not the left)

My TEDx application list is the easiest way to find high-quality events looking for speakers.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can also do this research manually by following my guide on finding the biggest TEDx events.

Step 4: Adjust (Don’t Disqualify) Based on Theme

Some speakers claim they got turned down because the organizers said their message didn’t match the theme (or they never tried at all because “the theme didn’t match”).

Yes, an organizer can say your message didn’t match the theme, but what does this statement mean?

It could also be interpreted as “it wasn’t clear to us how your message matched our theme,” which is a different piece of feedback entirely. This really means “if you had made it clearer how this message matched the theme, we would have considered it.”

This is exactly what TED says on their website as well:

to become a tedx speaker, adjust for theme, don't disqualify for theme
TED Talk themes are abstract – tweak for the theme, don’t disqualify

The only reason you should NOT apply for an event in your area is if the event is unfilmed, or if the stage quality is poor. NEVER because of the theme.

When I’m working with a coaching client, we NEVER disqualify an event because of the theme. 

EVER. 

Instead, we just add a sentence or two to their pitch when describing the topic, and in doing so, show EVERY event organizer that this message matches their theme.

TEDx themes are abstract, and there is always a way to link your message to the theme.

Step 5: Apply to Be a TEDx Speaker!

Once you have a TEDx event in mind (and you’ve verified using the process above, or my spreadsheet method, that it is the right timing), then you can apply.

Usually, events have information on their website about a speaker application process, like this:

how to speak at a tedx talk

The website navigation is different for every event. If you don’t see any information on how to apply to speak, or, the event already has speakers listed, chances are you are looking at this event at the wrong time (eg: too far before, or too far after the application deadline). 

Or, it could be an event that doesn’t have live speakers at all.

The simplest way to make sure you have the right events at the right time is to sign up for my TEDx Call for Speakers tool – this will give you a full list of events, as well as email alerts when an event near you announces it’s next event date (both of which ensure you don’t waste time on this).

Generally, an event will ask for information about you (your bio, why you’re an expert, etc.), your proposed topic (why you think it’s important, how you discovered it, why it’s valuable to the audience, and so on).

All of this is already prepared in your application template, so just copy/paste from there and adjust phrasing as necessary.

apply to be a tedx speaker
A sample TEDx application form

Some events will also ask for a short (1-2 minute) video of you discussing your idea to understand your communication style. They aren’t judging your video production skills (so there is no need for fancy montages or speaker reels), but rather, they just want to get a sense of your idea, said in your own words.

Some (but very few) will also ask for past videos of you speaking on a stage, but these are rarely necessary to get booked (almost none of my coaching clients had previous videos of them speaking on a stage)

And, even fewer still will ask for a draft of your talk. Mostly, this is done as a mechanism to prevent procrastination, as TEDx speakers that get booked tend to procrastinate until weeks or days before the event to finalize their talk.

Step 6: Get Invited to TEDx Auditions

Before you can become a TEDx speaker, you’ll need to make it all the way through the application process. And, not everyone who applies will make it to the next round.

Many events have hundreds of applicants, and events (especially the largest ones) may not even tell you if you’ve been rejected since they have so many applicants. If you didn’t get invited, not to worry. Many of my coaching clients got turned down (sometimes, many times over) before hiring me. You can learn more about how I can help you as a TEDx coach here.

Some events have in-person auditions, and some do these auditions or interviews over Zoom/Skype, etc.

Step 7: Get Booked!

If you made it to auditions, the event organizers would tell you whether you got booked or not (usually 1-3 weeks after the audition). If you got booked, celebrate! 

At this point, you’ll need to sign a media release form (to allow the video of your talk to be put on the TEDx YouTube channel). 

The organizers will then tell you about any other things you’ll need to do before the event date.

Step 8: Write Your Talk and Prepare Your Slides

After you get booked, it’s time to finalize your talk. Most events will expect you to work on your finalized talk and visuals after you get booked (you don’t need to have this finalized before you are booked).

Here are some things to keep in mind, which vary by event:

  • Some events will have a screen to show slides, and some may not (if you want visuals, ask about this)
  • After you get booked, there may be other deadlines before the event date. For instance, you may need to send them your outline, your slides, or a full draft of your talk by particular dates.
  • Some events provide free speaker coaching for the speakers that get booked!
  • There is an 18-minute time limit for all TEDx talks, but some events (especially the larger ones) may ask that you fit your talk into an even shorter timeframe (this is one big reason I don’t recommend writing your talk until after you’re booked)
  • The event you speak at may have a teleprompter, and it may not – you’ll need to ask the organizer these things.

Regardless of the above, you’ll need to go about writing a TED Talk you’ll deliver on event day and if you want to use visuals (it’s not necessary), start designing your TED Talk presentation slides.

Step 9: Prepare for Event Day (and Deliver Your Talk!)

In the days leading up to event day, make sure you understand some details about how the day will run. It’s a good idea to ask the organizer things like:

  • Will there be a teleprompter?
  • Will the stage be brightly lit or dark? (if dark, you probably don’t want to wear a black top, as your head will look like it’s floating in space)

And, if the event has a photographer (which it will if you’ve been booked for a great TEDx event), talk to the photographer about how you’d like to be photographed:

  • Capturing you, speaking, with the “TEDx” letters is most important. For example, at TEDxLeamingtonSpa (the event I created), I told the photographers that capturing the “TEDxL” part was much more important than the “eamingtonSpa” part
  • If there are key moments in your talk (a demonstration, a part where you’ll be particularly animated, a key slide), make sure they know when that part of your talk is, and that you’d like it captured

Also, make a checklist for the day. I typically advise my clients to prepare an event-day checklist in advance so they think of things they might need (like water, lip chap, and so on) to avoid any last-minute panic.

Step 10: Decide On The Title & Bio For YouTube

Once the video is done being edited, the videography company will send the videos to the organizer, who will have to upload these to TED so they can be added to TED’s YouTube channel.

There needs to be a title for the video for this to happen. While the event organizer may have some ideas for this, you should care far more about the success of your talk than they do, so it’s worthwhile thinking through this.

Here’s a complete guide on how to title a TED Talk (including character limitations, frameworks for stealing the best titles, and more)

The bio is also important, and you can put links to your website or social media in your YouTube bio, which I recommend. It’s a quick way for people to find you if they discover your talk, so you may as well make use of this space.

Step 11: Create Your Launch Plan

Once event day is over, and you’ve got your title and bio sent to the organizer, there are still more benefits to get ready for!

The video from your talk should take 4-6 weeks to edit (depending on the number of camera angles, the number of speakers on the day, and the length of each talk), so you’ve got a little time to prepare your plan for when the talk comes online.

A few tips:

  • Make a list of all the places you want to post or share your talk once it’s online (for instance, linking in your email signature, sending a link to your email list, updating your social media header images etc)
  • Share your talk FIRST with the people who already agree with it and support you (for instance, if you’re a leadership coach, share your talk with other leadership coaches, your clients, your friends, and family, etc.). They’ll share it most because it makes them look smart that they know you, and they already agree with the ideas you share.
  • Think of “the one view that matters.” Rather than hoping that your talk will organically reach the right person, use it on your website, social media, email list, funnel, and so on to raise your credibility with people that are already a good fit for your service and use it in any outreach emails or messages when trying to get new opportunities.

Step 12: Transcribe Your Talk

Once your talk is online, it can be translated into different languages. But, before that can happen, it must be transcribed in its original language.

The best way to ensure your talk is transcribed is to do it yourself. You’ll need to apply for the TED Translator program to do this.

Once you’re approved, you’ll be able to see your talk available on CaptionHub (the transcription and translation program that TED uses for all TED and TEDx talks)

Step 13: Get Even More Opportunities!

Once your talk is online, follow your launch plan! You can use your TEDx talk for years to come to get more clients, more speaking, podcasts (or other exposure opportunities), or even apply to give a TED Talk.

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Ryan Hildebrandt
Articles: 33
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