I’m not famous. Can I still do a TED talk?

Do you really need to be a famous author, inventor, experienced speaker, or entrepreneur to do a TED talk?

The answer will probably surprise you. No.

That’s not to say these things don’t help. They certainly do. But what they show is your credibility.

Having a book published shows that you’ve put countless days, weeks, and months into researching your topic and developing your ideas. Speaking experience almost guarantees that your presentation style is better than average, and that other people want to listen to your ideas. Being an entrepreneur or founder of an organisation demonstrates drive, determination, and that others want to be part of your movement. Generally the best candidates have something published and have spoken before about their idea, but that’s certainly not the only way to show your credibility.

Your idea matters.

If there are lots of people with similar ideas to yours, chances are there’s more than one person with the same idea applying to speak at the event. So, the more common your idea, the more credible you need to be to be seen as “credible enough”.

The question in the organiser’s mind is this — why should they put YOU on the stage to talk about this idea? If the world is full of 7 billion people, chances are at least a few of them strongly believe the same things you do. What makes you not just interested in something, but an expert in it?

You don’t need to be as credible as you think.

When you watch a great TED talk, it’s natural to compare yourself with the speaker. The talks you’ve seen are also probably the ones that EVERYONE has seen, because they are the best of the best. The most shared talks are given by the most famous people — they’re spread from the influencer, their audience, and many people Google their name. But there are 1000+ TEDx events every single year, and each has many speakers. This means there are a LOT of TEDx talks done by speakers that aren’t famous.

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Not a famous person. Still one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time.

That said, there should still be a reason why you’ve chosen to give this talk, and to do this, you do need to show that you are credible.

Here are a few uncommon ways you can demonstrate your credibility.

Social proof

If others trust your opinion on a topic, chances are a TEDx event will too. Things like a large audience on social media, being featured in the news, or winning awards indicate that others have considered what you have to say about a topic and consider your opinion to be reliable. Social proof also indicates to a TEDx event that if they put you on stage, your talk is likely to spread through your audience alone. More fame for your talk also helps the event gain fame.

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Speaker bio from TEDxRanier, showing lots of social proof (“award-winning dance center,” “toured internationally, receiving awards”)

Your educational or professional background

Frankly, most people that apply to speak at a TEDx event are clearly interested in a topic but aren’t clear experts in it. Few things are clear indicators of expertise than what you studied and what you do professionally.

You should especially note if you have a Ph.D., Master’s degree, or hold a degree from a prestigious university.  Most people don’t have this on their resume, so it certainly sets you apart from most other speaker applicants. This shows your level of dedication to a field, and for prestigious universities, that you were smart enough to get in, to begin with.

Richard Heaslip TED speaker profile
Richard Heaslip, TEDxOxbridge speaker 2015

Advanced degrees work great if they are related to your niche, but can also be effective even if not related (since this gives the organizing team a way to brag about you).

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Ryan Hildebrandt
Ryan Hildebrandt
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