Want to know all about the TEDx speaker application process? This post walks you through the entire process from start to finish:
- how to find local events (and predict “secret” unannounced events long before they happen)
- how to use LinkedIn to find TEDx organizers and speakers in your network
- when to apply (not too early, not too late)
- what to include in the application (whether you’re able to find an application form or not)
- how the selection process works
- what happens after you submit the application form
Note: this is a very tactical to-do-oriented post. For a strategic look on how to become a TEDx speaker (including selecting a topic that YOU are proud of, that audiences love, and make sure you get results from your talk, I recommend my free masterclass, which you can register for here)
For more background, check out my massively long post — Get a TED Talk This Year – The Ultimate Guide.
TEDx application deadlines are often 6+ months before the event (and any given event happens once a year), so you’ll select and develop your talk then and plan out which events to apply to before the deadline. You won’t be working full-time for a year on your TEDx Talk, you’ll just need to spread out some tasks.
Month 1-3: Select a Topic
You don’t need to have your talk written before you apply to an event, but you do need to have a great topic 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 TEDx Talk.the biggest reason we turned away a speaker is their idea wasn't great (not because of their qualifications)Click To Tweet
You may have preconceived notions about what a TEDx Talk is, but you’ve got more options than you think. Let’s take a look at the types of talks (source):
Months 4-8: Find TEDx Events and Apply to Speak
NOTE: There is no cost to apply to speak at TEDx events. You won’t get paid as a speaker, but 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 for TEDx 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.
There are some events that have better video/stage/audio, and some that don’t. Some events are not filmed (which sucks, since you won’t have any way to prove that you were a TEDx speaker, nor will your talk have the benefit of the TEDx YouTube channel).
Generally, the better-produced events will be more competitive since they are more desirable. In terms of competition, you can expect about 50-200 applicants for any given TEDx event.
Insider Tip: Which TEDx 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”) and the TEDxWomen event(e.g.: “TEDxLondonWomen”).
If you’re a woman with a message targeted at women, I strongly suggest you apply to speak at a TEDxWomen event, as the audience is highly targeted to your message. If this isn’t the case, the Standard event or University event is the best choice.
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’s not uncommon for an event to get over 150 applicants.
I don’t suggest you pursue library events, as these often don’t have live speakers. TEDxYouth events tend to have lower video quality than TEDxUniversity events or Standard/Women/Salon events.
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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 to find future TEDx events in your area. Click on several of the dots to get more information about the event date and name.
Plan your TEDx Speaker Application Process (an example)
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 and the next event date). 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.).to apply to speak at this TEDx event.
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 any Application Information?
If you haven’t heard anything 5-6 months before the event date, email the TEDx 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?
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How to Apply to the TEDx event (and a checklist)
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 TED Talk Application Checklist
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”).
Share this TEDx application checklist:
Let’s see how this applies to a sample TEDx application (we’ll use TEDxGrandePrairie). 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.
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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 TEDx speaker application makeover in 30 seconds
Here’s an example of a real application for a TEDx Talk we received:
“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.
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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: How long should my talk be?
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 submit the TEDx speaker application form?
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).
The timeline for each event will vary slightly, but 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 TEDx events and pursue those too!
Insider Tip: If you apply for a TEDx event and 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.
Month 9-11: Once you get invited to speak (!!!)
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).
TEDx Event Day!
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).
How to reap the benefits of your TEDx Talk for years
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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).
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What are the odds of being selected to speak at TED?
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.
How can I go from speaking at TEDx to speaking at TED?
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 I’m invited to speak at 2 different TEDx events, can I speak at both or do I have to choose 1?
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.
If you’ve got friends or colleagues that would love to do a TED Talk, Share this 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 TEDx Talk, and more importantly, the results it gets you. If you do apply for a TEDx Talk using this guide, let me know!
And, if you’re interested in working together to get on the TEDx stage, you can book a call with me here