Some TEDx events can make you look like a rockstar, while others can make you look like a complete amateur.
But many people don’t know that there IS a drastic difference in TEDx event quality.
And event quality is one of the biggest factors in how easily you can become a TEDx speaker and the benefits you get from the whole experience.
Why Are Some TEDx Events Better Than Others?
Some think TEDx events are all run by TED themselves (or a big TEDx organization) and that TED scouts for the best locations to hold events and sends their staff to organize everything.
This isn’t the case – a TEDx event starts when an individual living in a particular city applies to TED for a TEDx license.
This licensing model explains the difference in quality because of one simple fact — TEDx event directors are responsible for every aspect of organizing the event and creating this quality.
TED doesn’t give you funding or resources beyond some recommendations on what to do.
- You have to find and pay for a venue (bigger, more impressive venues cost more)
- You have to pay even more if you want to use the venue for dress rehearsals.
- You have to pay for videography (hiring a professional videography company costs thousands of dollars)
- You have to find a company to manufacture the big “TED” letters (this alone costs hundreds of dollars, even for small letters)
- You have to buy the big red carpet.
- You have to pay for and create the website.
- You have to pay for things like volunteer t-shirts, merch, etc.
The budget for the event I ran was over £10,000.
To make matters worse, TED limits the number of tickets an event can sell (for some events) and the ticket price (max $100USD), so the total revenue from ticket sales is always limited. Some events don’t sell out at all, and many are not able to sell tickets for $100 (so their ticket revenue is substantially less).
Some organizers can find sponsors to pay for the most expensive items or provide them in-kind (eg: a venue for free vs cash), but this takes skill and time to get.
TEDx events are also non-profit, and the organizers do not get paid, so they are always balancing the time they spend on organizing the event (and finding sponsors) with their regular business or job.
And some organizers choose to skip all this work, show pre-recorded videos from TED, and simply discuss them. They don’t have live speakers because it cuts down significantly on the workload.
I know all this because I did it all myself as a TEDx event creator – I had to apply for a license to TED. When they approved my application to start TEDxLeamingtonSpa, I suddenly had a monumental task – I had to find volunteers to help organize the event, start a website, and figure out how to pay for it all.
Naturally, any given entrepreneur’s skill to pull off a great event varies considerably.
This is one reason (other than ethical reasons) why you shouldn’t try to be a TEDx speaker by simply having a friend organize an event and have you as a speaker – running a great event is considerably more work than speaking at one, and it’s unlikely that a first-time event will come close to matching the quality of the best TEDx events anyway.
Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about all this work as a speaker.
Instead, all you have to do is find the best TEDx events and apply to be a TEDx speaker. The TEDx events that:
- Have skilled organizers
- Are established
- Have a track record of amazing venues and high-quality video, audio, stages
- Have big audiences
From my knowledge as a TEDx event organizer, I’ll share a few predictable indicators we can look at to make sure you’ve found an incredible TEDx event to speak at!
But first, let’s look at which events you should definitely avoid.
The WORST TEDx Events (Avoid At All Costs)
This is a TEDx event.
But I’m guessing you’d be pretty disappointed if you spoke there, and I’m guessing you’re surprised that TEDx events like this exist.
But they do.
Why is this variance in quality so hidden from the general public?
Most of the TEDx talks that most people have seen have been recommended by others or on Google/YouTube. Of course, the best quality videos will be seen and recommended, and the worst videos will be forgotten. So, many people don’t realize these bad events even exist.
It’s a classic case of Survivorship Bias – only the best TEDx videos are seen, so while the others exist, they are hidden from public knowledge (until an unsuspecting speaker applies for the wrong event and is shocked at the poor quality of the stage).
To make matters worse, some TEDx events aren’t filmed at all. This means your talk never goes up on YouTube, your message can’t spread, and you really can’t prove you were a TEDx speaker at all. It would be a complete waste of time, and most people would never know about these things until event day!
I talked to one professional speaker who had done 3 TEDx talks…none were filmed! So, this is more common than you’d think (remember how I said that professional videography is a huge expense! It ALSO takes a LOT of time to edit an entire event’s worth of videos).
Once people see some of these bad TEDx events, it’s common for them to assume that TEDx == bad, and if they want professional videography, a big stage, and so on, they have to “get a TED Talk” instead.
Really, they mean something like this:
Big stage, big TEDx letters, big screen, nice branding.
This is my client Connie speaking at TEDxDayton.
Instead of thinking, “TEDx = bad, TED = good,” think, “Speak at the best TEDx events.” The benefits are just as high as speaking at TED, and it’s a much more accessible goal (plus, 99% of the public doesn’t know the difference).
Are The Best TEDx Events Only For Experienced Speakers?
It’s true that the biggest TEDx events have larger audiences and larger social media followings. More people know about the event, so while more people attend, more people also apply to speak as well.
So, it’s common for people to think that their effort is best spent speaking on a poor TEDx stage first, then speaking on a better TEDx stage for their second TEDx talk.
This is exactly what my TEDx coaching client Leo thought, too. In our initial call together, he told me that he’d applied to speak at a very large TEDx event, one of the largest in the world, and had been turned down years prior.
He thought he might have to speak on smaller TEDx stages first because it was more achievable.
But, I told him that we’d have a much better shot at getting booked with a better pitch and identifying and developing some of the best TED Talks topics for him (matched to his expertise, passions, and goals).
Sure enough, here’s Leo, delivering his first-ever TEDx talk at one of the largest TEDx conferences in the world:
So, while the best TEDx events are more competitive, it is possible as a first-time speaker to get booked there. In fact, all of my TEDx coaching clients are first-time TEDx speakers, and all spoke on very good TEDx stages.
What Are the Advantages of Getting Booked at The Best TEDx Events?
50x Easier than TED, With All The Benefits
If you ask the general public, they won’t know that there is a difference between TEDx and TED. Plus, many great TEDx events have larger stages than TED itself.
Just check the comments section for any TEDx talk, and you’ll see that the public sees talks done at good TEDx events as “TED Talks.”
Here’s an example of a talk done by Brené Brown at TEDxHouston, where ALL OVER the comments section, people describe it as a TED Talk.
So, there technically IS a difference between TED and TEDx talks, but for your purposes as a speaker, if you want to know “how to get a TED talk” in the public’s eyes, simply become a TEDx speaker, but only if it’s at the best TEDx events.
You Look Like a Rockstar
If it’s not already self-apparent from the photos above, a poor TEDx stage can make you look like a complete amateur. To make matters worse, once the video is uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel, you can’t take it down. It’s not your content anymore. It’s online forever.
It’s a little like publishing a book with the best content and a poor-looking cover, but it still has your name.
And you can’t unpublish it or make changes to it after it’s done.
Think of what it must be like to do a TEDx talk on a small amateur (or even fake-looking stage). If your friends or potential clients ever found out that you did a TEDx talk, the FIRST thing they would ask is to see the video.
But, most people are unaware that poor TEDx events are still TEDx events, and they may think that you faked your TEDx talk. Or, they may think that you weren’t good enough to speak on a good stage.
On the other hand, a great TEDx stage can make you look like a rockstar! It feels great, and it’s easier to establish your credibility as a real expert in your field, which helps grow a business and get booked to speak at other events.
Speaking at the best TEDx events is key if you want to look like an expert, which helps you do keynotes, land a book deal, and is the first step I recommend for anyone who wants to know how to get a TED talk (on the big TED stage!).
10-30x More Views
I analyzed the YouTube views of 130,000 TEDx talks over the past ten years and found some very strong trends.
The best events in the world had a view count of 10-30x MORE than the average. That means, JUST by speaking at the best TEDx events, you’ll give your message a 10-30x boost in views.
The best events have larger in-person audiences, email lists, and social media followings. All of this means your talk, in the first few days of launch, gets a massive boost in exposure.
More Valuable Network (of Speakers and Volunteers)
One of the most valuable yet underappreciated benefits of being a TEDx speaker is the other speakers you’ll meet. The best events attract the best experts, and as a speaker, you’re their peer.
The best events are also run by top entrepreneurs in your area. They’re the movers and shakers.
You won’t just meet these others influencers and thought leaders from different industries, and you’ll be working closely with them and have a shared experience that few others understand.
Free Speaker Coaching
Better events can also do more to support you as a speaker throughout the process.
They often have free speaker coaching for those that are booked (this is one big reason you don’t need to hire a coach that can only help you with your talk – these people coach TEDx speakers for free after you’re booked at a great event), and they’ll have speaker social events, dress rehearsals, and even things like speaker merch.
What Are The Best TEDx Events?
Events Run by the Best Organizers
Generally, the best TEDx event organizers:
- Create a website for their event (not all events have this)
- Have run at least one TEDx event in the past (events get better over time)
- And SOME (the VERY best) have also attended some extra training that TED gives organizers during the TED/TEDWomen conferences, enabling the organizer to have more than 100 attendees for their event!
So, simply stated: target events that are established, have websites, and where (ideally) the organizer has attended TED (I’ll show you how to find these indicators in the next section).
Best TEDx Event Types
TEDx events have certain types — some are often held in high schools and are organized by high school students, not in a conference hall (Youth), and some are held only in libraries (Library events).
Some event types don’t have speakers at all and simply show pre-recorded videos from TED and have a discussion (this is the case for TEDxLive events and many Library and Salon events).
But, some events are much larger and are typically held in large conference halls or theatre venues.
Talks filmed at Standard, University, and TEDxWomen event types get twice as many views as videos from Salon, Youth, or Library event types. (I found this from analyzing the performance of over 130,000 TEDx YouTube videos).
Best Videography and Biggest TEDx Stages
Even amongst the best event types (Standard/University/TEDxWomen), and for experienced organizers, there is a drastic variation between the stage. Both of these, for example, are Standard events:
And as I said before, some events aren’t even filmed!
In the next section, I’ll show you two methods for finding out whether an event is filmed and checking the quality of the stage.
TEDx events can get hundreds of speaker applications, so they are far more likely to select speakers who live locally (or at least in the same country) than speakers from abroad.
This is for a number of reasons – one benefit an organizer gets from running the event is meeting the speakers, and this benefit is greater if the organizer knows they’ll at least be able to see the speakers in the months leading up to the event, as well as after. An in-person relationship is always better than a purely virtual one.
Also, it’s logistically far easier to ensure you have a great event if you can have the speakers for meetings or auditions leading up to the event. It’s a huge risk for the organizer if they can’t do a dress rehearsal with you.
You’re also responsible as a speaker for paying for your own travel costs (again, because running an event is expensive, and TEDx event organizers don’t need to get speakers from far away).
So, I always recommend you focus on events that are in your local area, or at least in countries you’ve lived before, even if you are willing to pay for your own travel.
The Right Time
Imagine finding the perfect event, but it’s occurring next week or even next month. Is it a good event for you? Nope.
TEDx events typically have their first speaker selection deadline six months before the event date. TEDx events will typically occur on an annual cycle, and since events are volunteer-run, TEDx organizers are not always in event-organizing mode. Sometimes they take a vacation or just focus on their day job or business.
So, if you apply after the speaker selection deadline, you’ll miss out. But, if you reach out to them too far BEFORE they start looking for speakers, you’ll likely get ignored.
So, Which TEDx Events Are Best, For You, Right Now?
Generally, the best TEDx events:
- Have a website
- Have occurred at least one time before
- Standard, University, and TEDxWomen event types
- Located in countries/places you’ve lived before (the stronger the connection between you and the place, the better)
- 6-9 months from today
- Events that are filmed and have a great looking stage
How do You Find The Best TEDx Events?
There are two methods. By far the fastest and easiest is to use the TEDx event list and email alerts I developed. Here’s how it looks.
If you’d rather do this research manually, here’s how to find all this information on TEDx events using Google, YouTube, and TED’s website.
This method involves the following steps:
- Look on TED’s website to find events that are happening at the right time are the right type and are in the right location
- Look at the event’s TED profile page to make sure the event is sufficiently established (I don’t recommend first-time events, but you may also want to prioritize events that have happened several times before)
- Search Google to find the website (so you can find the TEDx speaker application form)
- Search YouTube to make sure the event is filmed, and check the stage quality
Step 1: Find ALL Events With TED’s Event Directory
First, you’ll need to go to the TED event directory. My TEDx event list pulls data from here, and it is the only official TEDx event list.
You’ll see a map and a table below the map. There are search filters above to search for a country OR an event type.
I no longer use this method (as it takes far less time to use my TEDx Event List instead), but it’s probably easiest to use the search box to search for Country.
For example, if you’re in the United States, this is what you’d do:
Unfortunately, TED’s website doesn’t allow you to filter on location AND event type at once (this is one reason I developed the spreadsheet method that’s automatically updated — it makes it possible to search for multiple criteria at once).
Step 2: Eliminate Anything That’s Not The Right TEDx Event Type
The next step is to find events of the right type (Standard, University, or TEDxWomen). Clicking on the blue dots brings up the event name and date, but NOT the event type (which is important – the wrong event type won’t have speakers at all)
Instead, use the table below the map, click the “next” button a number of times until the event dates are at least 6 months out, and click on the event names that are the right types (Standard, University, TEDxWomen only)
Step 3: Find the Website (And Verify It Has One)
Once you’ve found a Standard/University/TEDxWomen event in your area, that’s the right time. The next step is to ensure it’s a good quality event and know how to apply.
You can check the website, the number of past events, whether or not the main organizer has attended TED, and check for past videos.
Clicking on the event name brings up a page where you can see the event theme, venue (which may be tentative), the organizer name, and SOMETIMES the event website.
For instance, this profile page for TEDxBayonne lists a website:
But this page for TEDxPenn doesn’t, yet their website (TEDxPenn.com) be found with a Google search. Either way, it’s ok, as the website exists.
Step 4: See How Established it Is
Next, to find the number of past events, click on the “See More TEDxPenn events” link on the right-hand side. On the page that is shown, scroll to the bottom and click on “Past,” and you’ll see that TEDxPenn is quite an established event:
Step 5: Verify The TEDx Event Is Filmed (And the Stage Is Good)
Next, make sure talks from the event are filmed. To do this, you’ll search on the TEDx YouTube channel. Here, you can see an example search for “TEDxManchester”:
So, we know that TEDxManchester is filmed, and it looks like the stage is pretty good as well!
Step 6: See if it Will be One of The Biggest TEDx Events
The last piece of the quality puzzle is seeing if the organizer has attended TED. This tells us if they’re allowed to have more than 100 people in the audience.
On the TED event profile page, you can see the name of the organizer at the bottom:
If you click on their profile picture or name, you’ll bring up a profile page for them. For Carissa, for example, it looks like this:
But, here is the profile of another organizer, for TEDxOshKosh:
The “TED Attendee” badge indicates that Michael has been to one of TED’s training seminars for TEDx organizers and will be able to run events with more than 100 attendees. In other words, the biggest TEDx events!
That’s the manual way to find the best TEDx events.
Of course, you probably found that annoying (as do I), and if you’d like a much easier way to find the best TEDx events, you can automate all of the above by signing up for my TEDx event list and alerts.
Once You’ve Found a Great Event, Apply!
Once you’ve found an event (or events) you’d like to speak at, it’s time to apply!
Check out this article for a detailed walkthrough of how to apply to be a TEDx speaker once you’ve found the best events for you.