5 Things to Know Before Applying for a TEDxTalk

One of the top goals for many professionals, across all industries, is being invited to deliver a TED/TEDx Talk. The TED brand has become synonymous with high-quality, engaging, and unique presentations about the research, ideas, and programs that are shaping our world.

While working with TEDx as a speaker coach, speaker curator, and now stepping into the role of co-organizer, I’ve learned quite a bit about what makes it onto the TEDx stage, and what misses the mark. I get asked about it fairly frequently, so consider this a quick guide if you’re interested in someday giving a TED/TEDx Talk.

Here are the top 5 things you need to know before applying for or nominating someone for a TED/TEDx Talk:

Know the TED/TEDx brand and its purpose

The TED/TEDx stage is NOT for traditional motivational speeches, spiritual or religious proselytizing, pseudo-science (or methods that have not yet been adequately vetted by scientific studies), pitching businesses, political stump speeches, promoting your book, or pitching yourself in any manner. The TED/TEDx stage is for people who have world-changing ideas in various fields including the sciences, arts and humanities, social change, education, design, and more. Beyond that, they’re experts actively doing work in these fields (more on this below.)

Know why your idea is TED-worthy

Can you articulate in roughly 90 seconds why your unique and original idea is world-changing? And furthermore, is it something very few to no people have discussed on the TED/TEDx stage before? This is a tall order, so I highly recommend going to TED.com and searching for Talks related to your idea and see what comes up. Then head over to YouTube and do a similar search for TEDx Talks that may have already covered this territory. Most curation teams will be doing the same thing, so go find out if this is already well-worn territory. And if it is, consider whether or not you have a unique take or experience on the idea, because the world is a complex place and we like to feature different perspectives.

Know the process for application and nomination

Different TEDx shows have different speaker curation processes (though we’re all held to the high standards TED specifies when granting TEDx licenses), so get to know the show you’re interested in applying for and what their process is. For instance, my show (the largest TEDx in Atlanta) has several avenues to apply for or nominate a speaker, including doing a 90-second video pitch at our kick-off event. From there our curation team sorts through well over a hundred applications, short pitches, and nominations to choose 15-17 speakers for that year’s show.

Know why you’re the best person to deliver this Talk

It isn’t enough to have an incredible idea; you must also be doing work in the field related to your idea. If you have an idea for ending hunger in America, then we want to see what you’re doing to put that idea into action. Have you launched a non-profit? Developed an app? Done effective community organizing? The curation team will look at all of it to determine if you’re the best person to deliver the Talk. For example, the speaker I coached last year is a cardiologist who thinks the path to better health isn’t more education, but in engaging in giving and charitable activities. Beyond being a doctor, he also launched a program in the Portland-area to test out his idea, and it’s working. Getting on stage is a culmination of idea, experience, and verifiability.

Know your schedule and bandwidth 

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TED/TEDx speakers commit to working with a speaker coach for at least 1-3 hours a week, and for as many as three-plus months to prepare their Talk. Because the organization is entirely volunteer-based, you will not get paid for your time nor for the Talk itself. We put speakers through a rigorous process of writing, speaking, tough feedback, and rehearsing before they get on stage; not everyone is prepared for how challenging it is! And while you will most likely grow as a speaker and as a professional, sometimes the time commitment can be overwhelming. As in, know what you’re getting into, and I mean that in the best possible way.

If it’s your dream to deliver a TED/TEDx Talk, then get to know TED’s purpose and what you can contribute. Do the work, get familiar with the brand, and focus on making the world a better place, instead of focusing on how you can get yourself on stage. We can spot a self-serving opportunist from a mile away (remember the TED/TEDx stage is not a place to promote yourself or your business), and we will curate accordingly.

On the flip side, if you don’t make it the first time, but you are genuinely doing great work in your community, then keep trying! Different shows are looking for different speakers from a variety of backgrounds, and timing is everything. What may not fit this year could be perfect for next year. Good luck!

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