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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!

Related: How to Maximize Filming Your Presentations, Why Introverts Make Excellent Public Speakers

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Do’s and Don’ts for Getting Over Writer’s Block

There’s nothing like staring at a blank page on a computer screen to create a seemingly insurmountable mental block about what you’re going to write. Even the most experienced writers experience it, and if you don’t have a few good strategies for getting over writer’s block it can create serious issues for your workflow. Here are some of my favorite Do’s and Don’ts for getting over writer’s block.
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6 Tips to Immediately Improve Your Writing Skills

Do you ever wish you had paid more attention in your high school English composition class? Maybe you’re feeling rusty on the more obscure grammar rules, or perhaps you wish you knew how to use adjectives in a way that elevates (rather than complicates) your writing. Being a skilled writer takes practice and dedication, but if you’re mostly looking to polish up some skills (instead of becoming the next Hemingway) then here are some quick tips that will immediately improve your writing skills.
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Why Introverts Make Excellent Public Speakers

In 1995 I took my very first speech class (in high school), because I needed an elective. The truth is, I was dreading it! I’m a hardcore introvert and my preferred natural state is at home and not talking to anyone, much less an audience. But that class changed my life forever, and it showed me public speaking isn’t just something introverts can learn to do; it’s something we can master! If you’re currently an introvert reading this from the safety and comfort of your couch, then I’m here to show you why you can become the public speaker you’ve always wanted to be.
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How to Make Complex Info Accessible for Your Audience

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” –Albert Einstein

One of the biggest challenges speakers and writers face, especially those who are experts in their field, is how to make complex information accessible and relatable to the audience. Whenever I address this topic with my clients, the immediate push-back I get is “I don’t want to dumb it down.” I expect this reaction, because most of us are not only attached to our work, we’re attached to being experts in our field.
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3 Reasons Why You Need a Presentation Coach

In the last few years, TED and TEDx Talks have rapidly become the gold standard of public speaking: the presentations are informative, witty, innovative, and demonstrate the best of what a killer presentation can do. But did you ever wonder how they manage to maintain that level of consistency and quality in every Talk? Are all of these subject matter experts also naturally brilliant orators as well?
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How to Tell a Darn Good Story

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, on a dark and stormy night, people used to sit around the fire at night and tell each other stories. In fact, we were storytellers long before we had even developed a written language; stories connected us, taught valuable lessons, and created a shared history.

Storytelling continues to be integral to who we are, and mastering telling a great story is a great way to connect with any audience.  But how do we craft a great story? And what delineates a great story from a not-so-great story? After all, we’ve probably all had the experience of hearing or reading a story that just didn’t work.
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How to Write a Speech: Edit With Purpose

Dear Fellow Speakers (and Writers),

It’s time for some tough love about how we spend our time on the stage. Too often we get so wrapped up in thinking we are saying the most important thing ever, that we abuse the time allotted and end up boring our audience. Or worse, we speak for so long they become agitated and even feel trapped! This isn’t just a stage problem, it can go back to the beginning of preparation, all the way to the writing process as well.
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