Get on the TEDx Speaker List: 5 Tips

As one year closes and a new one gets ready to start, perhaps speaking at a TEDx event is on your list of goals to achieve for the new year.

TED talks open us up to all kinds of ideas from people around the world working in many different industries. We’re able to learn from one another, see the good that is in motion, see the problems we need to address, gain hope and insight to challenges we have personally, as well as those we were not previously aware of.

With approximately 450+ TEDx events taking place in 80+ countries last month, and similar volumes taking place each and every month, the opportunities are there for the taking.

This past December, I was part of the team who brought one of the first TEDxWomen events to Toronto, TEDxDistilleryDistrictWomen. It was a huge success with a supportive audience of 100 and seven entertaining and informative speakers from different ages, industries and backgrounds, sharing talks on a whole range of subjects.

A key component of a successful TEDx event is focused on the speakers. Typically, for these events there is a call for speakers, a speaker selection process, a shortlist, then a final list. At a deeper level, this is your chance, as a leader in your area, to share your ideas.

After having been named the Director of Speakers and operating as the speaker lead and main point of contact for all potential speakers for our event, I’ve gained substantial insight and experience that I’d like to share. It is my hope that these tips can aid you in developing a TEDx speaker proposal that lands you on the short list at your chosen event.

Please keep in mind each TEDx event may be run differently and may have a slightly different process. These tips are from the process I was part of for our event. I am not speaking on behalf of TEDx or, I am sharing what I have learned and what I believe may be helpful to anyone considering applying to speak at a TEDx event.


Number 1: Get your submission in on time

It sounds simple, but is true. Our event was run just like a project in the ‘real world’ with timelines, dates, milestones and dependencies. We needed to close applications by the deadline and start the process of reviewing applications on a tight timeline. Anything that was submitted late interrupted this process. Further than keeping to a process, being late with your application strikes fear into the organizing team. If a potential speaker can’t get their application in on time, will they be able to meet any of the other deadlines we needed them to meet (signing the release form, submitting their slides, attending speaker coaching, attending rehearsal, showing up the day of the event)?


Number 2: Have a well-thought out topic/point of view 

Understandably it can take some time to craft a great talk, but that time needs to be spent prior to submitting your proposal. Submitting plenty of unfinished and undeveloped ideas as your proposal leaves us wondering what to do with your talk. We wonder, which topic will you choose? With it being unclear, it can leave the speaker selection lead or advisory group ( we had an advisory group – each event may run their selection process differently) unsure of what direction your talk will take. This makes it hard for us to choose you over others who’ve been very clear with their written proposal. Most importantly, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to share your ideas just because they were not yet well developed nor communicated clearly.


Number 3: Explain it to me like I’m five years old

While TEDx is open to a vast variety of topics from people of all kinds of industries, you need to be able to explain your concept without assuming the reader of your proposal has any industry background or knowledge on your topic. Avoid jargon and concepts only those in your field would understand. Do not use this as an opportunity to show us how brilliant you are. Use it as an opportunity to show us how great a communicator you are – bringing a big idea to a diverse audience. Help us help you get onto the shortlist. We honestly want everyone to make it.


Number 4: Sum it up in the first paragraph

Bottom line up front. Elevator pitch. Clear. Short. Let me get it in six sentences. Feed me all the information in the first paragraph. Understand that yours may be one of hundreds of applications competing to talk at the event. We had 260 applications to review in one week all pushing to be one of the seven speakers selected.  As a result, when it was difficult to clearly “get” the point and purpose of the talk in the first paragraph, the advisory group had to dig into the proposal to try to understand what the big idea was which may have been open to our interpretation and misunderstanding. Don’t leave it to us to piece it together. Tell us.


Number 5: Do not sell your product or service

No commercial talks. A TEDx event is not a business or industry event. It is not the place to launch your latest product or service. It is a place to educate, to share and push ideas forward. It is not the place to pitch or sell anything but ideas. Yes, many TEDx talks have been given by people who run companies and make their living selling products or services. However, when they step onto the TEDx stage they are there to share a story, to share an idea that is not commercially focused.


I wish you the very best on your TEDx speaker application. And if you don’t make the shortlist on one, there are 450+ more opportunities for you to try again. Good luck!

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