Who is qualified to give a TED or
TEDx Talk? The short answer: anyone
with a great idea. Again, TED’s slogan
of “Ideas worth spreading” is the core
of its massive brand. The reason so
many people enjoy watching TED Talks
is because of the ideas, not the celebrity
of the speakers. It’s that simple. A huge
part of TED’s success can be attributed
to their strict adherence to that brand
position. The ideas are the stars.
So if you want to get invited to give
a TED Talk, you have to have a great
idea. A big idea. One that has the
potential to change the world. An idea
worth spreading. It can’t be just a slight
improvement on what came before. It
has to be breakthrough. As an organizer
and speaking coach for TEDxPortland,
one of the largest and longest-standing
TEDx events in the world, I get many
emails from people who want to speak
at our event but don’t understand the
order of importance: Idea first. Everything else after. And I mean everything.
If your idea is ordinary, unoriginal,
half-baked, or you have no enthusiasm
for it, you won’t get accepted. It
doesn’t matter who you are.
There are a lot of key differences
between a professional speech and a
TED Talk. The first one is time. TED’s
format is 18 minutes or less. And TED
is strict about time (although there are
many talks that have gone over). Eighteen minutes is enough time to get an
idea across in a powerful way but not
long enough to bore the hell out of
people. This is a major contributing
factor to the success and viral nature of
Know What They’re Looking For
TEDx organizers are looking to provide
a platform for people who are doing
remarkable things, or have big ideas
that would not have normally been rec-
ognized any other way. The TED web-
site even warns that its events are not a
platform for professional speakers.
Because even if you’re a polished
speaker and they choose you, they will
most likely assign you a speaking coach
to work with you to assure TED’s con-
versational presentation style.
Use this information to your advantage. When you submit your proposal,
let them know you understand the TED
platform and you know it’s all about
ideas worth spreading. Let them know
you are willing to work with their
coaching team and take feedback. This
will increase your chances.
Choosing the Right TEDx
Not all TEDx events are equal. Do
your research. Find out how long the
particular TEDx has been running and
how many attendees their license
allows them to have at their events.
Consider the audience size, theme, the
venue and their performance plan,
including their stage design, production
quality and support team.
Check out past speakers and their
videos. How is the quality? I know of
speakers who gave a TEDx Talk only to
be embarrassed by the video and audio
quality. Even though the TEDx events
are supposed to adhere to the strict
guidelines of TED, some fall short. So
make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Once you’ve settled on some
TEDx events you’d like to speak at, see
if they allow speaker submissions.
And know that you won’t be paid
for your talk. Also, depending on the
size and budget of the event, they may
not even be able to reimburse you for
your travel expenses. That’s why a lot
of the TEDx events choose local speakers, or ones who’ll pay their own way.
(The best place to check all the upcoming events and information is at
Once you’ve been selected to give a
TED Talk, the real work begins. As part
of your agreement to give the talk,
you’ll sign a release form, which allows
TED to freely distribute your talk
under the Creative Commons License.
That means once you give your TED
Talk, it will be on the TED website in
the TEDx section for a very, very long
time. So prepare carefully.
How to Prepare Your TED Talk
First, in composing your TED Talk, you
should split it into the three parts of
what I call the One Storytelling Model:
one universal theme, one emotional shift
and one intended outcome. Your idea
should have universal appeal. When you
deliver it and support it with evidence, it
should cause your audience to have an
emotional shift. And finally, they should
realize that their life will be impacted in
some way because of your idea, which
will inspire them to act on it.
While working on my first TEDx
Talk, I watched hundreds of others. I
looked for every top 10 list I could find
on the Internet, on a huge variety of
topics. I started seeing some commonali-ties, especially in the most popular talks.
I compiled for myself a list of TED Talk
Essential Elements. While creating your
talk, try to incorporate as many of these
elements as you can:
Universal theme. The idea of
your talk needs to have a univer-
sal theme. It should be simple, under-
standable and repeatable.
Catch phrases. Create and in-
clude your own unique phrases
that are sticky—phrases that will make
people think and remember. Don’t
Supporting evidence. Your idea
needs outside supporting evi-
dence, not just your passionate asser-
tion. This is a critical element and
should be implemented in a memorable
and easy-to-understand manner.