How to Become a TEDx Speaker

In 2017, a friend had the honour of sharing his message on the TEDxUI stage. Many of my clients ask me how they, too, can be a TEDx speaker because just giving a talk on that red circle elevates your status as a speaker and influencer.

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t just come find you and ask you to speak!

You have to pursue the opportunity.

Here’s how to do that:

First, you must understand the difference between TED and TEDx.

Every spring, the TED organization hosts the annual TED conference. This is a gigantic week event where CEOs, politicians, and super famous people are asked to speak. While it would be most professional speakers’ dream to get on this stage, that’s not the one we’re aiming for here. TEDx events, not the TED conference, is what we want. TEDx events happen year-round in various cities. Most TEDx events last only a day.

Think about TEDx as TED‘s franchise model.

People around the world who love TED talks apply for a license to use the TED name to hold their own inspiring conference. They name the conference TEDx[location], where [location] is the city where this franchise conference is being held.

For example, TEDx[location]. The speakers at these smaller TEDx conferences have the benefit of being associated with the TED organization, even though they don’t grace the annual TED conference stage.

Here are the actionable steps to get your TEDx speaking spots:

1 – Devise a TEDx-worthy topic.

TEDx conferences are supposed to feature “ideas worth spreading”. There’s not going to be any selling from the stage here. There’s not going to be any mediocre motivational talks. You need to develop an incredible idea that you’re qualified to talk about before you approach the conference organizers. This process doesn’t involve approaching them and asking what “content gaps” need to be filled in their event. Before you start reaching out, you need to know: who you are, how you want to publicly present yourself, an what you speak on.

2 – Browse TED.com for TEDx conferences 6 months to 1 year in the future.

Now that you’ve focused on a topic, you’re better suited to weed through all the potential TEDx conferences to see where you might be a good fit. TED.com keeps a running list of all upcoming TEDx conferences here. You’ll notice they are listed in chronological order. You shouldn’t be interested in conferences that are happening next week. They’ve already booked their speakers.

Scroll through until you find the conferences being held 6 months to a year in the future. These are potential events you want to focus on because they have not yet chosen their speakers.

Next, pay attention to the locations where each conference is being held. There are many TEDx conferences held each year. You won’t have time to apply to speak at each, nor should you try to.

Instead, see where the conferences in that 6months to 1year time frame are being held, and eliminate those that you cannot afford to travel to. TEDx organizers do not reimburse speakers for travel fees. So, unless you want to make a vacation out of it, you’re better off focusing on conferences closer to home. Additionally, this may help your chances of getting selected. It’s been my experience that TEDx organizers like local speakers, if possible.

3 – Check out the individual conference websites.

Once you’ve identified a few conferences that seem logistically viable to you, click on them on the TED website to learn more. Each TEDx event listed on the TED website will feature some basic information, including the date of the event and the location.

Ideally, one other piece of information will also be there: the URL for the TEDx conference. Most organizers set up a separate website for their event. If it is not listed, you may have to try and google it.

The reason you want to find the conference website is primarily two-fold: you need to know the application process, and you need to know the conference theme, which I will explain in step 4 below.

4 – Apply to speak.

Every TEDx conference has a theme. The theme of the conference where I spoke was “thrive”. While such a simple word might invoke many possibilities, the conference organizers usually have a specific vision in mind, which they’ll explain on the conference website. Understanding the theme of the conference is going to be the most powerful tool you have in getting selected as a speaker because conference organizers don’t want to book speakers to talk on topics outside the theme. Your content might be amazing, but if it doesn’t flow with the rest of the talks, it won’t fly at that conference.

If your topic doesn’t match the conference theme, don’t apply.

Don’t try to twist your topic to fit the theme.

Don’t try to make up convoluted reasons why your topic matches the theme. The organizers can see right through that. In the end, you won’t be chosen, and you’ll just be wasting everyone’s time, including your own. Instead, go back and consider some of the other conferences you identified as possible choices.

If your topic does match the theme well, you should apply by the process they’ve specified.

Every conference is different because they are run by different groups. Usually, the first round involves an online application asking for your biographical information, talk topic, brief talk outline and how it relates to the theme. A short video is often required as well.

Make your application video memorable. Some of these organizers are watching 50+ application videos. Will they remember yours when it’s all over? That doesn’t mean to be immature or off-brand just to make a point, but if you’re not willing to put in some extra effort there, why should they choose you? A senior colleague filmed his application video while traveling in Martinique. A tropical rainforest as a backdrop is hard to forget.

5 – Connect with the conference organizers on social media.

Even if you don’t live in the town where the TEDx conference is being held, you should still give the impression that you’re invested and willing to do all you can to make sure the event, if you are selected to speak, will be successful. Like the conference Facebook page. Connect with the organizers on LinkedIn. Send them a message to let them know you applied. Or, better yet, send them a message before you apply to ask for more information about the theme. Share updates they put out about the conference on social media. Do all that you can to keep them from thinking of you as a stranger and more as a partner in this project.

6 – Make it easy for them to say ‘yes’.

While I can’t speak for every organization committee’s process, in my case there was a follow-up interview during which I was asked to prepare and deliver 5 minutes of my talk.

My advice? This isn’t amateur hour. Practice, practice, practice what you’re going to say, and deliver it with the professionalism that you would have if you were actually on the TEDx stage during that follow-up interview. You wouldn’t have gotten this far if your talk wasn’t a good match for the conference, so now you’re being judged on your ability to deliver that talk.

From the start of this process to being chosen, it takes about 4 months or more. The journey will be long and definitely require some effort, but in the end, it was all worth it!

Ore Afolayan

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