Do you have what it takes to be a TEDx speaker?

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. 

Elaine Powell runs a company called the MindSpeak Academy. She joined me in one episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur and shared how she helps people get onto TED.

Image from LinkedIn

Speaking on a Prestigious Stage

Everyone loves TED but no one knows how to get into it. As Elaine clarified, it’s not impossible to be on one of the most prestigious stages to get on. And it can be likened to a funnel: Many people come into it but only a few come out the other end. 

Getting onto TED is ultimately about an idea worth spreading. Whoever is interested in speaking on TED or TEDx must spend time thinking about their idea. Is it unique? Is it innovative? Is it something that they’ve been living for a long time? Usually, the people you’ll find on the TED or TEDx stage are experts. They’re scientists and authors who have been predominantly living their certain ideas for a while now. 

To some degree, anyone can get on the TEDx stage. But it really depends on the idea that you’ve come up with. Everyone can have an idea inside of them though some ideas aren’t meant to be birthed right now.

TED vs TEDx

TED was born in 1984. Richard Wurman along with another gentleman started it. And it was primarily a conference where thought leaders, especially those around Silicon Valley (because it was based in California), can share new technology. After all, TED is Technology, Entertainment, and Design. 

At the time, it cost around $5,000 to attend for a week. Thought leaders would speak up to 18 minutes. In an event like this, it’s not just about the talk — it’s the networking and the people. 

As time progressed, people became interested in having that TED experience. They’d like it to be in their local city because they can’t come all the way to California and they don’t have money for it. Then, they set up TEDx.

Screengrab from ted.com

TED is like McDonald’s and TEDx is a franchise. TEDx is run by independent organizers who are not affiliated with TED. Though they aren’t overseen that much, they have to follow a blueprint. As a TEDx curator for three years, Elaine has gone through the process of being a license holder.

Unless you really have the most outstanding innovation ideas that can be backed by research and science, you’re more likely to get onto a TEDx stage than a TED stage. Every year, TED receives around 25,000 applications. And applicants mainly want to get that credibility: They want to be on the big TED stage. However, only a few get invited. 

But even though you won’t be on the TED stage, Elaine noted that you can still get on ted.com. This can happen once TED deems that your TEDx talk is good enough (They watch TEDx talks to fact-check everything before they get uploaded on YouTube). Currently, the platform has 3,800 talks out of the 150,000 TEDx talks existing.

How to Get onto TEDx

The TED organisation hasn’t made it easy to get onto its big platform. It’s easier to get on a TEDx stage.

When you visit ted.com, go to the menu bar at the top and look at all the TEDx events that are happening throughout the world. This is where you can start. Though the dates are indicated, not all TEDx events organisers have a website. So you have to do a lot of research to find which among those events are actually open for speakers. 

Some have year-round rolling applications, others only run for certain months. For instance, if their event is in September next year, they’ll start promoting for speakers eight months prior. So you have to keep an eye out when organisers are going to start opening up applications.

Elaine remarked that as every TEDx talk event is independent, every application form is also different. But there are some key things that people will always ask for. Some will ask you to tell your idea in a sentence or 15 words or less; then they will ask if you can tell more about your idea in 250 to 500 words. Some may also ask about your credibility. Others will ask about your favourite TEDx talk. And then, lastly, some will ask for a one- to two-minute video of you talking about your TEDx idea.

Image from Unsplash

TED does well in providing all the ingredients to TEDx organisers, including a curator who will need to run the event. They give guidelines about how to pick speakers and how to work with them. They also keep an eye out because, just like McDonald’s, if a franchisee starts selling curry, they’re going to revoke that license. 

There’s a process that you have to go through once you submit your application for a TEDx talk. Keep in mind that every event is different. For instance, in England, there could be about 60 TEDx events that are following the guidelines but will ask different questions. Then, they will ask you to put your responses in writing. Some won’t get back to you to say you’re rejected; some you won’t be able to hear from. Some may also pick 30 of the best ideas and then come up with a shortlist. They may also get people to interview applicants.  

The point is, 60 events will do it all differently. As they’re not following all the same process, it makes it really hard to apply. 

Elaine suggested that if you’re not on a program to help you through the process, you have to apply first to a local TEDx event. Because it’s meant to be about community; it’s meant to make a difference to people who are living in that area. You have to look at the ones that are nearest to you and apply to two or three with the same idea. You can also apply with different ideas to different TEDx events. 

She cited a friend who applied to three events with the same idea. Two came back and responded yes. She went back to the last one and said that her first idea was accepted. Then she stated she had another idea, which they later accepted.

How to Prepare for a TEDx Talk

There are some TEDx talk applicants who are doing a lot of the heavy lifting even before they’ve been accepted. Elaine said that most people that she works with already have an idea and a synopsis. Then, they’ll start writing their talks. This helps them be a lot clearer about their idea and what people can do afterwards. 

Image from Unsplash

When you’ve also been accepted by a TEDx event, the majority of them will give you a speaker coach. That speaker coach will work with you for three to six months ahead of the event. 

There are people who will be doing a TEDx event for the first time, so they’ll be new and they’ll be on that learning curve. Sometimes, they won’t have a speaker coach or they’d have a people coach who’s not that experienced in the world of speaking. 

There are also those bigger events wherein you’ll have an experienced speaker curation team that will help you shift and mold your idea.

Take note that everything about TEDx is voluntary. It’s a non-profit organisation: You don’t get paid to speak on TEDx and you also don’t pay to speak on it. All of that process is free. Here, time is the most precious commodity. 

At the MindSpeak Academy, they’d suggest you allocate 50 to 60 hours to craft a TEDx talk. Don’t think that you could just write it and mend it a few times and think that it’s already a masterpiece. You have to give it the time and respect that it deserves. 

The reason people hire coaches like Elaine is that they see a TEDx talk as a business investment; that it’s a piece of intellectual property and a product that they need to make sure is the best. It’s going to sit on YouTube and opportunities are going to come their way, which they can leverage to book more clients.

Though you don’t need to do it in order to get on the TEDx stage, it will make your chances a lot easier.

Tips for Your TEDx Talk

For Elaine, mindset is a primary thing. You have to believe that your idea is good enough. You have to be internally confident that you are a thought leader and you have something credible to say. She only works with people with whom she has talked and considers to be capable of winning with their idea. If she sees that you can’t win with your idea or you are not that confident, she’ll suggest you come back in a few years’ time. 

You also have to be really in touch with your why. Why are you doing this? It can be because of your passion or your heart to make a huge difference. Then, think about how are you going to make this legacy live. What’s your strategy afterwards to leverage your talk so you can grow your business or employ more people?  

Image from Unsplash

One of Elaine’s taglines is that she helps people deliver presentations and TEDx talks so that they can advance the human race and transform the world. Because it’s these ideas that transform people and the world. 

When she’s working with anyone who wants to deliver a TEDx talk, she encourages them to talk about their idea. You have to be really solid in why you’re doing it so that when it gets tough, you’ll keep going.

What Compelled Elaine to Be a Speaking Coach

In 2011, there were riots in the UK, which have affected a lot of the big cities. Back then, Elaine was doing public speaking workshops in schools. She recounted how she kept hearing the young people saying that they weren’t given a voice, which is why they had to express themselves that way.

She thought that she has a huge history of working with young offenders and young people in public speaking. Given that she does public speaking, she thought of running a TEDx event for them to give them a platform where they can share their voice. This is what she did along with the BRIT School, which she ran for three years.

Over the past couple of years, she’s been a TEDx coach for one of the London TEDx events. Now, she’s currently coaching people with public speaking (which is her area of expertise) and helping them get onto the TEDx stage. 

To find out more about her, visit www.mindspeakacademy.com. You can also check her out on Clubhouse where she’s in a lot of rooms around TEDx and public speaking. 

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

Cover image by Matthias Wagner on Unsplash