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In 2019, I was lucky enough to give two TEDx talks. But the end result of the talk doesn’t reflect the months, and possibly even years, of work that goes into doing something like that. Since so much work goes into a polished final product, it’s easy to overlook the massive rejection, idea editing, and memorization that speaker put into their talk.
Recently, someone asked me if I’d give them some advice on getting a TEDx talk. My first question was, “Are you ready to be rejected dozens of times, and will you still have the fortitude to keep going if that happens?”
That’s because some people think it’s as simple as finding your local TEDx event and applying to talk. Most speakers who get those talks, however, have put in time reading books about TED talks, watching many talks to learn about format, substance, and pacing, and have possibly even hired a coach to help them. More often, it’s a strategic application process spread out over multiple cities or event states.
Related: 6 Things Successful TEDx Speakers Do to Crush Any Speaking Gig
Here are some tips if you’re thinking about giving a TEDx talk and how to stand out from the crowd.
1. Your First Idea is Not Good Enough Alone; Keep Pushing
This can be hard to hear, but the thread of an idea you have for a TEDx talk needs work. You need a compelling story, ideally in three parts, that will stand out from thousands of other talks. You might start with an idea like “pushing through rejection” but a quick search will reveal that many speakers have covered that topic already. How will yours be different?
Local organizers will pass over your application if you don’t keep pushing the concept. If you do advance, they’ll definitely ask what makes your talk different, so you need to be prepared to speak to this.
Watch other TEDx videos both in your area of expertise and beyond. Use this to note what you like and don’t like that other speakers did, and look for how they broke their idea down into 2-3 ideas over the course of the talk.
2. Brainstorm Your Idea in Three Parts
Most talks open with a clear hook, but have 2-3 sections of content ideas inside. This helps to provide a flow of the entire talk and makes it easier for you to memorize in the future by thinking about 2-3 main points you’ll make in the talk.
For my first talk, my idea was simply my title, “The Future is Freelancing.” My argument was that the freelance revolution is already picking up steam and that it’s got a lot of power for both those wanting a career change and for small, medium and large-sized businesses to scale faster by using freelance talent.
That’s a nugget of an idea, but it’s not a talk.
Working on my idea pushed me to a next level with it:
- Part 1: Freelancing is the future, and the numbers back it (sharing my own story but also diving into the number of freelancers in the US and how many are making six figures.) The goal of this section is to introduce me and to show the audience how freelancing is on the rise.
- Part 2: People aren’t taking freelancing seriously as a career, which means many people fall into it with very little background on how to build a successful freelance business. In this section, the goal was to debunk four myths around freelancing.
- Part 3: Explain how to work as a freelancer using real examples from people who have modeled their business in different ways. The goal is to show who this might be/not be for.
Each of those three sections could work on its own, but are also really powerful together.
Related: 5 Creative Ways to Get Exposure for Your TEDx Talk
3. Share Your Idea with Someone Who Has a TEDx Connection
Another TEDx speaker, a former organizer, or a speaker coordinator at an event can be a great sounding board. This is also a good time to talk with a public speaking coach, if applicable. They can really help workshop your idea into something you’re proud to share.
Don’t let someone shoot down your idea, but ask things like, “Do you have any general tips for me?” You can learn a lot from people who have been through the process.
I once guided someone all the way through the application process just by sharing my experience with the person applying and it helped her avoid a few missteps and increase her chances of ultimate success just because she now knew the lay of the land.
4. Create a 1-2 Minute Video of Your Main Idea
Some local TEDx events will ask for this, but it’s also an amazing exercise in seeing how well you really know your idea. Do you have a clear thissis? Do you have a hook? Is there enough here for you to talk for 12-18 minutes about it?
It can be surprising how many times you might need to record to get a short video right, but in the process, you’ll work through your idea and edit your words for clarity. All of that is helpful for you to keep pushing your idea, too.
5. Apply 6-8 Months in Advance of the Live Event
Many events choose speakers six months in advance. It takes time to select speakers because many local events go through 2-4 rounds of speaker selection.
You should apply to any local event where you have a personal connection. Spreading a wider net will increase your chances of getting an invite. Some places you might want to think about include:
- Cities where you grew up
- Colleges/universities you attended or worked at
- Places you have a personal connection to, like towns you lived in for some time
- Areas within driving/easy travel distance for you
Not every TEDx event demands to have people who live in the region. It can make it much easier for you to travel to or get accepted in some cases. However, some TEDx events specifically look for a broad mix of people with different talk styles and regions.
Each event has its own requirements:
- Some want only people who have been nominated by others
- Some ask for videos
- Some ask for an outline of your talk
Do some researcher and pick 5-10 events and make a list of what you’ll need for each one.
Related: 4 Easy Steps to Get You on TEDx Talks
6. Start Beefing Up Your Memorization Skills
TEDx talks are delivered from memory. It’s not just about all those words or getting them in the right order, it’s about knowing where you’ll stand on the stage, which words you’ll emphasize, which sections require hand gestures, and so much more.
Start practicing memorizing sections of text from a book to get your brain in the practice of remembering pieces of text. This will be really helpful when you do get a talk!
7. Be Resilient
If you don’t get an immediate response, that’s normal. You’ll need to be prepared for 3-6 months of submissions consistently. It can take a long time, especially when you factor in that you need to advance all the way through each local event’s process.
It was hard to make it to rounds one and two to get rejected after that point. Finally, I cracked into the final round and was accepted at a local event. Stick with it.