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In 2019 I was lucky enough to give two TEDx talks. But the end result of the lecture does not reflect the months and possibly even years of work that goes into something like this. With so much work going into a polished end product, it’s easy to overlook the massive rejection, revision of ideas, and memorization that speakers put into their presentation.
Someone recently asked me if I could give them some advice on how to get a TEDx talk. My first question was, “Are you ready to be rejected dozens of times and will you still have the strength 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 speak. However, most speakers who get these talks have spent time reading books about TED Talks, watched many talks to learn about the format, content, and pace, and may even have hired a trainer to help them . More often it is a strategic bid process that spans multiple cities or host countries.
See also: 6 Things Successful TEDx Presenters Do to Destroy Every Speaking Appearance
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; Keep pressing
That can be hard to hear, but the thread of an idea you have for a TEDx Talk needs to be worked through. You need a compelling story, ideally in three parts, that stands out from thousands of other presentations. You might start with an idea like “enforce rejection,” but a quick search will reveal that many speakers have covered this topic before. How will yours be different?
Local organizers will skip your application if you don’t push the concept further. As you advance, they’ll definitely ask what makes your presentation different, so you need to be prepared to talk about it.
Check out other TEDx videos in your field and beyond. Use this to note what you like and what other speakers don’t like and notice how they divided their idea into 2-3 ideas throughout the presentation.
2. Brainstorm your idea in three parts
Most conversations start with a clear hook but include 2-3 sections of content ideas. This helps provide a flow of the whole talk and makes it easier for you to remember better in the future by thinking about 2-3 main points you will be making in the talk.
My idea for my first talk was simply my title “The Future is Freelancing”. My argument has been that the freelance revolution is already gaining momentum and that it has plenty of power for both those looking for a career change and for small, medium and large businesses to scale faster by leveraging freelance talent.
That’s a nugget of an idea, but it’s not a conversation.
Working on my idea took me to the next level:
- Part 1: Freelancing is the future, and the numbers back it (sharing my own story, but also delving into the number of freelancers in the US and how many are making six figures.) The goal of this section is to introduce myself and show that Audiences how freelancers are on the rise.
- Part 2: People don’t take freelance seriously as a career, which means a lot of people with very little background knowledge on how to build a successful freelance business fall into it. In this section, the goal was to debunk four myths surrounding freelancing.
- Part 3: Explain how to work as a freelancer using real life examples of people who have modeled their business in different ways. The aim is to show who this might or might not be for.
Each of these three sections could work on its own, but together they are really powerful.
See also: 5 creative ways to get your TEDx Talk noticed
3. Share your idea with someone connected to TEDx
Another TEDx speaker, a past organizer, or a speaker coordinator at an event can be a great sounding board. This is also a good time to talk to a public speaking coach, if necessary. They can really help turn your idea into something you’re proud of.
Don’t let someone shoot down your idea, instead ask things like, “Do you have any general tips for me?” You can learn a lot from people who have gone through the process.
I once guided someone all the way through the application process simply by sharing my experience with the applicant and it helped her avoid a few missteps and increased her chances of ultimate success just because she was in the position now of the country knew.
4. Create a 1-2 minute video of your main idea
Some local TEDx events will ask for it, but it’s also an amazing exercise to see how well you really know your idea. Do you have a clear thesis? do you have a catch Is it enough here to talk about it for 12-18 minutes?
It can be surprising how many times you have to record to get a short video right, but in doing so you work through your idea and edit your words to make them clearer. All of this will also help you to push your idea further.
5. Apply 6-8 months before the live event
Many events select speakers six months in advance. Speaker selection takes time as many local events go through 2-4 rounds of speaker selection.
You should apply to any local event that you have a personal connection to. As you spread a wider web, you increase your chances of receiving an invite. Some places you might want to think about are:
- Cities where you grew up
- Colleges/universities you attended or worked at
- Places that you have a personal connection to, such as cities where you have lived for some time
- Areas within driving/easy travel distance for you
Not every TEDx event requires people who live in the area. In some cases, it can make your arrival or admission easier. However, some TEDx events are specifically looking for a broad mix of people with different conversational styles and regions.
Each event has its own requirements:
- Some only want people nominated by others
- Some ask for videos
- Some ask for an outline of your presentation
Do some research and pick 5-10 events and make a list of what you need for each.
Also see: 4 easy steps to get you on TEDx Talks
6. Start improving your memory retention
TEDx talks are delivered from memory. It’s not just about all those words or their correct order, but also knowing where you are on stage, which words you’re emphasizing, which sections require hand gestures, and more.
Start memorizing paragraphs of text from a book to get your brain to remember bits of text. This will be really helpful when you get a conversation!
7. Be resilient
If you don’t get a response right away, that’s normal. You must be consistently prepared for 3-6 month submissions. It can take a long time, especially when you consider that you have to go through the whole process of each local event.
It was hard to make it through rounds one and two only to be rejected afterwards. Eventually I made it to the finals and was accepted at a local event. Keep doing.