How to be the Ideal "TEDx" Candidate

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Over the weekend I was asked to give a talk on “What it took to become a TEDx speaker” at a “Power Speaker Intensive” conducted by best-selling author Neil Strauss. Since then I’ve been asked to put my speech into a blog so that I could give others these same insights.

 

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Hello Everyone! What an amazing three day workshop this has been, let’s give "The Society" a big round of applause for putting this together. I have reviewed over 800 TEDx applications so that In the next 18 minutes (which is the TED stage standard) I can give you insider tips on how you can be the ideal TEDx red circle candidate.

Like you, I LOVE consuming TEDx talks, I watch them on a regular basis, and I know you do to because there are 1.2 billion videos watched every year, which breaks down roughly to 3.3 million views daily. Which is pretty damn incredible.

Fun fact TED surprisingly isn’t named after a man named “TED.”  It actually stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design which I immediately learned after I was asked to first volunteer. Being a volunteer was not only fun, it was incredibly inspiring to hear so many great speakers. Eventually when I was asked to start hosting the events,  I jumped at the chance, and eventually I ended up being the chapter Lead.

For the past 4 years or 8 events I have been the Lead Organizer of the TEDxCulverCity branch, I’m in charge of finding volunteers, reserving the venue, renting chairs, getting sponsors, selling tickets, getting city permits, managing the website, social media posts.. just to name a few. However my most important and time consuming role, is finding great speakers and working with them to have a successful talk.

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Running TEDx is not my full-time career, I work full-time in advertising coming up with ideas for commercials, I teach yoga, and volunteer at several of different non-profits. So if it’s time consuming, mentally draining, and I’m not getting paid to do it... why do I continue doing this year after year?

For me It is because I love the relationships it creates. It draws a unique crowd of attendees  that yearn to learn more, and I constantly see repeat attendees. I enjoy when people tell me their favorite moments of the evening.

I’ve even built friendships with my speakers and some have even yielded some collaborative projects. I currently work with one of my speakers on a non-profit speaking and performance event called MindshareLA, another I was a guest speaker to her class at Loyala Marymount University, and It was Arthur Samuel Joseph who introduced me to Neil Strauss and that's how I ended up here today. 

What makes TED and TEDx different are the organizers behind the event. TED’s main stage is organized by Chris Anderson who is the head of TED and his team. It features, speakers from around the world, including global change makers, and celebrity speakers. TEDx on the other hand... are community level events and usually features local voices. I'll let Chris tell you more about it...  

We are actually required to show that video at every TEDx event.

Show of hands who here wants to be a TEDx speaker? That’s great. Now let’s talk about talk about how to get you up on stage. This is the meat and potatoes portion, to start, you’ll need to visit this website: https://www.ted.com/tedx/events here you can type in your city and find your local chapter information and even who the host is.

Some chapters may have a speaker form you can submit  on their website while other chapters, you might have to email the hosts directly and tell them what makes you a worthy candidate. Since the chapters work independently of each other,  you can submit to as many as you want. This will help increase your chances of selection. It also doesn’t hurt to follow up with your submissions.

 

What should your submission include:

  • Who are you? Create a bio of yourself, including your list of accomplishments. Do you have a website? Are you in any press articles? This is the time to brag about yourself.

  • What would you like to talk about? Include a short through line about your idea. Do you have multiple ideas that you think you can work? If they’re good feel free to submit multiple.

  • What would you like to perform? Do you have a talent? Many people don’t realize that the TEDx stage can go beyond just speeches. It can be a variety of things... theater, spoken word, music, comedy... the most watched TEDx video is a Beatbox performance

  • Have you spoken before? Do you have prior speaking experience? It’s great to submit a  video of you speaking on a stage, you can even send the one you recorded earlier today. This shows off your stage presence and can be as lo-fi as a home video with an iphone.

You might say “okay sure… I can do the above asks, but what kind of ideas are these organizers really looking for”

The goal for each organizer is to create a great event and to produce good content. We need to find speakers who showcase inspiring ideas that change perspectives.

 

Here are some examples of talks that I have had on my stage:

  • "All Brains on Deck: A new look on Disability" - Dr. Sabine Huemer Cognitive Neuroscientist and her talk wanted us to re-examine how we approach people with Autism. Instead of seeing it as a disability we should see it as a  super ability

  • "Getting the right date" - Ruby Le a professional Dating Coach and Lead Matchmaker at Eharmony. She explains why nowadays people feel like its so hard to find the right date or to be in relationship. She points out that sometimes it's the imperfect person that can make you perfectly happy.

  • "The Art of Human Connection" - Ivan Cash, an interactive artist and film director. His talk explained how he felt that emails were too impersonal… which led him to start a project called Snail Mail my Email. He started asking people to send him their personal emails and the address of who they wanted the email to go to. He would then hand write actual letters and mail them to the recipient. This project took on a life of its own and he ended up using volunteers from around the world to create over 30,000 letters. Needless to say… this project went viral.

  • "Being a Male Cheerleader Changed My Relationship with Women" - Doug Melville, Chief Diversity Officer at TBWA. He uses a personal experience of being told by his college football coach that he would make a better cheerleader than football player, as a hilarious lemons to lemonade story about humility and ultimately recognizing women as teammates. He has taken his learnings off the field and into the work space. 

One thing you may have noticed about all these talks is how they’re pretty different. Most organizers are looking for different topics and perspectives to create a well rounded and balanced event.

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Is your idea TEDx worthy?

Here are some tips on how to filter your idea. First, write your idea down in one or two sentences then ask yourself:

  • Is my idea new?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Who might be interested in it?
  • Is it factual and realistic?

Once you’ve filtered your idea through these questions, bring your idea to someone who you respect and who doesn’t work in your field. If they answer “no” to any of these questions, go back, brainstorm a little, and then refine your idea.

For example Andrew McGregor's talk "How African Rats and Humans are Partnering to Find Landmines." And yes that’s definitely a new idea, yes it is interesting, it passed the people would probably care test, and it’s also 100% factual because he’s actually already manufactured these wearable vests for the rats already.

Who here has that friend that overly brags about their accomplishments (hand in air), ya me too (pointing to myself). It’s pretty tiresome to hear right, well that’s exactly what 50% of TEDx applicants send me. And the other 10% just want to promote their latest book or event, think about how annoying it is for you to hear someone brag about themselves or hock you their latest product.

I completely agree, not only does this make it extremely easier to filter out these applicants, it goes against TED’s house rules. If you google TEDx Rules, you’ll actually find a deeper appendix of additional things you can not talk about. Say you were chosen as a speaker and you did accidently violate some of the rules, the consequences for you is that TED will not post your video. Remember as your create your idea that TED’s vision statement is “Ideas worth spreading.”

I highly recommend not only watching TED videos to see all the different types of ideas, but also attending a local event and meeting the organizers in person.

A quote by Chris...

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I think my talk just proved that smooth talking is not needed. However, I hope it informed you on how to say something worth saying and how to find the right person to say it to. I look forward to seeing you one day on the TEDx red circle. Thank you. 

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