Warning: this is a LONG post, full of screenshots and examples. It’s a full HOW-TO, not a vague description. If a TED Talk is a “someday” thing but not a “very soon or now” thing for you, this may not be a great article to read today. If you still want to stay in the loop, you can subscribe to my email list.
The TED Talks world can be confusing — how to apply? How to get a TED Talk? What’s the step by step process?
As a TEDx event organizer (and therefore, an insider to this world), I realized the process wasn’t clear. Below, you’ll find the step-by-step instructions (with screenshots) to apply for any TED Talks event around the world.
Step 1: Find events
If you haven’t yet, find an event near you using the systems above, and follow along with this process. I’ll use TEDxGrandePrairie as an example for the rest of the article.
By clicking on the “TEDxGrandePrairie” title, I can see more information about the event (like the main organizer). This page sometimes shows the theme, website, Facebook page, Twitter etc. It looks like the event organizers haven’t updated it yet. That’s ok. All hope is not lost!
We’ll use Google to find the rest of the information we need (website, social media links etc).
After a quick search, we’ve located the website (TEDxGrandePrairie.com), Facebook page, and the Twitter profile.
All great information!
Action Step: Before you move on, be sure to locate the website and social media links for at least one event near you.
Not able to find an event? Try my “Fortune Teller” technique or look for events in other cities (e.g.: where you went to university or where you’ve lived previously).
Step 2: Determine the application process
Every event is independently organized, so each will have its own application process. So, you’ll first need to find out what they want from their speaker applicants.
Now that you’ve found the website and social media accounts for the event (usually Facebook and Twitter), it’s time to take a look around and find more information about how to apply.
On the TEDxGrandePrairie website, I found a “Speaker Application” link, so that’s pretty straight forward. If you can’t find a simple application link like this, I recommend you connect with them in any way possible — join the email list, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and bookmark the website. You’ll want to stay updated as to when they open speaker applications, if the theme is announced, or anything else that would be useful to add value to the event.
Even after you apply, I still recommend you connect (email list, Facebook, Twitter — anything you can find), as they may share things that are useful to you later on (eg: for TEDxLeamingtonSpa, we shared blog articles about how to apply to speak, and what we were looking for in speakers).
Most events start to accept speaker applications 3-6 months before the event date (notice below that for this event in late November, they announced speaker applications in late May…6 months in advance of the event).
What if I still can’t find any application information???
If you haven’t heard anything 4-5 months before the event date, it’s best to email the organizers and ask for details.
Here’s an actual script you can copy/paste to ask for the application process:
Hi [organizer name], I see that this year’s TEDx[EventName] theme is “[theme]”. I’ve got a topic that I know the audience will love to hear that goes right along with the theme, but didn’t see any details on how I could apply to speak.
What’s the best way to apply and the deadline?
Action Step: Before you move on, find out the application process (and deadline) for the event. If you don’t see it listed clearly on the website 4-5 months before the event, use the script above to email the event team.
Step 3: Write up your pitch & apply
Now that we know the application form you need to fill out, the next step is to actually do it. But what should you include in the application?
Here’s what I recommend (whether you’re submitting a form, or sending an application via email):
- Detailed contact information:
- First and last name
- Phone number
- More about you:
- Website (if you have one)
- Social links (LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter etc – anything that’s up to date, related to your topic, and presents you in a positive light)
- A summary/elevator pitch for you and your idea:
- Why you want to speak at this event this year with this theme
- Idea: what is your idea worth spreading? Why does it matter?
- Credibility/Credentials (education, research, professional background)? Why should they choose you for this particular idea?
- Demonstration of your speaking ability:
- Record a short (2-3 minute video) outlining your idea
Let’s see how this applies to the TEDxGrandePrairie application process. Here’s their application form:
It looks like we can expect our application to be reviewed by a committee (this is pretty standard), and they’ll ask for an interview. We can also see that preference is given to speakers from the area. These are all pretty standard things.
We also see that the theme is “Connection”. 95% of events will have a theme, and you’ll want to build this theme into your pitch (we’ll see how later on). Most themes will be very broad/abstract like this to encourage a variety of ideas. They’ll want to explore the theme from various angles.
Next, we see some basic contact information they’d like:
Again, all this is straightforward. They’re just looking for an easy way to get hold of you. If you do put a website (or LinkedIn profile), be sure it is up-to-date and relates to your topic as much as possible.
The next section is where things get interesting:
Here, they’re asking for a topic and outline. The “topic” is there so they can get a quick idea of what your talk would be about…what’s the sell, in one sentence?
Here are my recommendations for a “topic” or “title” field:
- Use plain English, not made-up words or catchy phrases that obfuscate what you mean (eg: not “How to find your inner sniper” but “How to focus on one thing at a time”)
- Summarize your thesis/talk in a sentence, rather than using an overall subject (eg: not “Thinking in business”, which doesn’t tell us what you are going to say, but “Why your thinking matters more to your bottom line than you’d realize”)
Next, in the outline, put your tested, specific, compelling outline of the idea you’d like to share. 200-300 words is a perfect length (less, and you haven’t put enough detail, more, and the event organizers won’t want to read it all). Make it clear how your idea fits the theme, and specify the main points you are going to make. For more on finding a great idea and learning the parts about it to include in a pitch (eg: the full development process of the idea, title, outline etc.), check out the TED Topic Development System
Example: Here’s an example of a real TED Talks application we got:
I am passionate about a number of ideas which help connect a person’s head and their heart. I always speak from a very motivated disposition. Educating peoples minds through introducing positive habits, story telling and creating mindset shifts, these are a key to help people have the confidence to launch forward in their personal and private life. My message is simple, the only person stopping you is YOU. If I can convince people that they are the author of their life by the actions I have taken in my own life, leaving school at 15, coming from a broken home, being severely bullied then thats exciting. Giving people the strategies and audacity to think and grow bigger than their problems.
When reading this, it isn’t clear what this speaker is going to say. As a result, it leaves an organizer fearful that it will go in the worst possible way. A more effective summary/outline could have looked like this:
People everywhere are convinced that external forces dictate their lives (eg: the economy, their employer, the government, and so forth). This mindset is causing millions to live lives that aren’t their own. They are prisoners to themselves. If we can get people to change this, we’ll see an entire generation of self-empowered individuals. Mental health issues would plummet as lives are changed for the better, economic disparity would vanish as people would learn to create their own opportunities, and the international economy would flourish.
I’ll share this critical situation and the solution through my own story. I grew up in a broken home and left school at age 15, but now I am [impressive title here]. The three big lessons from my own life I’ll share are:
1) Struggle brings strength – leaving school at age 15 forced me to be entrepreneurial and make my own way. This lesson can empower those that are struggling by teaching them to recognize the resilience they have as a result of their struggles
2) It’s great to be out of the spotlight. When I was a “failure”, I could try things and not worry about public humiliation…in some ways, that’s a blessing. If a celebrity messes up, everyone hears about it, so being in the shadows is a great way to try lots of different things without repercussions.
3) Nowhere to go but ‘up’. When you’re down and out, every action brings improvement. When I made this critical mindset shift, I began to look at every day as an inevitable growth opportunity.
Like I said before, this message is sorely needed. By sharing this message we can transform the world.
Now, I just made that all up but notice how the new outline shares the actual information in the talk. It shares the main points, why it’s relevant to the speaker’s life, and shares why it matters. It doesn’t share the word-for-word talk, but it does give the organizer an idea what to expect from the finished talk.
Right…on to the next section:
Here, the organizers want to know why you should be the one chosen to speak on a subject. Credentials can take on any form…the university you studied at, research you’ve done, the company you founded or work for, a specific life experience, your book/blog, awards you’ve won, and so forth.
They are trying to get the answer to two questions:
- “Why should we choose YOU to speak on this idea and not someone else?”
- “How can we brag about you to our audience?”
In this section, feel free to brag about yourself. Here are some examples of credibility for different kinds of speakers
In the last section, they want to know about your previous speaking experience. Rather than simply describing this (which is what most people do), I recommend demonstrating it: feel free to include a speaker reel or video of past talks if you have it, but also include a short (2-3 min) video to show how you speak. Just upload it to YouTube as an “unlisted” video and include the link.
Tip: You’ll notice that they also ask for the length of your proposed talk (most application forms won’t do this). Shorter is always better — not only is it easy for an organizer to add in one more talk for two reasons — time (if there are 15 people that all insist on an 18min talk, it’s hard to fit in a 16th due to time constraints), and variety (if there are 15 people that all have long talks, having a short one is a nice way to inject energy).
Action Step #1: Type up a talk topic, outline, your credentials, and record a 2-3 min video of you speaking (to a webcam, nothing fancy) and save this all on your computer — the same materials will be useful for any TEDx event you apply to.
Action Step #2: submit the application form (or send in the materials above via email if that is what the event organizers prefer)
If you managed to apply to an event, that’s great! Be on the lookout for follow up emails from the event organizers. Each event is different in terms of the application steps, but expect a follow-up meeting, phone call, or interview if you’re selected to move on in the process.
The guide above is a great start, but doesn’t go in to how to make your pitch stand out (eg: exercises you can do to self-evaluate what needs to change), networking tips to get the upper hand, and how to plan out when you should apply and what events you should target (to make sure you have the best chances of getting accepted *and* they produce great video for you). For the ultimate guide on how to land a talk at a TEDx event, the TEDx Roadmap has got it all.
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