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From Application to Applause: A TEDx Guide for Aspiring Speakers

Stepping into the electrifying atmosphere of the TEDx stage is an unparalleled thrill. Trust me; I've been there. Many dream of this moment, yet the path isn't always clear. Honestly, I was in the same boat. Fortunately, I found my bearings within a Pro Speakers group that offered invaluable support and guidance throughout the application process. My journey to TEDx involved not only support, but also meticulous research—diving into blogs, devouring articles, attending TEDx events, and engaging in conversations with those who had already graced the TEDx stage.

Fast forward to today, and I've become a TEDx sherpa, guiding several others through the maze to realize their TEDx dreams. A recent invitation to share my insider tips for giving a TEDx on Gillian Whitney's live streamed show highlighted the burning curiosity of countless individuals eager to embark on a similar journey. This realization sparked the creation of this guide, a resource I crafted to help demystify the TEDx process and empower aspiring speakers like you to realize your TEDx dreams. While I can't cover everything here, I'm serving up some of my top tips.


Brevity is Key: Submitting a TEDx application is like entering a competitive arena. With hundreds of applications vying for attention, you need to stand out. TEDx organizers are sifting through numerous proposals, so keep your submission short and sweet. Start with a catchy title and subtitle that encapsulates your idea, then distill your "big idea" into a brief, attention-grabbing snippet that leaves the organizers wanting more.

Be Unique: Your idea should be unique and offer a fresh perspective, not be a canned talk you've given (or heard) a thousand times before. TED is all about "ideas worth spreading," after all. You should also avoid the temptation to present multiple ideas—TEDx is about depth, not breadth.

Read Carefully: TEDx conferences are independently organized by local community leaders, rather than being directly overseen by TED. Consequently, while all TEDx events must adhere to published TED rules, each conference may diverge in terms of application procedures, timelines, communication norms and thematic focuses. It is imperative to meticulously review the rules and application prerequisites specific to the TEDx event you intend to apply for. Employing a "spray and pray" approach—submitting the same application to multiple conferences—typically proves ineffective.

Tailor to Theme: It's worth noting that many TEDx conferences embrace a thematic approach. If the event(s) you are targeting follows this trend, it is crucial to tailor your talk to align with the specified theme. If your content cannot be adapted to harmonize with the theme, that particular conference is likely not be the best fit for your ideas and message.

Go Local: Consider starting your TEDx journey locally. Smaller events can serve as stepping stones, providing valuable experience and increasing your chances of catching the attention of larger TEDx event or even the main TED stage curators. An added bonus of local events is that if you are a locally known speaker or have a relationship with the organizers, you increase your likelihood of being accepted.

Be Persistent: A rejection serves as a chance to enhance your application and resubmit. Stay resilient; persistence frequently yields positive outcomes, as exemplified by one of my previous TEDx clients:


Gain Clarity: To effectively convey your "big idea," it's crucial to achieve clarity in the message you intend to deliver. Your concept should be crystal clear and easy to grasp. Because TEDx talks aim to resonate with a diverse audience, avoid jargon and unnecessary complexity. The objective is to succinctly articulate your core message—the central theme or idea that serves as the foundation of your talk. This clarity empowers you to inform and educate others on a global scale.

Have a Strong Hook: Captivate your audience from the start with a compelling hook. The hook sets the tone for the entire presentation, making it essential for grabbing and maintaining attention. A strong hook will not only engage your audience right away, it will also lay the foundation for what your talk is about and why it matters. The first line of my TEDx was, "What will people say about you when you die?" Curious to hear more? Watch my TEDx.

Be Concise: TEDx Talks, a hallmark of brevity, must clock in at 18 minutes or less, making concise communication paramount. In some instances, your TEDx conference might advise an even shorter duration (in my case, we were encouraged to aim for 16 minutes or less). This underscores the need for a swift yet impactful approach, capturing your audience's attention and driving home your message within the constrained timeframe. In the realm of TEDx, the mantra remains: less is indeed more.

Connect the Dots: Your talk should seamlessly flow from one point to the next, always tying back to your central theme. Don't make your audience work hard to understand the message you're trying to convey; guide them through your narrative by connecting the dots for them and utilizing transitions.

Tell a Story: The best way to hold someone’s attention and keep them engaged is through storytelling. Stories spark imagination and appeal to emotion, enabling you to share information and connect with your audience in a deeper way, and making your message more memorable and impactful.

Embrace Feedback: Feedback is crucial in refining your talk and ensuring that you effectively communicate your message. Seek input from peers, mentors and coaches. A fresh perspective can uncover blind spots and enhance the overall impact of your presentation.


Don't Memorize: While memorizing key elements is essential, TEDx talks thrive on authenticity. Avoid robotic delivery and speak from the heart. Memorize only the opening, closing, and key stats, quotes or information. If you focus on storytelling to share your big idea, the rest will flow naturally.

Roadmap to Success: Create a visual roadmap to guide yourself and your audience. Well-designed slides complement your spoken words, enhancing comprehension and engagement. Keep in mind that while your slides can serve as a guide for you, they are NOT your notes. Save the text for your outline. Visual aids should be simple, impactful and support your verbal message.

Practice Makes Prepared: Once you've formulated your talk, practice becomes a crucial preparatory step before setting foot on stage. Personally, I committed the two days leading up to my TEDx to an intensive regimen of practice and refining my delivery (in addition to practicing regularly in the preceding weeks). Practice serves as a valuable tool for ironing out any imperfections before facing an audience. If there's a stumbling block in a particular word or phrase, tweak it. Nail down your opening and crush your closing. The cumulative effect of practice is a surge in confidence, ensuring that when you step onto the red dot, you're not just prepared, but poised, to deliver a talk worthy of a mic-drop moment.

Embrace Authenticity: People always ask me, "How should I gesture?" or "How should I stand?" or "How should I use the stage?" While there are indeed fundamentals one can learn to polish their delivery, I always respond, "Be yourself." In public speaking, your genuine self is your greatest asset. Don't try to mimic others or put on a facade. Audiences connect with speakers who are real, relatable and sincere. Speak from your heart, share personal stories and let your passion shine through. Authenticity creates trust, engagement and a memorable experience for both you and your audience.

Don't Sell From the Stage: TED is about sharing ideas, not selling yourself (although if you deliver a killer presentation the "selling" will happen naturally). If you mention a product or service, it will be cut from your talk before the video is posted. Worse, if you overtly sell from the stage, or your mention of a product or service can't be cut from your video without hurting the message, your video will never see the light of day.


Do You: TEDx encourages authenticity, even in your choice of attire. Be yourself and let your personal style shine through. A genuine and comfortable appearance can enhance your connection with the audience.

Casual with a Twist: The New York Times suggests a casual yet slightly polished look. Dress slightly more formal than your everyday attire, but keep it informal. Avoid checks or stripes (I wish I had known that prior to my talk) that may distract on camera, and steer clear of all-white or all-black outfits that can blend into the background. For my accessorizors out there, ditch the dangly earrings to prevent interference with the microphone.

The journey to the TEDx stage is a multifaceted one, involving a compelling application, well-crafted content and engaging delivery. By embracing these tips and learning from others' experiences, you can increase your chances of not only being selected but delivering a talk that resonates with audiences worldwide. The red dot awaits—make it yours!


Ready to take the TEDx stage? I'm here to help! I offer invaluable experience and insights, helping you shape your idea, refine your application and enhance your chances of stepping onto the red dot and into the spotlight. Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute session and start your journey today!


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