How To Become A TED Speaker

Giving a TED talk can literally change your life and your business. These insider tips can help you get there.
Author, Profit First
September 10, 2013

As of the writing of this article, 787,503 people have viewed a video of a young man wearing a grey and white long-sleeved shirt giving a speech to an audience. That's more than three-quarters of a million people! So who's the famous person captivating such an audience? It's Cesar Kuriyama. And he's not famous at all, or at least he wasn't until he gave his TED talk.

His talk was about his idea to make a movie of his life comprised of single one-second clips from every day. As he speaks about the challenges and the rewards of having undertaken this project, the audience sees brief images of scenery, books, drinks with friends, and even a month’s worth of images from his family’s hospital vigil for his sister-in-law who barely survived a serious illness. Kuriyama makes a case for the relationship between images and memories and urges his audience to think about the degree to which they consciously remember the events—both good and bad—of their lives.

TED can change your life. I don’t just mean that you can pick up some useful ideas from watching the talks; I mean that if you deliver a TED talk, your life will never, ever be the same. Not only will you have had the opportunity to share your unique vision with millions of people, but your personal and professional brand will gain visibility and authority that you’ve only dreamed about. If you do a Google search for “Cesar Kuriyama,” you’ll see the impression and exposure this young man has earned. There’s no reason why you—if you have an idea worth sharing—can’t find the same success.

There are two basic parts to my strategy for securing an opportunity to give a TED talk.

Go Regional

First, get yourself a TEDx gig. TEDx is a regional feeder system for TED talks. I spoke at TEDx Hoboken, and my speaking engagement there was the most wonderful public speaking experience I’ve ever had. The event was organized by Elizabeth Barry, owner of marketing agency EB&A, who ran the event, got licensed by TED to use the logo, and got the event listed on the TED website. Here, Barry shares her list of do’s and don’ts for landing yourself a TEDx gig.

DO NOT:

  • Pitch yourself or your business. TED and TEDx talks are about the idea, not the person.
  • Repeat a performance from an earlier presentation. Find a fresh idea.
  • Think you’re more important than your idea.

DO:

  • Be real and be kind. You’re really just a facilitator here, a conduit for your idea.
  • Present an idea that’s genuinely worth spreading.
  • Bring excitement and energy.
  • Focus on your idea and its applications in the lives of others.

The basic premise here is to approach your TEDx curator with an idea, a really good idea, and then sell it with all of your heart. TEDx isn’t about famous people sharing their biographies; it’s about real people making connections with other real people. It’s about sharing, collaborating and working together to open each other’s eyes.

Go Big

So after you’ve landed your TEDx event and you’ve given your talk, your next step is to go for the big event: You’re going to shoot for a TED talk. Here are a couple of insights that will help you achieve your goal. First of all, TED was created by journalists, so the concept is to identify and feature great stories. You need to pitch your story, keeping in mind that the point is to promote great ideas. You’ll have your TEDx video as evidence of your ability as a speaker, but remember that TED isn’t about the person. Use your video and promote your video (because views do matter), but don’t lose your focus on the idea itself.

Also, it’s important to look at TED’s editorial calendar. You don’t want to waste your time pitching an idea that fits perfectly in the set of talks they did the previous quarter. Use the resources you have to hone your presentation and make your idea as irresistible as possible.

As for the idea, you’re on your own. TED isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be. It’s a venue for exceptional, out-of-the-box thinkers who have ideas that they can’t help but share. It’s for ordinary people who look at life in extraordinary ways. Kuriyama is one of my favorite TED speakers because his idea is a simple, thoughtful approach to documenting the absolutely ordinary and marvelous everyday lives we lead. That’s an idea worth sharing.

Here is my TEDx speech on what makes someone "the world's best."  What will your speech be about?

Read more great marketing tips and ideas.

Photo: Thinkstock

Author, Profit First