Table of Contents


image of a man standing in front of a screen with ted talk logo

Every time you put content online, you’re creating a constellation of content. It’s like a thumbprint. It’s specific to you.

Every social media post, blog post, podcast, or video you create should be intentional. ​

Why? Because that unique constellation will inform how your audience sees you. It’s the key to your Author brand.

That constellation tells people what you have to offer, and ultimately, it also determines what speaking opportunities are open to you.

Many people dream of giving a TED talk. It’s a big stage and a big brand focused on exciting ideas. TED has major name recognition, so it seems like any Author good enough to land a TED talk has it made.

But before I tell you how to get a TED talk, pause for a minute. Be honest with yourself. Why do you want to give a TED talk?

Is it because it will help you meet your larger goals? Maybe you want to build a career around public speaking. Or maybe you think it will help you net larger clients or raise the fees you can charge for your coaching.

If so, giving a TED talk might be a good idea.

But if it’s just for vanity or a badge of honor, you might want to reconsider. You’re better off spending your time and effort working toward all the long term goals you had in mind when you wrote your book.

Every marketing move you make should have a purpose. It should help you reach your objectives. That goes for prestigious events like TED, too.

The people who benefit most from a TED talk are people who want to be seen as contributing new ideas to existing dialogs in their field. They’re thought leaders. And they’re people who want to use those thoughts to get public speaking gigs or clients.

Remember, TED’s tagline is “ideas worth spreading.” Ideas, not speakers. So, what big ideas are you adding to the conversation? Are the ideas in your constellation bold enough to make people sit up and take notice?

If so—and if a TED talk fits your larger goals—then read on to learn how to become a TED speaker.

What Is a TED Talk vs a TEDx Talk?

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The nonprofit has been around since 1984, but its legendary talks only started in 2006.

There are 2 types of TED talks: a regular TED talk and a TEDx talk.

A TED Talk is delivered at the annual TED conference or TEDGlobal conference.

A TEDx talk is delivered at an independently organized conference. These events can be organized by anyone who obtains a free license from TED and agrees to follow certain principles. For example, all TEDx talks are unpaid.

According to TED’s leader Chris Anderson, TED talks focus on global issues, while TEDx talks tend to be more local. He thinks of TEDx as “TED multiplied” because the events allow people to connect with other innovative thinkers in their local communities.

From an Author’s perspective, one of the main differences is the size of the platform. The audience for a TED talk is usually much bigger than for a TEDx talk (although plenty of TEDx talks have gone viral).

TED talks are also usually delivered by people whose work has made headlines. Think Nobel Prize winners, former presidents, and tech giants.

It’s very hard to land a spot as a TED speaker. You can nominate yourself or apply to be a TEDFellow (emerging innovators who may not have a huge platform yet).

But unless you’re shattering world records or stunning the world with your brilliance, you’d be much better off aiming for a TEDx talk.

There are more than 3,000 TEDx events worldwide each year, which makes them more accessible. And they can be just as good for publicity.

For example, Scribe Author Nashater Deu Solheim gave a TEDx talk on “What Working with Psychopaths Taught Me about Leadership.” It’s received more than 400,000 views. That’s huge exposure.

Don’t underestimate the power of a great TEDx talk.

TEDx talks are actually a better way for most Authors to meet their goals. Many TEDx organizers work with speakers beforehand to craft the talks. That means Authors also gain valuable skills and practice in giving a great talk.

TEDx talks also help Authors build a following and find new support in their region. Plus, giving a TEDx talk integrates you into the larger TED community, which is full of networking opportunities.

How to Get on the TED Stage

1. Start with TEDx

If you eventually want to get on the TED stage, you’ll have to do a lot to work your way up there.

Focusing on getting a TEDx talk first will likely be a faster route than just focusing on trying to get a TED talk.

It’s one thing to imagine getting on a stage in front of thousands of people and give a great talk without notes. It’s entirely another thing to do it. A TEDx talk gives you a chance to get comfortable with the format before you thrust yourself into a global spotlight.

No matter how good a runner is, no one goes straight to competing in the Olympics. It works the same way with public speaking. Authors need to practice on smaller stages before they’re ready for the TED mainstage.

Giving a TEDx talk first also helps you make connections within the TED network. The TEDx event organizer will likely have been to (or hosted) a number of these events. They’re a wealth of information, and they also have great contacts.

Depending on who those contacts are, you might actually find that a TEDx stage is better for promoting your ideas, book, services, or brand.

If you really have your sights set on a TED talk, TEDx is one of the best places to start to make your dreams come true.

2. Get to Know Other Tedx Talks

If you want to get a TEDx talk, you should study talks that others have already given.

TED talks have a specific format. The better grasp you have on what makes a good TED talk, the more successful you will be in securing a spot as a speaker.

Watch the performances of other thought leaders in your field. Pay attention to what information they provide, how they talk, and how they hold your attention.

Also, you should get to know the TEDx community. Network with people who have given talks or who are TEDx organizers. Find out what their experience with the events has been.

This step lays the groundwork for your pitch by giving you all the knowledge you need to:

  1. know who you’re selling your idea to, and
  2. know what they want

Those 2 principles are the core of all marketing. Don’t go in blind. Do your research.

This list from the TEDx site is a great place to start. It tells you specifically what organizers are looking for.

3. Build Your Portfolio

If you know you’re a stellar speaker, have a great idea, a clear pitch, and a good shot at getting a speaking slot, you can always skip some steps and go straight to the ask.

But if you don’t feel ready, or if your attempts at generating excitement aren’t working, you may need to beef up your speaking portfolio first.

Yes, TEDx organizers want people with ideas worth sharing. But they also want good speakers. They need to see proof that you’ve got what it takes to keep an audience riveted for 15 minutes.

If you’re a first-time or amateur speaker, try to find some smaller speaking opportunities first. These will be great practice to get you used to speaking in front of audiences, and they can help you hone your skills. Having these talks on your resume will also prove that you know what you’re doing.

If you’ve already given talks, you may not need to add to your resume. You might just need to amplify your powers of persuasion. One of the best ways to do that is to build a great media kit to prove that you’re a good presenter.

A media kit is a collection of resources that the media might want to use when they write an article about you, interview you, or book you for a talk.

TEDx organizers want speakers they can count on to work hard and deliver. Having a solid media kit shows them you’re professional and serious about the work.

4. Create Your Talk (and Your Pitch)

TED isn’t a venue for boring academic lectures or straightforward corporate talk. TED isn’t about insider baseball.

It’s about excitement. Energy. Creativity. Bold ideas. It’s about taking the audience on an intellectual (or emotional) ride.

Just consider the example I gave you earlier. Nashater Deu Solheim didn’t give a TEDx talk on “Ways You Can Be a Better Leader.” That would have been boring.

Instead, she built her talk around a great title and concept: “What Working with Psychopaths Taught Me about Leadership.” That will catch people’s attention.

Here’s another tip: don’t try to cover your whole book in the talk. TED talks are a max of 18 minutes. They’re bite-size nuggets. So, don’t overshoot and make the scope of your talk too large. You’re not going to solve all the problems in the world in 18 minutes.

Choose 1 specific, compelling angle and run with it.

Need ideas? You don’t have to create in a vacuum. Start with the things your readers talk about most when it comes to your book. What are people excited about? What do they want to talk to you about?

Your readers are your target audience, so listen to them.

It’s probably easiest if your idea comes from your book. But if you have another great idea, you can go for it as long as it’s aligned with your overall brand. Your book will still boost your idea’s credibility with the conference organizer.

5. Review Your Pitch (and Your Talk)

Rely on your network. Ask people you know who have given a TEDx talk to review your pitch. Ask if they have contacts that can help you.

If you don’t know anyone who’s given a TEDx talk, you can still rely on your network for feedback. Ask your friends and family to review your talk.

TEDx talks are supposed to be interesting to a general audience and to a wide range of people. If they aren’t following, or if they aren’t engaged, then you need to go back to the drawing board.

The key here is asking people who will give you real feedback. If you think your family or friends will automatically say it’s good, try to find other reviewers who will be honest.

You want your pitch and talk to be as tight as possible before you approach an organizer.

6. Choose Your Stage(s)

Find which TEDx event (or events) are right for you. The best way to get started is to explore TEDx events on the official website. You can narrow down events geographically to find the ones closest to home.

That said, you can apply to any TEDx event. It doesn’t have to be in your hometown. Most organizers are scouting for local talent, but it’s usually because it’s easier to get local speakers and because they don’t have travel budgets.

Also, try looking for new TEDx events. These organizers might be looking more actively for speakers.

If you’re unsure about a particular event, you can also see if they have any feedback or videos on the official TEDx YouTube page.

If you don’t have personal contact with an organizer, you might want to focus on smaller, more “gettable” markets. TEDx Temecula is probably going to be easier to land than TEDx Houston.

Check the events’ websites to see if they have official application procedures. If not, then you can look for organizers directly.

The contact information for event organizers isn’t centralized. You might have to hunt it down once you have a particular event in mind. Usually, a Google search or a LinkedIn search will do the trick.

Before you reach out, I recommend searching “TEDx” on LinkedIn to see if any organizers are closer in your LinkedIn network than others. A personal connection always helps.

7. Pitch Your Concept

Nashater was actually recruited by the TEDx people, so she didn’t have to make a pitch. But she can still teach you a valuable lesson about pitching.

The reason the organizers wanted her was that her content was so innately interesting.

Be splashy when you make your pitch. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one.

Your goal isn’t to reveal your whole talk in the course of an email. Your goal is to pique the organizer’s interest and make them want to reach out.

Pitching is all about building a connection. Then, you can have an ongoing conversation that deepens and widens.

A great pitch is a lot like a great book description. You need a hook. You should describe the audience’s needs and show why you’re the person to solve them. Legitimize yourself. Make the organizer want to know more.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it clear.

8. Leverage Your TEDx Talk

Once you’ve given your TEDx talk, your work isn’t over.

Now you have an amazing video to add to your media kit. This is great for getting on podcasts, booking more speaking gigs, or finding more opportunities.

With that video, you can also hire a publicist or work with a PR team who will help you leverage your talk to get more media. Or, if you don’t have a PR budget, use your network to keep building connections.

Make sure people see your TEDx talk. Put it on your website and LinkedIn profile.

Re-engage your network around it. Send it to your contacts who have newsletters. Reach out to your existing media contacts who might want a follow-up.

And as always, keep your larger goals in mind and use your talk to keep working toward your objectives.