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In 2019, I’m lucky enough to give two TEDx talk. But the end result of the negotiations does not reflect months, and perhaps even years, that the work goes to something like this. Since a lot of work goes into a polished final product, it’s easy for speakers to ignore the massive rejection, concept editing, and memorization in their speeches.
Recently, someone asked me if I could give them some advice on getting a TEDx talk. My first question was, “Are you ready to refuse dozens of times, and if that happens, will you have the courage to continue?”
This is because some people think it’s as easy as finding your local TEDx event and applying for a talk. Most of the speakers who received these lectures, however, gave time to read books about TED discussions, saw many discussions to learn about format, substance and pacing and probably hired an instructor to help them. Often, this is a strategic application process that spans multiple cities or event states.
Related: 6 Things Successful TEDx speakers can crush any speaking gig
Here are some tips if you are thinking of giving a TEDx lecture and how to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
1. Your first idea alone is not good enough; Pushing
This can be hard to hear, but for a TEDx discussion you have to work out an idea thread. You need a compelling story, ideally in three parts, that will stand out from thousands of other discussions. You can start with an idea like “push through rejection” but a quick search will reveal that many speakers have already covered that topic. How will you be different?
Local organizers will pass your application if you do not push the idea. If you do this in advance, they will ask what makes your speech different, so you need to be prepared to talk about it.
Watch other TEDx videos on and off your skills. Use it to note what other speakers like and don’t like, and see how they break down their ideas into 2-3 ideas during the discussion.
2. Your idea brain in three parts
Most discussions open with a clear hook, but inside there are 2-3 content ideas. This helps to provide a flow of the whole speech and makes it easier for you to memorize in the future by thinking of 2-3 key points in the discussion.
For my first discussion, my idea was my title, “Future Freelancing.” My argument was that the freelance revolution is already taking steam and it has gained a lot of strength for both those who want to change careers and scale quickly using freelance talent for small, medium and large businesses.
It’s a cocoon of an idea, but it’s not a word.
Working with my ideas has pushed me to the next level:
- Part 1: Freelancing is the future, and its numbers (I’m sharing my own story but I’m also diving into the number of freelancers in the United States and how many are making up six figures.)
- Part 2: People don’t take freelancing seriously as a career, which means a lot of people fall into it with very little background on how to build a successful freelance business. In this section, the goal was to dispel four myths about freelancing.
- Part 3: Explain how to work as a freelancer using real examples of people who have modeled their business in different ways. The goal is to show who it is for.
Each of these three categories can work on its own, but it is powerful together.
Related: 5 creative ways to get exposure for your TEDx talk
3. Share your idea with someone who has a TEDx connection
Another TEDx speaker, a former organizer, or a speaker coordinator at an event could be a great sound board. This is a good time to talk to a public speaking coach if applicable. They can really help your idea into something you are proud to share.
Don’t let anyone shoot your idea, but ask things, “Do you have any general tips for me?” You can learn a lot from the people who went through this process.
I once guided someone through the application process by sharing my experience with the applicant and it helped him avoid a few mistakes and increase his chances of ultimate success because he now knew the ground level.
4. Make a 1-2 minute video of your original idea
Some local TEDx events will ask for it, but it’s also an amazing practice to see how well you know your concept. Do you have a clear thesis? Do you have a hook? Is there enough here to talk about 12-18 minutes?
It may be amazing how many times you need to record a short video to get it right, but in the process, you will work through your ideas and edit your words for clarity. All that is helpful for you, keep pushing your ideas.
5. Apply 6-8 months before the live event
Many events choose speakers six months in advance. Speaker selection takes time because many local events go through 2-4 rounds of speaker selection.
You should apply at any local event where you have a personal connection. Spreading a wide net will increase your chances of getting an invitation Some places you might want to consider include:
- In the cities where you grew up
- Colleges / Universities that you have attended or worked for
- Places where you have personal connections, such as cities where you lived for a while
- Area within driving / Easy travel distance for you
People living in this area are not claimed in every TEDx event. This may make it easier for you to travel or in some cases to take. However, some TEDx events specifically look for a wide mix of different talk styles and people from the region.
Each event has its own requirements:
- Some people just want people who have been nominated by others
- Some people want videos
- Some people want to know an outline of your speech
Do some research and pick 5-10 events and make a list of what you will need for each.
Related: 4 Easy Steps to Get You Into the TEDx Discussion
6. Start improving your memorization skills
TEDx discussion is delivered from memory. It’s not just about the words or how to put them in the right order, it’s about where you stand on the stage, which words you emphasize, which sections require hand gestures, and much more.
Start the practice of memorizing parts of a text from a book to get your brain to memorize the text. It will be really helpful when you get a lecture!
7. Be resilient
This is normal if you do not get an immediate response. You need to be ready to submit regularly for 3-6 months. This can take a long time, especially when you factor in that you have to go all the way through the process of each local event.
It was hard to make it in rounds one and two to be rejected after that point. Eventually, I entered the final round and was accepted to a local event. Stick with it.