TED Talks floated around for 30-odd years before the zeitgeist finally took notice. Neatly packaged as “Ideas Worth Spreading,” some humorists have touted them as “the millennial answer to church.” And while the ideas are in a class of their own, you simply can’t dole enough praise to TED’s band of speakers. Each one a tour-de-force in their own right, they deliver hypnotic speeches, buoyed by an undeniable mastery in their field. They’re endowed with the kind of stage presence all good speakers should aspire to. I warmly invite anyone to venture down the rabbit hole that is YouTube “Related Videos” on a TED Talk; your brain will be pulsating by the time you close the tab.
Everyone who is anyone wants to be among the thought leaders whose names populate a YouTube search for “TED Talk.” With that in mind, let’s take a focused look at how you, as a business leader or speaker, can get there.
How to Approach TED
Simply put, it’s an application process. The turnaround time is a little longer than credit approval (by a few months), but it’s an application review process nevertheless. TED’s speaker nomination form allows you to nominate any potential speaker, including yourself. Your suggested nominee will be reviewed by TED’s speaker selection committee, and nominations are accepted on a rolling basis (so there are no deadlines to stress over). Bear in mind, even though TED has opportunities for sponsors and partners, sponsoring or partnering with TED will not guarantee you a speaking slot.
That being said, it’s one thing to nominate yourself. It’s another thing entirely to be a strong applicant. TED will want a description of your “idea worth spreading.” If you cooked up your idea just for the sake of getting the TED slot, you won’t have an excellent shot. So let this aspect flow organically. If you genuinely have a groundbreaking idea to share, soldier on.
Also, it pays to be aware of this quid pro quo: Speaking at a TED conference and having a bonafide “TED Talk” are two different things. Many speakers blow audiences away at TED conferences, but only a select few have their talks published and branded as a TED Talk.
As an organization, TED thinks very highly of its speakers, writing on their website: “Our presenters run the world’s most admired companies and design its best-loved products; they invent world-changing devices and create groundbreaking media. They are trusted voices and convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses.” If this doesn’t sound like you, you may be a little less than ripe for a TED Talk at the moment.
Rest assured, there are steps you can take to get there. (Authoring a book, for example, makes it easier to land speaking engagements like TED Talks. Ironically, on the same token, breakout success from a TED Talk usually gives speakers the career push they need to finally publish a book.)
To learn about the steps you can take to become a TED speaker, read on.
Get Your Foot in the Door with TED Fellows and TEDx
These are stepping stones that can help elevate your profile within the TED community. TED Fellows is a highly selective program that takes qualified individuals and trains them to speak like a pro. Emphasis on the “highly selective” modifier. If you have some exceptional achievements on your docket, you may be ripe for enrollment.
The comparatively less competitive option is an engagement with TEDx, a TED-sponsored, locally-run series of events. They typically cater to a specific theme, so this could be an excellent opportunity to pander to your niche, if you find a themed event that speaks to it. Not to mention, if you deliver an excellent TEDx talk, your chances of landing a spot at a TED conference increase exponentially. Event organizers pride themselves on securing their lineup well in advance, so don’t reach out a week prior to inquire about speaking.
In addition to TED Fellows and TEDx, there are other ways to better your chances.
How To Increase Your Likelihood of Landing a TED Talk or TEDx talk
- Package yourself like a pro
Presentation is key. If you’re an old-hand at speaking, hire a professional videographer and clip editor to put together a stellar highlight reel of you on stage. If that’s not feasible at the moment, design some printed pieces that demonstrate who you are, your accomplishments, and a summary of your expertise. Both can be a tremendous asset when you submit your application/nomination. Or, better even than print collateral: create a stylish personal brand website to showcase your credentials. Give the speaker selection committee a polished web presence to comb through when they size you up. And while you’re building a portfolio of speaking engagements, set a Google alert for the search term, “call for speakers.” This way, there is a steady stream of speaking opportunities arriving in your inbox. Smaller speaking gigs can be filmed and leveraged for use for in a highlight reel or on your personal brand website.
- Define your original, mountain-moving message
When you nail the outward look, you need the substance to back it. This shouldn’t be artificial or forced. It has to be arrived upon naturally. Consider what unique insights you’ve cultivated over the course of your career. What innovative techniques and methods do you use in your business? Pour over these things to potentially distill a message/idea worthy of the TED stage.
- Align yourself with a credible name
Credibility by association is a powerful differentiator in business. This is why people display the logos of news channels and publications in which they’ve been featured on their websites and brochures. You’re infinitely more likely to trust a doctor whose advice was featured on the Today Show. And you can bet he’ll proudly display the NBC logo on his website forever thereafter. For speakers looking to gain an edge over their competitors, aligning with the Forbes brand could be the powerhouse differentiator they’ve been looking for. ForbesSpeakers was formed to elevate the visibility of both aspirational and established speakers, while supplying resources to help perfect their speaking skills. Learn more about the resources provided to ForbesSpeakers.
TED Talks continue to set the standard for what it means to be an excellent speaker. Creating a personal brand website, publishing a book, or joining forces with ForbesSpeakers could be the move that propels you right onto the TED stage.