For many, landing a TED talk’s become the ultimate PR win. As its popularity and platform have grown, so have the mega-brains that have graced its stage: Simon Sinek, Tony Robbins, David Blaine, Elizabeth Gilbert, and so many more great names.
But the TED stage isn’t just for A-listers with tons of followers. In fact, many of the most popular talks were delivered by people who were relatively unknown before their talks went viral (like Brene Brown and her incredible Power of Vulnerability speech).
Artists, writers, scientists, political theorists, comedians, psychologists, advocates, stylists, doctors, urban planners, archaeologists, philosophers, policy experts—people who don’t have household names—jump on the stage at self-organized TEDx event to do just as the organization asks: share great ideas with one another.
These people also do another important thing when they step on that stage: They begin to build their personal brand. While TED’s most well-known for its compelling, provocative content, it’s also known for its popularity among aspiring thought leaders looking to raise their visibility. The staggering number of people engaging with their videos (it boasts 3.8 billion video views in total and 90 million monthly video views) suggests that it’s an incredibly powerful way to build a brand.
If you’re passionate about sharing an idea of your own and are interested in positioning yourself as a thought leader in your industry—wherever you are in your career, here’s what you need to know and how to apply.
For Starters, How Do I Know if I’m Ready?
If you’re interested in speaking on a TED stage, there are actually two speaking tracks you can pursue: the main stage and locally organized TEDx events.
If the main stage is what you’ve set your sights on, I encourage you to get some public speaking experience under your belt first. In order to deliver “the talk of your life"—I wish I could claim that advice as my own, but it’s actually their motto—you want to not only test your content and get feedback from audience members, but also work through any nerves.
Got it—So What Are TEDx Events?
These are locally-organized events that take place all around the world. In fact, there are approximately 1,298 TEDx events planned around the world through the remainder of 2016 and into 2017.
Your first step’s researching the events taking place in your area. Over the next several days, for example, there are locally-hosted events taking place in towns across the U.S., Dubai, China, Russia, Argentina, Panama, Mexico, Tripoli, Canada, France, Bolivia, Egypt, Poland, the Netherlands and more. You can find the full list here.
If you find a community-organized event and are interested in pitching a talk, you’ll want to email the community organizer and pitch him or her directly.
OK, I Found an Event—Time to Pitch Myself?
Before doing that, remember what I said earlier: TED is the place to give the talk of your life.
In addition to having the opportunity to stand in front of an audience of thoughtful human beings interested in the very things you’re discussing, your talk may be selected to be featured across TED’s platforms (including TED.com, and TED Radio Hour). This means an enormous boost in visibility and potential career-catapulting events (like Brene’s trajectory!).
Alright, I Hear You—How Do I Prepare?
As I always tell my clients who are interested: If you’re going to go for it, go for it. You can’t half-ass the preparation. Before you pitch yourself, spend time researching and watching the most popular TED talks. What topics do they touch on? How did the speakers sound? Any pointers you can take from them?
Devote time to seriously thinking about what you want to say. You’ll want to choose a topic that hasn’t already been covered by the TED community but that’s still relevant to the audience.
There’s no better person to help you prepare than a longtime TED speaker coach. If your brain needs to know how you’ll will yourself on stage before you send that pitch, check out the tips Gina Barnett offers.
What Goes in the Actual Pitch
Hi [Event Organizer’s Name],
I’m [Name], a [tell him/her what you do].
I came across your upcoming TEDx event and would love to share my expertise and unique perspective on [topic] at your upcoming event.
I’ve developed a talk that has all the thought provoking, storytelling components TEDx audiences love. It’s titled [Title]. In it, I outline [one-sentence synopsis].
The three main takeaways I want the audience to walk away with are:
- [Takeaway #1]
- [Takeaway #2]
- [Takeaway #3]
You can learn more about my work here at [relevant website/social media platform].
If interested, I’d love to connect, tell you more, and answer any questions you have.
Thanks for considering,
My Pitch Is Ready to Send—But There Are No Events Nearby Anytime Soon...
If you don’t find an event in your area but want to bring one to life, why not become the organizer? The advantage is that you get to choose the venue, the speaker line-up, and the ways you want to promote it. Of course, this is a huge undertaking, so be sure you’re up for the challenge before you dive in.
With that said, TED outlines everything you need to know to organize a local event, so you’ve got some direction.
If, during this process, you feel any of the following: nerves, imposter syndrome, who-do-I-think-I-am-to-be-pitching-TED thoughts—know those are totally normal. Everyone I’ve ever worked with through this process has gotten them. I get them. But if you’ve approached this speaking gig with the prep and thoughtfulness I’ve outlined, press send anyway. When that acceptance email rolls in, you’ll be so glad you did.