TED is a globally recognised and highly respected brand – but as both a TEDx event licence holder and speaker, I’ve noticed that there’s also a lack of understanding and, at times, misconceptions about exactly how it all works and how people can get involved.
In the text below I’ve shared my answers to some FAQs from my experience as the licence holder and organiser of TEDxFolkestone.
What is the difference between TED and TEDx?
TED is the main not-for-profit organisation and brand. They hold a certain number of large events/conferences every year – often in large cities around the world. TED speakers are commonly world leaders in their sector or industry.
TEDx events are also not-for-profit but are more locally based. TEDx events are independently organised, conducted under licence from TED and denoted by the addition of the ‘x’ followed by the name of the event. For example, I have the licence to host ‘TEDxFolkestone’.
TEDx events are organised entirely by local volunteers from the community, who do not work for TED, and so work on these events in their free time around their day jobs. However, despite the independent nature of a TEDx event, all organisers are required to follow the same rules, guidelines and format as the main TED events and talks.
There are multiple TEDx events taking place all around the world every year. You can find the TEDx event most local to you via the link here https://www.ted.com/tedx/events
Can anyone do a TED/TEDx talk and, if so, how do I apply?
TED talks are by invite only – and you will likely need to be a world leader in your sector to be invited.
Speakers for the more local TEDx events are selected by the individual TEDx event organisers, and can be from both the local or wider community, with varying levels of experience in their sector.
Some TEDx events will invite speakers and others to host open applications, and some will have a combination of the two. You can read more about how to be invited or apply to speak in the links to the two articles below:
Can I apply to any TEDx event or do I have to live in the town where the event is held?
For a Standard event licence, there are no specific rules which stipulate where speakers must live/work in order to speak at any given TEDx event. However, TEDx events are intended to explore ideas of importance to its local community and, therefore, it is at the discretion of the TEDx event organiser if, and/or how much, they would like both their speakers and the ideas they discuss to reflect the local community.
At TEDxFolkestone, we accept ideas from speakers from any location, and will always select based on the best ideas first. However, if two ideas are very similar then we will prioritise the more local idea/speaker, also taking into consideration the speaker’s ability to attend regular rehearsals.
Note that there are also other types of licence, for which the rules may be slightly different.
Does my idea have to fit the event theme and/or have to be relevant to the local area?
The event theme for any TEDx event is intended to set the tone for the event, and should be abstract and open to interpretation, meaning any idea or topic could be applicable.
Speakers should remain true to their idea, experience and expertise and not change it unduly just to fit the theme. From personal experience, I’ve seen that when speakers try to fit their ideas into the theme too much, it then often comes across as forced, while also being at risk of diluting the power of their idea.
In terms of if/how relevant your idea must be to the local and/or global community – it is a similar answer to the above in reference to the theme; first and foremost, you should deliver the idea that your experience and/or expertise is based upon. It’s then down to the discretion of the organiser if they feel that idea fits with the values and objectives for their event; whether that’s selecting an idea because it directly benefits an issue, the local community experience and/or because it shares a new way of thinking within your community which the wider world could benefit from. Both are equally valid.
When is the best time for me to apply?
TEDx events take place throughout the world all year round; however, you will need to check the website of your local event (https://www.ted.com/tedx/events ) to find out when their next event date is.
It’s important to consider that most events will confirm selected speakers anything from three-to-nine (or more) months before their event date, to give the speakers enough time to prepare and practise their talk. Equally, take into consideration that application or invite deadlines may close a few months before this to allow organising teams enough time to review and notify speakers. Check the specific TEDx event website or contact them to ask for details (if they allow open submissions, as not all do)
Do I have to have public-speaking experience to be accepted?
The general guidelines from TED state that organisers should be looking for ‘ideas’ as opposed to ‘speakers’. This means that organisers should be looking for new and original ideas, not somebody who is simply ‘good at public speaking’. Therefore, in theory, as long as you have a good idea, it doesn’t matter if/how much experience of public speaking you have. However, organisers will obviously also want to be sure that the speaker has at least enough basic skills to get that idea across on stage; therefore, it is at their discretion.
Speakers are not paid and should not be professional ‘motivational speakers’.
Do speakers receive training if accepted to speak?
This, again, is at the discretion of the TEDx event organiser. At TEDxFolkestone we offer extensive speaker training and support to successful applicants. However, many events do not do this but may ask you to deliver development/draft scripts and/or attend rehearsals.
What should I speak about and how should I put my application together?
A TEDx talk is about sharing a unique, original idea that adds value to others, and is likely based on something you have both passion and expertise/experience with. In my experience, it’s an idea you can’t not share – meaning it’s probably something you’re already thinking/talking about/putting into action in one form or another elsewhere.
If you have to think too hard about what your idea would be, chances are your idea isn’t quite ready or fully formed enough … yet. My advice would be to go out and start talking about your idea and putting it into action on a smaller platform and setting first, and then once you’re clearer and have a better idea about what your idea is, this is then the time to apply.
If, however, you are clear about your ideas and are ready to apply, start by researching the TEDx event(s) you are interested to speak at for details of their selection process. As each event is independent, they will likely do things slightly differently so follow their guidelines and requirements.
If you are considering applying for TEDxFolkestone, or indeed for a general overview, I have put together an article which you may find useful, which explores ‘what makes a good TEDx application’ available HERE.
It’s also important to be aware of the topics you can’t speak about on the TEDx stage, so I have written another article exploring what you can’t talk about, available HERE
If I apply and get selected, what happens next?
Again, this depends from event to event but I will give you an example based on what we do at TEDxFolkestone.
Once the application deadline is closed, the team will review all applications and make a shortlist for follow-up interviews, before further review and final selection. This whole process usually takes place over approximately four to six weeks.
Once notified of their selection, speakers will have between three to four months to prepare their talk before the event date. Speakers will be notified of the key deadline date for their various script drafts and any presentation or support materials, along with any workshop and rehearsal dates. At TEDxFolkestone we offer extensive coaching and support; however, not all events do this and it is not a requirement from TED for them to do so.
Other than not exceeding 18 minutes, there are no specific frameworks or structures your talk must follow, assuming of course that the content does not break any of the content guidelines – available at TED.com or via the direct link HERE http://storage.ted.com/tedx/manuals/tedxcontentguidelines.pdf.
There are many different ways to structure a talk, so my advice would be to explore and experiment with what approach works best for you based on your topic and style. I am currently working on a book about the process of going from ideas to stage, featuring interviews with previously successful TEDx speakers sharing their experience, process and structure. If this is of interest to you, please feel free to connect with me on social media to see updates and excerpts as this develops.