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How NOT to pitch your TEDx idea to an event curator

Imagine this: You’ve got an idea and you want to know if it would be suitable for the TEDx stage.  So, you track down a TEDx organiser online for your big shot to pitch them your idea.  You send them an inspiring write-up of your idea and about how it’s your dream to step onto that red spot and inspire the world.

Sounds great, right?  And I totally get it!  It makes perfect sense.

But let me tell you about it from the other side – as the TEDx event organisers receiving this idea.

I open up a message and see a wall of text and/or links.  I skim through, trying to find the bit that actually communicates as a human rather than as a bot.  It clearly comes from a passionate person who I really want to help – but where do I start?  And where do I find the time to make sense of it enough to be able to give constructive feedback that doesn’t upset them?

I love helping people find and express an idea they are passionate about and which, importantly, can make a difference to the world; that’s why I became a TEDx event curator.  But I have to be honest, it really frustrates me when people ‘pitch’ at me online.  I don’t know exactly why it winds me up so much, but it’s to a level where, in the past, I’ve avoided sharing too much information online about what I do for fear of being inundated.  This is such a ridiculous catch-22, really, when you consider my passion in life is helping people express their ideas!

My frustration is not fair and not helpful – to me or to you.  Hence, in the spirit of sharing ideas, in this article I wanted to share some insights into why and how we can do things differently.  In doing so, I not only hope to have more inspiring conversations with more people, but also because I believe it will help you to better refine and express your big ideas in general. 

The three common mistakes when pitching a TEDx idea to me:

  • 1. Sending too much information: It’s common for me to receive a huge write-up, accompanied by lots of links and/or videos. This volume of information tells me that you’re not very clear what the single core idea, message or takeaway point is.  If you can’t tell me (and inspire me) in a few short lines then you probably aren’t (yet) totally clear on what your idea actually is.  So, as a result, what I’m getting is everything you know and have experienced, without any idea about how that becomes an 18-minute talk.  Of course, I’m under no illusion that this isn’t hard to do, but this is what makes TEDx talks so good; that they are a single, concise and clear idea.  
  • 2. Not asking what I’m looking for: Not, firstly, asking me if/how, or in what situation, I’m looking to be sent ideas can feel like you’re just using me to try to ‘win’ yourself a TEDx spot; either to promote yourself/your idea or to exercise your personal demons.  TEDx talks are not allowed to be either self-promotional or purely cathartic; the whole idea is to give value with your idea by solving a problem or challenge for the listener.  Failing to take the time to understand the problem (in this case – what I’m looking for) and how best to address it (for example, what I need from you to understand whether or not your idea is suitable) tends to make me suspicious that you may not have done this with your idea either. 
  • 3. Expecting in-depth feedback:  Reading/watching lots of information (often about a topic/area I know nothing about) and then giving constructive feedback on an idea takes time, especially if you’ve not first done the work to make it as easy as possible for me.  I really appreciate the vulnerability it takes for someone to share their idea with me – and therefore I’d love to be able to give honest, and constructive, feedback – but this is a time-consuming thing to do.  Feedback is a very delicate thing, especially online and when you’ve never met the person!  For the majority of the time, my main thought is ‘I’m not entirely clear what your specific idea is’ (which goes back to points 1 and 2 about knowing what the problem you’re solving is and therefore what value you bring and to whom), but this of course isn’t particularly constructive feedback.  I do honestly want to help more, but for me to work out the specifics of where, how and why your idea is not clear is not something that can be done in simply one reply!  It’s also worth mentioning that I do this as a volunteer – TEDx events are not for profit and are run by volunteers alongside their day jobs, so hopefully you’ll understand that I want to help but there is only so much time I can give.

A better way to approach a TEDx organiser

Hopefully that gives you a better idea of what to avoid doing, but I also wanted to share some positive insight and advice on what to do instead:

  • A. Ask if/how you can send your idea: Start with a conversation before you send me your idea.  Ask me if/what I’m looking for as it may be that I’m not currently looking for speakers or there may be a formal application process.  These are more direct and easier questions to reply to, so you’ll likely get a quicker response, and we’ll have started to build a rapport so I’m more likely to be receptive when you do then send your idea.
  • B. Make your idea concise: Make it as easy for me as possible.  If you can give me a catchy title, this is brilliant.  If not, then a short paragraph is enough. If you struggle to do this, then this may, in part, answer your own question about whether your idea is ready for the TEDx stage.  (Check out my other articles for advice on how to clarify your idea) 
  • C. Ask specific questions:  This makes my job in giving you feedback and/or telling you what you want to know so much easier and more effective for both parties.  If you just want to know if/how to apply: just ask.  If you want to know if your idea is suitable, tell me specifically what it is you’re not sure about and why as this will help me understand how comprehensive I can be with my feedback without upsetting you. 

Exploring how we can all effectively share ideas, express ourselves and solve important problems is my absolute passion in life, so I hope you can embrace the insight from this article in the way it was intended: to empower both speaker and listener to have more inspired conversations.

If you’d like more insight into the process of becoming a TEDx speaker and how to gain more clarity and confidence in the value of your idea, please feel free to follow/connect with me as I will be releasing more related articles in the future. 

NOTE:  It’s worth mentioning that all TEDx events are run independently by different organisers; and so, although we all follow the same TEDx guidelines, each event and curator will have their own unique way of doing things.  What I’ve shared is just my personal experience and approach. Therefore, always ask the individual curator about how they do things before sending them anything.