So – the big question! What actually makes a good TEDx talk application?
In this article I’ll share my experience – as the curator and licence holder of TEDxFolkestone – of what we’re looking for, as an organising team, when reviewing speaker applications for our event.
The first thing to say is that TEDx events are multidisciplinary and broad in topics and subjects; meaning ANY idea on ANY* topic can be considered.
(*There are a handful of ‘no-go’ topics – or maybe it’s better to describe them as ‘approaches’ – that TED does not allow. I have sharing more information on this in another article ‘what you can’t you talk about in a TEDx talk’ HERE)
This broadness does mean it can be hard to give topics or content specific advice – hence, the text below gives you more of an ‘approach’, a wider context, within which to consider the suitability of your idea.
Equally, note that different TEDx event organisers will have different objectives of what makes a good idea; so, bear in mind talk curation is more of an art than a science in my personal experience. The below is based on my personal experience and our approach at TEDxFolkestone only.
Ok, so here’s what I believe makes a great application:
A single, unique and well-supported idea that adds value to a specific audience.
Got that?! Ok, let’s break it down a little more to give you a better idea of what I ‘actually’ mean by this statement:
‘Single’ – this means your idea/application presents just one very specific ‘point’. 18 minutes (the maximum talk duration) is not a long time – therefore, you only really have time to effectively present one idea. This is not about telling everyone everything you know from a life’s work – this is about the single most significant idea that’s come as a result of it. You’re far better off telling your audience one thing well – and supporting it with multiple examples, stories, application, etc. – than trying to tell them too much, meaning they won’t really remember any of it.
‘Unique’ – what is actually different about your idea? If you’re presenting a new, ground-breaking scientific discovery then this ‘uniqueness’ is fairly obvious, but the water can get a bit murky when you’re talking about an approach or viewpoint, which, although it may be new to you, may not be unique to everyone else. Ask yourself – where or how did you come about this idea? If you read it or learnt it somewhere, even if unconsciously, then is it really original to you? However, that’s not to say you may not have a unique application for an ‘existing’ idea. Or maybe you’ve combined two existing ideas in a totally original way?
Another way to explore this question is to ask yourself where have you been putting this idea into practice and, as a result, what new evidence or potential new insight might you have or be able to add to an existing idea? You could equally have a potentially new way of approaching or presenting an existing idea but to a new audience, in a way that reaches or engages people that previously wouldn’t have experienced or understood the power of this idea. Mixed in with this question of ‘uniqueness’, you also might want to be considering the question ‘why me?’; what about your experience is unique and therefore leads to a unique idea?
One other way to consider if your idea is unique is to ask yourself the question ‘will everyone agree with my idea?’. In my experience, it’s the ideas that are slightly controversial or challenging that get our selection team talking and wanting to find out more. Unique ideas are often those that push us out of our comfort zones, or challenge our existing thinking or perspective. If everyone already ‘agrees’ with or has an existing understanding very similar to your idea, then it might be worth considering if the idea itself, and/or the way you’re presenting it, is really that new or not.
‘Well supported’ – what evidence do you have to back up your idea? Depending on your sector, this doesn’t necessarily mean stats, facts, or figures as this may not always be applicable, but you still need ‘something’ on which to back up your claims. For whom, and how, has this ‘idea’ provided a valuable solution to a problem? This goes back to the question of ‘why me?’ – what past experience or evidence do you have from which your idea is based upon or that demonstrates its application?
‘Idea’ – the best ideas are solutions to problems; they are two sides of the same coin. Without knowing the reason for your idea, or what value it can bring, it’s unlikely to make any impact. An idea can be really simple and straightforward, but if it solves a problem no one else has been able to solve, that’s when you have a great idea.
‘Adds value’ – this takes us to the question of ‘so what?’ How big is the problem, and therefore how much impact will your idea have?
‘Specific audience’ – not everyone has the same problems; therefore, they won’t get equal value or impact from your idea. Find the right problem that you want to solve for the right audience and what might seem like even the simplest of ideas can make a huge difference.
Of course, I’m not saying these are easy questions to answer, by any means! But the more you explore them and the clearer you can get, the better you’ll be able to communicate them to us as organisers, and then to your audience.
From experience, I’ve seen that our speakers at TEDxFolkestone are rarely 100% clear and confident on all of the above when they apply. However, we do see that these points and questions do naturally become refined as they go through the process of preparing and practising their talks.
You don’t need to have them all totally nailed to apply, but you do need to be clear ‘enough’ to be able to articulate your idea enough to both stand out from the pack and to give us the confidence you’ll be able to refine them within the three-month development period between selection and stepping on stage.
If you find yourself overthinking these questions, it may be that your idea is not quite ‘ready’ yet. If this is the case, my personal advice to you would be, rather than keep ‘searching in the same place’ for something that may not be there, go out and explore your idea in the real world some more.
Go explore it, test it, apply it, break it, rebuild it, refine it – and from this, not only will you get a clearer idea of what your idea and its value is, you’ll also gain the experience and examples of it in action; and making a difference to those you wanted to help with this idea in the first place! It’s this that will make your application stand out when you are ready to make an application. Good luck!