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How to become a TED speaker

By Wendi Boyett

t1larg.gates.ted-916300-editedPR can help pave the way to industry stardom

TED is a nonprofit organization whose wildly successful conferences are the holy grail for innovative and enterprising individuals looking to gain publicity and disseminate their ideas worldwide. Conceived in 1984 as a conference for ideas in technology, entertainment and design, TED is now the paramount platform for visionaries seeking a global audience to discuss virtually any topic.

Previous speakers

Bill Gates, Bono, Sheryl Sandberg, Tony Robbins and Jane Goodall are among the thousands of people who have graced the TED stage to discuss topics ranging from global economics to the correct way to tie your shoes (you’ve been doing it wrong). In 2006, TED began offering its talks for free on its website, catapulting the organization to its present status. The more than 2,000 TED Talks available online now have a combined viewing of one billion, with some of the more popular talks attracting tens of millions each.

A transformative experience

Giving a TED Talk can change your life in a profound way. A recent 60 Minutes episode on CBS highlighted human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s speech at a TED conference about his efforts to reform the criminal justice system with his Equal Justice Initiative, and the outcome was staggering. Stevenson’s speech was so well-received that the collective audience promptly raised one million dollars for his initiative.

How to get in on the conversation

So how does one become a featured speaker with such an influential and exclusive forum? Although many past speakers are well-known, the vast majority are not. They are simply bright, imaginative people with innovative ideas and inspirational personal stories. Anyone can apply to speak at a TED conference.

The rules are pretty basic:

  • Do not attempt to sell any products during the speech.

  • No pseudo-science is permitted.

  • Each talk must take fewer than 18 minutes to deliver.

According to the 60 Minutes episode, which included an interview with TED Curator Chris Anderson, there isn’t a formula or algorithm for whom the organization features. Anderson said, “It’s basically a judgment call as to what is interesting now.”

The organization holds auditions for selected potential speakers and Anderson and his team make their final decisions based on those auditions. You don’t have to be a professional speaker, but you should offer fresh and engaging material. TED audiences are hand-selected and consist of the top thought-leaders and doers across a wide range of fields. If the TED team selects you to be a speaker at a TED conference, you will undergo extensive coaching and preparation before your speech.

If you are interested in participating in a TED conference, the right public relations firm can provide you invaluable support. Contact Axia Public Relations to learn how we can be a strategic partner for you to increase your media coverage to improve your visibility.

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Wendi Boyett is a writer and editor for Axia Public Relations. Based in Atlanta, she writes for businesses in a variety of industries, including technology, transportation and public relations.

Topics: public relations, media

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