How a TEDx Talk can boost your speaking career

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Is giving a TED Talk or a TEDx Talk on your bucket list? If so, it could truly be an amazing stepping stone to building your brand as a speaker and growing your speaking audience. However, there are big differences between a TED Talk and a TEDx Talk. Therefore, it is crucial for you as a speaker to understand the nuances between the two events, how a TEDx Talk can boost your speaking career, as well as how you can get your foot in the door with either the TED platform or your local TEDx forum. 

Today, TED Talks are one of the most sought-after public speaking platforms. But TED Talks are very difficult to get into as a speaker who is just starting out. If you’re just starting out, you might benefit from checking out our past posts on TED Talks here. But if you’re a little more established, TEDx Talks represent a great chance to boost your speaking career, and they serve as a stepping stone to even bigger stages such as TED. To help, read on for an overview of the key differences between TED and TEDx talks, how a TEDx Talk can boost your speaking career, as well as tips on how to best get started.

Background on TED Talks

The first TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference launched in the 1980s as an event with a specific focus on technological developments, particularly in Silicon Valley. Over time, it has grown to become a major event, spawning independent talks around the world under the TEDx banner. The first city to host a TEDx event was Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since then, several talks there have gone on to become official TED talks. 

Over the years, many famous speakers such as Brené Brown, Susan Cain, Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, Tony Robbins and Malcolm Gladwell have shared the TED stage. Want to become the next one? Read on to learn more!

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What’s the difference between giving a TED Talk and a TEDx Talk?

According to TEDx Cambridge director Tamsen Webster, who shared her insights on an episode of The Speaker Lab podcast, there is a generally accepted distinction between a TED Talk speaker and a TEDx Talk speaker. This distinction is as follows: while TEDx speakers include any speaker who spoke at a locally organized TED event, such as TEDx Cambridge, TEDx Phoenix, or TEDx Toronto, a TED Talk speaker is someone who was invited to speak at one of TED’s own conferences, aka “Big TED.” This could be an event such as its annual conference in Vancouver. It can also include specialized TED summits such as TEDMED, TEDWomen, or TEDYouth.

Here’s a big caveat: With the occasional exception of travel costs, both TED and TEDx speakers are generally unpaid. That said, some TEDx venues may be willing to provide demo video footage of your speech, which may balance out the opportunity cost of lost revenue. Being a TEDx speaker will also give you AMAZING credibility for potential future events, and depending on your experience, TEDx may even provide referrals and recommendations for future (paying) gigs.

While TED Talks are much more exclusive and invite-only, TEDx Talks are more accessible. TEDx Talks are the local, community-based independent forums for TED, and as such are generally easier for people to speak at.  According to Tamsen Webster, the process of getting selected to give a TEDx Talk depends by venue, and can be competitive. Hundreds of people apply to be one of a dozen or so speakers at TEDx Cambridge, Webster said.

Here are some examples of how TEDx locations select speakers:

  • Invite only: The TEDx Executive Director and leadership team of the individual location source speakers through personal networks to find and curate a select roster of speakers for annual or twice-annual events.
  • Via speaker nomination form on the TEDx location’s website: Some locations exclusively use nomination forms to source speakers, while others use a mix of nomination form entries and sourced speakers.
  • Through networks: TEDx locations may have a nomination form, but source speakers through past TEDx Talk participants.

One further wrinkle

According to Webster, if you speak at a TEDx, you’re recorded as a TEDx speaker, but your video may be promoted to the official TED website, and published on the TEDx official YouTube channel. Every year only about 40 or 45 TEDx videos get onto the website, out of about 56,000 TEDx Talks a year.

Some TEDx speakers, such as academic researcher Brené Brown, get invited to the “Big TED” stage after a breakout performance on the TEDx stage. In Brown’s case, her 2010 TEDx Houston talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”, became a top 5-viewed TED Talk online, and she followed it up with a TED Talk titled “Listening to Shame” in 2012. But, TEDx Cambridge director Tamsen Webster cautions, such cases are rare. Hear more from her interview with Grant Baldwin here (discussion of TEDx gigs begins around the 11:30 mark).

How to get a TEDx Talk

Research TEDx Events

TEDx events are a great opportunity for aspiring speakers, as a TEDx Talk can boost your speaking career by providing a platform to share your ideas with a wide audience. 

Over 4000 TEDx events take place around the globe, even post-COVID. (Here’s a spreadsheet listing the number of TEDx events by state and country.) But every TEDx event is unique, so potential speakers should research the selection process, network with past speakers and understand any additional requirements.

Bigger cities usually have more established TEDx events with challenging selection processes. These events tend to have higher ticket prices, cover speakers’ travel costs and have better production value. Professional speakers usually have a harder time to speak at these events, unless they have a unique and original idea.

Keep in mind that not all events have open speaker applications at all times. For instance, some events don’t feature live speakers at all and just show prerecorded videos from TED and provide discussion opportunities. Others have already filled their speaker lineup for the year.

To prepare for a TEDx event, potential speakers should research the venue and find out what topics the organizers are looking for. They must also be ready to make their case why they are the right choice to share their knowledge and ideas. By taking the time to research the TEDx event and prepare for their talk, potential speakers can ensure a successful experience and make a lasting impression with their audience.

In Webster’s words, “We want to catch the rising star. We want the new idea before it’s out there. If you’ve already got the book talk, and you’re already making money with that talk, that’s probably not the talk that we want.”

Share Your Idea with a past TEDx Speaker

According to Laura Briggs, a two-time TEDx speaker, “Another TEDx speaker, a former organizer, or a speaker coordinator at an event can be a great sounding board…They can really help workshop your idea into something you’re proud to share.” Ask for insightful advice about the process. An experienced mentor can provide first-hand insight into the process and help you dodge any bumps in the road.

It is important to keep up with current trends, no matter what your field is. Staying informed will help you be competitive and knowledgeable. If you’re in business, staying informed about the market is key to providing your own customers with what they need. The same goes for TED talks. Make sure to watch a few TED and TEDx talks each week to familiarize yourself with the topics and speaking styles that are popular. This will help you to understand the top speakers in the TED world, and become just as successful as them.

What’s the type of talk that TED or TEDx organizers are typically looking for?

According to Webster, your TEDx talk needs to have three Is: Interesting, Important, and Individual. In other words, it needs to have a speaker 1) who is an authority on the topic (due to background, life experiences, research, etc.), 2) who can address an important unmet need in the world, and 3) be passionate to share about it.

Pitch your talk

Once you’ve identified some potential events you’d like to speak at, the next step to becoming a TEDx speaker is applying to the talk. Different events have different processes, but if you’re looking for a basic template email, here’s an example…

Hey Tara!

I heard about your upcoming TEDx conference in Nashville. As a matter of fact I have a presentation about finding your passion that would be a great fit for your attendees!

I was curious if you have started taking proposals for workshop presenters yet?

Thanks Tara!

At this point, the goal is to build a connection with the decision-maker. To do this, you could research last year’s conference. Find out who the presenters were, what they spoke about, and if you know any of those speakers. If you’re already part of the industry, you would hopefully know of some of those speakers. You could contact them for more information on the event. It’s also important to find out if the person you emailed is actually the decision maker, and whether your friend could introduce you to them.

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So you’ve learned how a TEDx Talk can boost your speaking career. Now, it’s time to decide if a TEDx Talk is the right next step for you and how you can use it to further your career. Consider the type of audience you want to reach, the topic you want to address, and the resources you have to make the talk happen.

Also consider how your talk will help you reach your goals and how you will benefit from the experience. Once you decide if it’s the right move for you, start crafting and delivering your talk, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a TEDx speaker.

If you found this piece helpful, we have a great podcast with Tamsen Webster digging even deeper into the world of TED–especially the ins and outs of the TEDx selection process! She tells us how she helps her speakers prepare for their TEDx talks, how you can get your foot in the door with your local TEDx and how to know if your idea is interesting enough to be considered for a TEDx talk. You can listen to this “inside look” at TED here. Want to read more about speaking tips? Take a look at our 100 tips for motivational speaking for any speaking engagement!

While you mull all of that over, here are a few rapid fire FAQs about TED Talks. Happy speaking!

What does TED Talk stand for?

TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, the original topics of TED Talks when the organization launched in the mid-1980s.

How long is a TED Talk?

TED Talks are limited in length to 18 minutes or less.

How much do you get paid to give a TED Talk?

Although TED and TEDx Conference speakers do not get paid, presenters may receive travel and lodging costs for the conference they speak at.

Does TED have any tips for giving a TED Talk?

TED has many resources for aspiring speakers at And some past TED speakers have given talks of their own on how to deliver a great TED Talk! See below for a video from TED Curator Chris Anderson, who shares his secret ingredient that all the best ones have in common, along with four ways to make it work for you.

How can I get notified of upcoming TEDx events?

Some services such as ViralMessageLab’s TEDx Speaker Opportunities give you access to a spreadsheet you can filter by date, location, and more. They do charge a monthly fee for the service, which also sends subscribers email alerts when new opportunities come up. This service/tool is not endorsed by or affiliated with The Speaker Lab, and TSL receives no compensation for mentioning it on this site.


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