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How to Land a TEDx Talk on Your First Try

Have you ever dreamed of speaking on the big stage? It's more achievable than you think.

In May of 2021, I stepped into the red circle on a stage in South Lake Tahoe and made one of my longest-held dreams come true. While delivering my TEDx talk on why we should stop tolerating each other and welcome each other instead, I knew I had nailed it. At the core of my being, I knew I had taken the opportunity given to me by the curators and honored their investment and trust.

Fun fact: that was the first TEDx I applied to. I dreamed about doing it for so long, but I didn’t send in my first application until March 2021. A short time later, I received the news that I was selected in the speaker cohort for that year’s event. Since then, I’ve gotten asked A LOT about how I became a TEDx speaker and how I landed my first stage. I say “first”, because only a few weeks later, I landed my second.

Here are my three answers to that question. Use these tips as you consider your own journey to the red circle.

Know your idea

When I was doing my Ph.D., a wise academic told me that it was just as important to know my data in my bones as it was to focus on writing it down. That may seem counterintuitive, but I think it’s particularly important to speakers. When you know something – truly know it on every metaphysical level – you communicate it differently. You’re clearer about word choice, tone, and impact. All of those things affect your application. This is especially true if the application asks for a video.

Know why it matters

The TEDx mantra of “ideas worth spreading” is a bit of special alchemy. It requires a balance between presenting an idea with limited emotional attachment and telling a personal story. Combine that with the fact that TEDx events are all individually organized under a license, navigating how to frame your idea gets tricky. However, an element that should not be tricky is the meaning behind your talk. Why does it matter to the attendees, the event’s local community and wider society? If you can’t summarize that in thirty seconds, keep practicing. This is the core motivator of the next section.

Know who it serves

Knowing why your talk matters and who it serves may sound similar, but there’s a significant difference. For example, I know that my idea to change how children eat in public schools serves the entire planet, and an argument can be made that it serves the whole of humanity by raising healthier children. Who this truly serves, however, are parents, educators, health care providers and public health officials. The difference is key.

Taking a step towards TEDx

So you want to give a TEDx talk? Then do it. In the immortal words of the Avett Brothers, decide what to be and go be it. There’s work to be done, and strategy to consider, but the most important thing is your determination and dream to stand on that red dot. Once you make that decision, the rest will follow.

Read How to Get Started with Public Speaking as an Entrepreneur for tips on how to begin a speaking career.

About the author

Kristen Donnelly (MSW, M.Div, Ph.D.) is a TEDx speaker, international empathy educator and researcher with two decades of experience in helping people understand the beauty in difference and the power in inclusivity. She is one of The Good Doctors of Abbey Research, COO of their parent company and an unapologetic nerd for stories of change. Dr. Donnelly lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, surrounded by piles of books and several video game consoles.

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