How to Give a TED Talk

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Just getting on stage and delivering a memorable talk can do a lot for your soft skills. But if you manage to snag a chance to give a talk at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference it can be a high point in your life. 

A popular TED Talk is eyeballed by millions. It can open doors and catapult you to career opportunities that you cannot even foresee now. 

But its very exclusivity makes it difficult. Though not impossible. So, how do you give a TED Talk? 

The TED website explains the rules. Successful speakers offer a lot of tips from their own success stories too. But the biggest clue is in TED’s own tagline, “Ideas worth spreading.”

Start With the Idea

Why is your idea worth spreading? Why is it unique? How is your idea important to the person next to you? 

TED lists two main criteria:

  • An idea that’s new and surprising; an idea or invention that your audience has never heard about before.
  • A great basic idea (that your audience has already heard) with a new angle that challenges beliefs and perspectives.

Maybe, something as strange as a special burial suit made with mushrooms?


When TED organizers start planning an event, they start with the ideas. That’s why TED isn’t the place where you will find slick professional speakers. Instead, you’ll find historians, entrepreneurs, economists, psychologists, performance artists, and others. It might be the first talk they’re giving in their lives. 

You will jump ahead of the queue if you are a doer, a thinker, an inventor, or someone who has overcome tremendous odds in life. 

So, lead with an idea and your achievements. Then, try to open each of the doors below.

Use the Speaker Nomination Form

The speaker nomination form is the official way to nominate yourself or someone else for a TED conference or event. You can suggest anyone, even if you don’t know them personally. There is no deadline and no guarantees, as TED takes time to vet all applicants. 

As you can see the application is straightforward but sweeping in what it asks for. The key being the unique idea that they want to share in a TED talk. You can nominate them for any of the official TED events, but the organizers select the names at their own discretion while matching the event theme to the topic of the talk. 

The Speaking at TED FAQ will answer most of your basic questions. 

Become a TED Fellow

The TED Fellows program is for the chosen few. But it offers an automatic welcome to the TED stage. Every year TED selects high achievers from across the world who are playing a transformational role in their communities. TED covers all costs.

It is a mentorship program led by expert coaches from TED and senior fellows from previous years. Their goal is to help you express and communicate your work and ideas. They will give you career guidance, media training, and public relations advice. All these will culminate in an opportunity to give a TED talk. 

The 2019 batch includes a fishing cat conservationist, a food innovator, a police captain, and an investigative journalist among others. 

If you have a track record of innovative ideas in your field, then apply to be a TED Fellow today and become part of a 500 strong global community. 

Start Small With a Local TEDx

The likelihood of getting onto the stage at a TEDx event is far more likely than the main TED Talk. Local TEDx programs are held throughout the world. These are like local chapters with the official blessing of TED (that is, under a free license granted by TED). 

Simon Sinek is well known. He gave his first talk at TEDxPuget Sound, an independent event. Then he presented his next one at an official TED conference. 

Use the Event Listing map and find an event happening near you. As you can see, the world is well covered and an event in your town may be on it. 

Small scale TEDx events are also good to practice your talk, gain confidence, and make your name in the speaking arena. 

There are different types of TEDx Events. These have different requirements. So, do your research before you pinpoint the event you want to apply to.

But don’t think of the localized TEDx events as the minor leagues. You can spring from there to the major league of the TED global event with your breakthrough idea. 

Find Non-TED Speaking Opportunities

Non-TED opportunities can help you not only sharpen your presentation skills but also network with other TED speakers. Places like SpeakerHub and Toastmasters International can be the launching pad for your ambitions.  

These sites are mostly for someone who is interested in building a professional speaking career. But other people there may notice your remarkable idea and invite you to speak at a local TEDx event. 

Also: Volunteer at TED Events

 Not all of us will have breakthrough ideas to get a chance in the spotlights. Volunteering for behind the scenes tasks at TED events is an alternative way to improve your skills and enrich your resume. Volunteering won’t lead to a chance to give a TED talk, but it can give you an insight into how these events run.

The staff at TED events organize the official events. Usually, there are no openings for volunteers. The independently organized local TEDx events often call for help. 

You can find more information on their social media pages or ask them directly. Use the TED events map we linked to above and narrow down to an event near you. Go to the event page to find a contact person and ask if they need help. Tell them what you’re good at — and they’ll be thrilled to have you.

Give a TED Talk in 18 Minutes or Less

The TED Talk limit of 18 minutes or less can be the result of a lifetime of work and more than a few months of preparation. Of course, with so many people vying for a chance, you also need luck. 

Even if you don’t make it to a TED Talk, the attempt and the preparation can pay off eventually. Have you ever tried a TED Talk or even volunteered for one? What did you learn?