Seven tips for selecting TEDx speakers

Seven tips for selecting TEDx speakers

We’ve recently finished a long (almost three months) process to select the speakers who form the line-up for our flagship event, ‘Out of Order’ at Rose Theatre Kingston on 20th January 2018.

Reviewing over 100 applications, interviewing 25 people and targeting dozens of others has been fascinating. Our curation team worked hard to find speakers who were outstanding not just in their own right but as part of a wider group.

The process is like being a sculptor at their wheel. Starting with an shapeless bulk of applications, we’ve moulded, sculpted, added and subtracted and shaped the final line-up into something sharp and meaningful. Every decision on whether or not to include a speaker has influenced the look and feel of the end result.

In so doing, we’ve learned a few things about how to select TEDx speakers. So, in the spirit of Ideas Worth Sharing, I’ve put a few thoughts down for other TEDx organisers going through this process. Of course, they may also be useful for aspiring speakers.

Needless to say, these are just some of my personal thoughts and don’t represent TED policy. TEDx guidelines on speaker selection are here.

  1. Your first impressions are almost always correct

Our event on 20th January will be our fifth, having previously held one flagship and three Salons. We’ve reviewed close to 300 applications and interviewed dozens of people. I’ve realised that the feeling you get when you’re talking to a potential speaker is almost always borne out in reality. If, for example, a speaker has trouble focusing on the core of their ideas in an interview, this will almost certainly be the case in their talk. This isn’t to say that you don’t take them on – just be very aware of any implications, for example additional coaching.

  1. It’s a performance, not a lecture

Our best speakers are the ones who embrace the idea that a TEDx talk is much closer to a performance than a lecture. From memorising the script to practise, practise, practise, potential speakers are far better to look to the stage rather than the lectern for inspiration and this is where you should be guiding them.

  1. Experience helps – but not as much as you’d think

It’s tempting to reach for the safe choices – university lecturers, professional speakers, coaches – and often they will indeed be appropriate for your event. However, some of our most impactful speakers have been first-timers. Some of the most compelling have been, frankly, utterly terrified before taking to the stage. Your event needs to be a mix, so don’t be afraid of selecting inexperienced speakers – but make sure you provide them with the support they need to reach their potential.

  1. Ideas to the fore

After reviewing nearly 300 applications since setting up TEDx in Kingston, a few patterns have emerged. One of the most common is applications that elevate a personal story over the core ideas behind it. When speaking to such applicants, always emphasise that TEDx is about ideas and that personal narrative should serve to support ideas worth spreading, rather than the other way around.

  1. Be imaginative in your targeting

You can’t rely simply on applications to form your speaker line-up. You and your curation team will know the kinds of topics you want covered at your event. If they’re not coming through in your applications, seek them out yourself! The main rule with targeting people is: if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. The next rule is: ask as early as possible, because people’s diaries fill up remarkably quickly. Often the best idea is not to target the most well-known person in a field, but someone less well-known with a different take. Think laterally.

  1. Lay out your expectations early and insistently

No matter what level of public experience someone has, it’s unlikely they’ve done a TEDx talk before. And even if they have, your event is unique. You are providing a sought-after and valuable platform for someone to share their ideas. You will have reasonable expectations around rehearsal, script development, deadlines and other aspects of the talk. Outline these expectations up front at the earliest possibility and make sure both you and your speakers stick to them.

  1. Always have an eye on marketing

It doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing, interesting speakers if no one turns up to hear them. You have to be thinking of ticket sales at every stage of the planning process and, more broadly, of video hits post-event. This means being explicit in asking speakers to help promote the event and in choosing titles that will drive higher views on YouTube. All this will help with future events, both in terms of ticket sales and in helping attract great speakers.

Here at TEDxKinsgtonUponThames we haven’t always done these things perfectly and we have definitely learnt as we’ve gone. For future events, however, we are going to stick with the above principles as they’ve helped lead us to a cracking line-up for our next flagship event.

TEDxKingstonUponThames ‘Out of Order’ is at Rose Theatre Kingston on 20th January 2018. Tickets on sale now.

Nicholas Rogers, chairman – TEDxKingstonUponThames