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Advice for Future #TEDx Speakers

TEDxCambridge 2014 Spring is behind us, and the amazing work that went into the production will soon be visible to more than just the attendees: the videos and photos from the event will be posted in the next few days! (Stay tuned here for updates.)

Although the TEDxCambridge team spends a lot of time making sure that everything about the TEDx experience is unique and top-notch, it is of course the talks that, deservedly, get the lion’s share of attention. Our speaker curator, coach and executive producer Tamsen Webster, who in her day job helps brands and individuals tell their stories to drive business results, shared her advice for speakers on her personal blog last week, and we want to highlight some of the ideas she has put forth.

There’s no shortage of TED talk advice out there, from past speakers to Chris Anderson himself. There’s even some advice set to music and performed by the TED staff itself (see below for the embedded video). But Tamsen keeps her advice focused on the three things she looks for in her speakers.

  1. What drives the speaker? Not just what is he or she passionate about, but what drives what s/he does and how s/he does it?

    A great TEDx idea is usually a belief, approach, or concept tightly connected to that driving force, and a great TEDx speaker is one whose passion for the idea clearly comes through how they talk about the idea. In other words, the closer the idea is to the speaker’s driving force, the better the talk. Carmine Gallo talks about this beautifully in his book, Talk Like TED, which I recommend (though it’s more about WHAT makes a great TED talk, not how to create one).

    I’m also looking to see that the idea is squarely in the speaker’s “domain of authority” — the speaker’s experience, education, and/or actions all clearly demonstrate authority with the topic — a critical factor of the talk’s success.

  2. How can the idea apply to anyone? A great TEDx idea needs to be a “timeless principle,” even if that principle is brand new. Meaning, even if what created the idea was the speaker’s experience in science, or the arts, or marketing, or cooking, or whatever, the takeaway needs to be “independent of the context that created it” (a phrase we use in the company I work for).

    It needs to make sense to, and resonate with, anyone, regardless of whether or not they have a similar background. (This is how we move from just having interesting stories to “ideas worth spreading.”)

    For example, one of my speakers (the head distiller of Privateer Rum) used the concept of “√©levage” from winemaking and distilling, but talked about it in terms the audience could related to: How can you put all of yourself into what you produce… and hold fast to that?

  3. What gave rise to the idea, and how can that apply to anyone? What problem/challenge/question/unrealized opportunity did the speaker face that resulted in him or her coming up with the idea? A universal idea is most engaging when it solves a problem that everyone has experienced in one way or another….

    In other words, what is the universal problem your universal idea solves? These three questions are simple, I grant you, but finding an “idea worth spreading” is a LOT harder than it looks. And if you feel like you’ve got great answers to these questions? Then have someone tell me about them. I’d love to see you in Cambridge.

TEDxCambridge 2014 Fall is coming in September. While we already have a number of speakers already in the selection process, there’s room for a few more ideas worth spreading. So if you’re interested in speaking at a future TEDxCambridge event, pay heed, thought leader!

Photo by Laura Latimer.