🔴 How to craft a successful TEDx application...

and put yourself in the top 10% of speakers

If there is one piece of advice I could offer anyone who wants to put themselves forward for a TEDx talk or any other major conference in 2024, this would be it…

Speaker application forms are full of traps 🪤

Understand them and you’ll be in the top 10% of speakers.

I ran my last TEDxClapham event back in 2018. That year, we received over 400 applications for 12 speaking slots.

Just one applicant made the cut!

We had to headhunt the rest.

Our 1 successful applicant, Billie Quinlan, TEDxClapham

So what was it about Billie’s application that stood out so much?

Well, before I share that, I think it’s important to reflect that based on those numbers, there must have been some incredible speakers that we missed out on.

All because they didn’t answer the application questions in the right way - such a waste!

There is an art to mastering speaker applications.

It’s why we dedicate a whole module to getting everyone application-ready on the Thought Leadership Accelerator.

The goal? To land, write and deliver a talk that will position you as a thought leader in just 12 weeks.

The talks created on this programme have been delivered on big stages (like TEDx) and are now inspiring over 15 million people online.

More details at the bottom of this page.*

But here’s the best bit…

The 2-3 hours you invest on the application upfront pay dividends in the long run because almost every conference has the same speaker application.

It’s why Accelerator alumni have used the same answers they created on the programme to deliver keynotes at the likes of WebSummit, CogX, Sifted Summit, SXSW and Fast Company.

So what are the questions? And how do you answer them?

Question 1: Tell us about yourself…

Often the hardest question of all! So open-ended, it’s hard to even know where to start!

 What most people do is reel off their LinkedIn bio, complete with every professional accolade and achievement in an attempt to build credibility. Don’t be like everyone else…

 Instead, go personal. Give the curators an insight into the real you. Think of it like a dating profile… the more surprising the answer, the more interesting you will appear and the more memorable you'll be.

This is how one of my favourite successful applications from the Thought Leadership Accelerator started:

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up. So much so that I went and studied aerospace engineering at university…

📝 Length? Aim to keep it to 100 words.

Question 2: What is your idea worth spreading?

This question is designed to test your ability to communicate your idea with clarity.

 What most people do is write a mini essay justifying why their talk topic (usually ‘their story’) deserves to be on the stage. With 100’s of applications to sift through, curators just don’t have the time.

 Instead, answer the question with a single sentence that is:

  • easy to understand (requires no context)

  • authoritative (containing no words expressing uncertainty)

  • short (~10 words).

My idea is that…

the stigma around female sexuality has created a pleasure gap.

This is how TEDxClapham’s 1 in 400 applicant, Billie Quinlan answered the question. What stood out to us was how the idea had the potential to serve a purpose far greater than making the speaker look good.

📝 Length: 1 short, punchy sentence - no exceptions!

Question 3: Provide a brief overview of your talk

Here comes the opportunity to showcase your talk’s potential. The goal here is to give them the one-minute version of your actual talk - MicDrop moments included.

 What most people do is tell the curators what they’re going to tell them, without actually telling them anything! Here’s a perfect example of what not to do… (and yes, this is real!).

I start with my main message and then will delve into some current examples of progress we are achieving to change this status quo. My purpose is to arm the audience with just enough data and belief that they will leave with a hope that they and others can make a difference.

 Instead, turn your talk into 6-8 easily digestible bullet points. Every bullet point should pack a punch. It needs to pique curiosity, stir emotion or make the curator cleverer. Bonus points for those who are able to do all three. Here’s what your first bullet point might look like…

If current trends continue, there will be no wilderness left on earth in 100 years time.

The latest satellites can now measure the destruction of wilderness in real time and the results are alarming…

📝 Length? 300 words max - despite what the application word limit might suggest!

Question 4: Why do you want to speak at this conference?

This question is about establishing a need for your talk. What do you want the talk to go on to achieve?

 What most people do is talk about how delivering a TEDx talk is on their bucket list. But this isn’t about you, this is about your talk’s potential impact.

 Instead, convince the curators of your talk’s relevance and importance. Show them how it’s going to solve a problem and get them excited about the fact that they will be playing a part in making it happen.

I want to use this talk to…

change the perception of sexual assault.

This was the answer that landed young graduate, Isabel Oakley Chapman her slot at TEDxClapham back in 2014. Two years later, her talk played a part in changing government legislation to make sex and relationship education compulsory in English schools.

That one talk has catapulted her career. She now runs multiple organisations and community initiatives and was awarded an MBE by the Queen.

Isabel Oakley Chapman

📝 Length? 150 words

Question 5: What makes you uniquely placed to talk about your subject?

Now is the time for credibility.

 What most people do is re-write their answer from question one, slightly confused that they've been asked the same question twice.

 Instead, get really specific about what experiences (both personal and professional) make your perspective unique. How many years of experience do you have? Are you walking the walk as well as you talk it? If so, how? Do you have any of your own data that you could bring into the talk? You get the picture.

For the past five years, my entire focus has been on… 
building technology which helps retailers use AI to profile and better communicate with their customers.

📝 Length? 150 words

Implementing the tips I’ve shared above doesn’t guarantee you’ll land the slot, but it will give you a fighting chance of being in the top 10%.

Like this Thought Leadership Accelerator graduate…

They didn’t get selected for TEDxBristol in the end.

But 2 months later, they landed a slot at TEDxNewcastle and they’ll be delivering their talk in a couple of week’s time!

If you’re reading this, thinking ‘Maybe next year this could be me!’ I work with 10 leaders to go through this process every January.

By April they will have:

  • visionary talk that's designed to position you as a thought leader at conferences in 2024.

  • A 'curator-vetted' speaker application that can be used to land high-profile speaking engagements.

  • A system for generating paid speaking opportunities.

  • A speaking slot at Talks of our Time 

  • An amplification strategy so that your talk gets seen online.

If you’d like to be one of them, book in a call to find out more.

Subscribe to keep reading

This content is free, but you must be subscribed to Founder to Thought Leader to continue reading.

Already a subscriber?Sign In.Not now