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How to Do a TEDxTalk: Delivering Magic on the Big Red Dot

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

There is no greater feeling than standing in the spotlight on a big red dot with the iconic letters – T E D – in the background and a delightful audience in front of you waiting to hear every inspiring, funny, and whip-smart thing you have to say. In 18 minutes or less, you get a chance to change the world with your Brilliance on a ginormous, highly-respected global platform dedicated to Ideas Worth Spreading.

I’ve been blessed to have that experience twice – so far. My first TEDxTalk was at TEDxSarasota on 12/12/12 where I co-presented with my hula hoop on The Power of Joyful Movement, and the second one was nearly eleven years later at TEDxTemecula where I delivered a program on how a cocktail napkin will save the world.

So many people have asked me about the TEDx experience and how to land one that it seemed in the spirit of TED – Ideas Worth Spreading – that I share what I have learned on the journey.

Combining my personal experiences with my role as a Brand and Business Crystallizer, I have created a handy roadmap to help you step onto the big red dot in the most strategic and satisfying ways possible. At the heart of creating a successful TEDxTalk is CLARITY, and it is my hope to shine some light not only about the TEDx process itself, but also on what you want to deliver when you finally get to shine on that coveted stage.

A few items need to be considered before even embarking on the mission to nab a TEDxTalk.

First, speakers on the TED and TEDx platforms do NOT get compensated in any way, so it makes sense to have a strategic plan on how the resulting video will be leveraged in your business -- if you want to realize any monetary benefit from it.

NOTE: There are many folks who do TEDxTalks simply because they want to leave a lasting legacy or want to have that one-of-a-kind TED/TEDx experience. However, take into consideration that virality of videos on the 60+ million subscriber TED platforms have catapulted many thought leaders into the stratosphere. The better your TEDxTalk is, the more likely it will be to ignite.

Second, a steadfast commitment to the time and space needed to adequately prepare is a must. Doing a TEDxTalk is NOT something to wing or take casually, at least if you want it to actually live beyond the day’s live event. I repeat: Do. Not. Wing. A. TEDxTalk. And I say this as a professional winger of speeches for the last dozen years. When done with deliberate intention, TEDxTalks become more like orchestrated, tightly-crafted, one-person shows.

Once you land a TEDxTalk, it will dominate your life from the moment you get the news of your selection until the moment you walk onto the big red dot. (My timeline was eight weeks, all of which I needed.) Your free time will evaporate. Your mind will swirl the speech around at all hours of the day and night, nudging out other items that will go untended. You will push yourself harder mentally than you have in a LONG long time. It’s a frustrating, uncomfortable, sometimes-painful growth experience most of the time. If you don’t have the time or oomph to give the TEDx process its necessary attention, wait until you can.

Assuming you’ve figured out how you’ll monetize the video downstream, if desired, and have created the necessary space to deliver your best TEDxTalk, let’s dive into the steps to realize your dream.

  1. Get crystal clear. This is the single most important step in the process. What is your Idea Worth Spreading? And how is it different than everyone else's great idea? Can you write it in 12 words or less? If not, you’re not clear enough.

  2. Prepare your pitch. Write out the title and description of your talk as if it was already delivered and published, why it matters for the world to hear, and what makes you qualified to deliver it.

  3. Target ideal events. Go to the TEDx page to hone in on upcoming events in your geographic area. Also check past events in your desired locations to see if you can get some intel on next year’s event. Consider not only your home town region but also those tied to family, career, education, or even favorite vacation spots! Whatever can give you a connection to the location.

  4. Apply. If you’ve done step two, this will be a no-brainer. Don’t wait. Don’t close the tab. Don’t tell yourself you aren’t ready. Do it for as many TEDx events as feels right and let the process walk you through.

  5. Audition. Your process may include a few minute video and/or live virtual audition of your TEDxTalk. Don’t worry about being perfect; the planners just want to see that you are passionate about your subject and can speak intelligently. Rely on your heart and smarts to get you through this phase. They know your Talk isn’t even close to what it will be on game day.

Assuming you’ve done all five steps above, congratulations!! That is a huge accomplishment. Remember, there will likely be rejections since not all are great fits. My first attempt at getting a second TEDx application fell into the void. Just stay patient and consistent.

If you apply to more than a handful of right-fit TEDx events and are still getting rejected, it is likely a lack of clarity on your idea that is not sufficiently grabbing the attention of the planners.

If you have been diligent in the steps thus far, is far more likely that you’ll be asked to present on a TEDx stage! YAY!!! When you have been given the invitation to speak at a TEDx event, consider the following steps to optimize the experience.

  1. Involve your peeps. Doing a TEDxTalk is a BIG deal! Share the journey with your family, friends, followers, and fans on a regular basis. Not only will it make you feel more confident and connected to the event itself (and the TEDxTeam will LOVE you for it), you’ll also be planting the seeds for your community to share it when it comes out. Involve them in your TEDx journey right away and throughout the process.

  2. Get a coach. The TEDxTeam will likely have local resources available to work with you to shape your speech; take full advantage of their valuable insight! I also partnered one-on-one with my own coach to jumpstart initial brainstorming, edit any fluff from the script, and receive brutal-but-necessary feedback on delivery improvements. Let them help you deliver your absolute BEST.

  3. Create the structure. Start with slides just to organize your thoughts and create an outline. (What you start with won’t be what you end up with, so don’t be attached to the slides.) Run through the structure several times to get a sense of what needs to stay and what needs to go. Your goal here is to have everything lead to your ONE great premise.

  4. Write the script. In order to start with more than just a blistering blank page, I recommend voice recording a verbal runthrough of your slides and getting the text transcription as a foundation for your script. Keep in mind the importance of a strong opening, inspiring closing, clear premise, and intuitive flow. Try to write every word as if you are saying it…because you will be. My 15 minute TEDxTalk (which ended up being 16+ minutes because of audience response) had 1845 words – and I slogged through 10 written versions before reaching the blessed final script.

  5. Read aloud daily. Multiple times a day, read your Talk out loud as if you are delivering it. Yes, it’s awkward and uncomfortable and makes you feel like a weird wannabe. Too bad. Do it anyway. It’s how you’ll turn your Talk into art. I had a printed copy in large font on a music stand sitting on my dresser at all times. Time yourself. Play with pacing. Allow extra space for audience laughter (I hope!) This stage is where you’ll shape the Talk and find out what your real timing is (aim for 90% duration of what you have been asked to deliver) and where you need to cut.

  6. Edit mercilessly. Be painfully honest with yourself on the importance of each story, each data point, and each illustration, getting rid of absolutely anything that does not further the one idea. Good Talks are plentiful; Great Talks are edited. Make the mighty red pen your friend. They call it killing your darlings for a reason. The power is in the cut. If you can't do it, hire it out to someone who can.

  7. Commit it to memory. Once the script is in final format, step up the daily runthroughs aloud. Take the script everywhere you go and read aloud from it. After a bajillion or so efforts, you’ll naturally start to memorize it. Keep going, and eventually you can transition the script into a visual framework, like a clock face with memory images that remind you of each section. Use the visual to help you anchor the script into your body and mind as you go off-script.

  8. Polish to perfection. Use the visual map of your Talk only if you need an occasional cheat sheet, but within the final two weeks until the big event, you’ll want to be completely off-book. This also means you’ll want to start practicing with your slides and a clicker as well as any other props you might be using (I doubled down and used a dry erase board too.) At this point you want to practice standing up, wearing what you'll be wearing, preferably in larger spaces that mimic the theater, speaking as you will on the day of the event. Get the Talk into your body, but don’t make it stale. Doing a practice run once a day is plenty during the final week.

  9. Show up on the big day. Whatever it takes for you to feel at 100% physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually during the TEDx window, DO IT. For me, this meant getting a ton of rest, unplugging from work stressors, enjoying outside time, eating healthy, and staying grounded. I stayed in a nearby hotel the night before the event. First thing in the morning I had a top-notch hair and makeup artist supply the glam so I could feel as confident (and let’s be honest, pretty) as possible. In the green room I drank lemon water, ate protein-centric snacks, listened to calming music in my earbuds, and generally found a nice vibe by breathing deeply and shutting out all noise around me. Right before I went onstage I did a heart-opening meditation with one of my TEDx coaches!

  10. Have fun! Once your name is called and you FINALLY take the stage, remember that you have prepared for this moment. You don’t need to work any more on it – you finally get to share it with the world! Let the love of your idea radiate out your heart and into all those who are blessed to witness it, both in-person and online. Trust in the process, and enjoy every last millisecond!!! It’s truly magical.

Whew. I know it’s A LOT to take in, especially for a 15-minute presentation you’ll make once in your life that you won’t even get paid for! I get it. You should feel like it’s a lot. Because if you honor the process and the magnitude of the TEDx opportunity, it IS a lot.

Everything worth having takes a lot of energy, and stepping onto the big red dot to share your Idea Worth Spreading is no different.

However, when you are crystal clear about not only the TEDx process but, more importantly, your Crystallized Brilliance and how it can help the world be a better place, you have the power at your fingertips to not only stir the hearts, minds, and spirits of those in attendance on that magical day, but also transform your life and business in unimaginable ways.

If you want to get cocktail napkin clarity in order to prepare you for your TEDx adventure and beyond, visit me at to learn more.

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