TED Talks have been given by presidents, the pope, Grammy-winning musicians, award-winning actresses and Nobel Prize winners. Notable mentions include Bill Clinton, Pope Francis, Bono, Jane Fonda and Stephen Hawking. Who wouldn’t want to be in this lineup?
At the local level, leaders, authors and influencers are applying to countless TEDx events in the hopes of wearing the TED crown. The brand gives speakers instant credibility, along with the potential for massive visibility. TEDx is a community-driven platform where anyone who applies for this free license can produce these independently organized events. There are well over 50,000 videos currently in the TEDx library from over 130 countries.
As a former TEDx organizer, I know what the TED brand requires. There is a manual in place for good reason, and all organizers are required to reapply every year. Through this experience, I learned a few valuable lessons on how to plan an event, as well as what hopeful speakers should look for before applying to present, no matter the organization behind it.
Often, event organizers have no idea how to produce an event. In the past year alone, I have worked with speakers who were asked to have multiple coffee dates with the organizer before getting a yes. Other speakers have shown up at a venue that has no lighting, a red bath mat and a projector screen from a 1970s science lab.
Not all events are guaranteed successes. This is why I believe you must vet the organizers for the events you are applying for and speaking at. This might seem a little unorthodox because if you are lucky enough to get on a stage like TEDx, aren’t you just supposed to be grateful? As a speaker, you might think you have to put up with anything, but I’m suggesting that you take the organizer through your own application process first:
1. When did you receive your license?
If the organizer is a first-timer, you have nothing to go on in terms of their ability to pull off a great event. If the organizer has not produced an event before and you are willing to take a risk on them, be sure to ask how many months they will spend planning the event. Be sure to get photos of the venue ahead of time. If the organizer has produced the event before, ask for the list of speakers from the past event, and reach out to them to ask about their experience. For example, did they feel supported, or were they micromanaged?
2. Do you have a team in place?
This is important because if they think they can do this alone, they are mistaken. Any organizer who has no team will be unable to do anything well and might ask you to put the stage together with them the day of the event. If they do have a team in place, be sure to ask who they are and what their roles are. When you know that you have a stage manager, lighting designer, tech director, videographer, editor, house manager and volunteers, you are going to be taken care of.
3. How many speakers are you curating?
Asking this question can give you a sense of what the audience will be expecting. For example, you likely do not want to be in a lineup of 30 speakers because if you’re last, the audience will have speaker fatigue, and you’ll be talking to a bunch of zombies. If you choose to say yes to an event with a lot of speakers, ask to go first in the lineup. Conversely, if there are only three speakers, this can be a red flag, too. Only a few speakers could mean other speakers turned the organizer down. Look for a good middle ground.
4. Do you use a professional videographer and sound engineer?
As a former TEDx organizer, I know that the videos of the speeches were not the presenters’, but TED’s. This is why I’ve found it’s important to always ask about the quality of video you should be expecting. If you want to be represented well online for eternity, make sure the video quality is excellent. You can also go to YouTube and watch videos from past events. If the videos look good, it’s likely the event will have quality videos in the future.
5. Why do you want to produce this event?
This question is critical because I’ve observed that many event organizers make the event about them, not the speakers. What you should look for is an organizer who says, “It is my passion to support incredible speakers and their ideas worth spreading, so that their messages can be heard all over the world.” You want to avoid organizers who call the event “theirs” and who want to remove your point of view from your talk. If they try to rewrite your talk to sound like their voice, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your audience.
Work with an organizer who is going to elevate you and the other speakers along the way. Identifying an idea worth spreading, crafting a speech and getting it performance-ready by being totally off-book (memorized) is not easy and is very time-consuming. I want your experience to be transformational and inspired. There are plenty of amazing events out there, run by amazing producers. And by doing this kind of due diligence and requiring an organizer to apply to you first, you will save hours of time, money and potential heartache.