Nicole Foster

Professional Designer and Marketer,

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Looking to become a future TED speaker. Many questions!

In November, my city will be hosting a TEDx event and I would like to speak there. However, I have many questions and could advice/feedback from the TED community.

1. What should I talk about? (Need some help brainstorming)
- I'm a professional website designer and naturally I want to talk about website design. I was thinking about talking about why businesses need a website, but I believe I can come up with a better topic. Something unique, but informative. In my city, there are many website designers, but many businesses still do not understand the benefits of being online. If I could get some help brainstorming topics, I would sincerely appreciate it.

2. How should I prepare?
- I have been through several Public Speaking courses, but it did not teach me how to prepare for an event such as TED. After decided upon a topic and writing out the talk, how do I prepare myself physically and mentally?

3. What should I expect?
- As stated above, my Public Speaking courses were perfect for small speaking events, but did not teach me about large-scale events. What should I expect at a TED event as a speaker and even as a guest?

4. Any other advice?
- I consider myself a good public speaker and a very motivated person. It is a dream of mine to speak at a TED event and I would like to fulfill that since I have the opportunity. Any advice from anybody regarding this dream would be truly appreciated.

Thank you in advance to those who reply to this. I love this intelligent and helpful community, so all advice is appreciated.

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    Jan 13 2012: In reading Nicole's question, I was asking myself, "can a person even have a goal of becoming a TED speaker?"

    As many have pointed out, one salient characteristic of TED talks is the passion people have for an idea worth spreading. Many people - who may not necessarily be great public speakers in their ordinary life can get up and electrify an audience of thousands (millions if you count home viewers). Why are they doing it?

    They do it because they believe in their idea and that the world is better by sharing this idea. They don't have to search for a topic or an angle to present to the TED audience. Their angle is already there and explored through their passion for the issue.

    If you are asking, "what should I present to TED?" you may not be ready to present to TED. If you are saying, "I have an idea that will change the world. Is TED the most effective venue to share my idea?" then you are ready.
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      Jan 28 2012: I completely agree with Robin.

      To think , you need not prepare. But one should prepare himself to start thinking.
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      Feb 1 2012: I strongly agree with you as well, Robin. Like so many of us (not all, of course), I have dreamed about talking at a TEDx event, but I know I need to focus on my idea first and go out there to create something, before I can think about talking to others about it. For me, TED is a motivation to pursue my ideas -- and reassuring in that I can see there are others with crazy and out-of-the-box concepts who are not being shunned or silenced, but who are respected for their courage. So yes, I think you can't consider talking as TED as a goal, but rather as a way to communicate and advance your idea, meaning you need to have one in the first place :)
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    Jan 9 2012: Nicole, consider that your spirit is kicking you to present yet your ego is presenting you with the stated dilema. Go into stillness and silence. Wait with vigilant listening ears to the heart of the matter. Allow it to come rather than 'making' it happen. If you continue to aske the question "What should I talk about" then you need more time with the Self that desires to present a message and not the Self that is the messenger.
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    Jan 6 2012: "I would like to speak there." and then "1. What should I talk about?"

    how did that happen? should not you have something to say before you seek opportunity to tell it? i don't get it.
  • Jan 6 2012: Luckily a previous tedster has created a tool for just this sort of situation! Check it out ;-) :
  • Jan 8 2012: If you want to make your local area think, then how are you thinking differently than your local area? What experience or education have you had that they haven't had? Have you traveled, studied over-seas, met with people much different than yourself and the locals in your area that has given you insight or read books that inspired you. In my experience ideas do not come from nothing... they come from an accumulation of little comments, experiences, quotes, your own thoughts or passions, etc. that all work together to inspire you to think deeper and reach a new level on a particular topic or interest.
  • Jan 11 2012: I believe most speakers on TED get up on stage because they found the idea that they need to share. They got something for everybody. It's not about How you get up there, it's about Why you get up there.

    Don't dream to be on stage. Instead dream to have something for everybody.

    I believe in you. I know you got something. Everybody's got something to share. Find it.
    God-willing, if you get the chance to deliver your own talk, I'll watch it.
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    Jan 10 2012: Hi Nicole,

    Talking is not a pressure, if you have something to talk, you can do it without preparation however you need to have core ideas about it while spreading it to people. Good luck!
  • Jan 8 2012: P.S. sometimes the process of figuring out ones passions or developing thoughts can take time even years to develop...
  • Jan 8 2012: If you do not mind me being so bold, but perhaps your enthusiasm to DO something is greater than your enthusiasm for something. In other words your passion to speak at TED is greater than your passion perhaps to just simply BE passionate about something you care deeply and desperately about (this is not something that is static, esp. for someone who is curious and cares about thought and ideas and digging deeper, which is the kind of person you strike me to be). I say all that because I have also seen it in myself as I have grown over that past. In our American culture especially, we get excited about the goal/the end product but not the process. My advice is to dig deeper into who you are, what makes your blood boil, or excites you beyond reason. What can you sit around thinking about for hours... Keep thinking, do not give up, just because you don't have a topic now does not mean that some day in the future you still wont. Give it time, TED is not going anywhere. Think more about who you are going to BE as opposed to what you will do. What you will do will naturally follow if you figure out what's in your heart...
  • Jan 7 2012: I am not going to ask you to talk about websites. Do you have any other beliefs?

    I am sure if you just practice gradually with larger and larger crowds, you can prepared for a large-scale event. Physically you are probably prepared but, mentally, you should just think of why you are doing it.
  • Jan 7 2012: Nicole,

    None of us can give you the single best answer, consider the source, we are all learning as well as providing.
    In response to your questions, hopefully I can provide, and hopefully learn in the future:
    1. What to talk about?
    I would suggest discussing why you became a website designer. I seriously doubt it was something as simple as, "I was good at it." I'm sure you saw a reason behind it. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I looked in a paper bound phone book to look up anything. On a regular occurrence, I will search out a business before I step a foot in the door to ensure I am getting what I want. Whether it is something as simple as a hair stylist (not that my hair is anything to admire), or something as important as a home renovator, I still check everything out online. One of the most disappointing things I can find on a search result is "only" a or result, and not an actual website of substance that tells me about a company.

    2. How to prepare?
    I'm an engineer, and one thing we lack typically, is speaking to people. I have struggled with it myself. One thing I would recommend considering, is that people have given their time to listen to your ideas, so they expect you to be interesting. I doubt that helps, but the other consideration is that you should (and on the presentation day) be confident in the topic that you are presenting on.

    3. What should you expect?
    Nothing more/different than what you have seen from other TED presentations.

    4. Any other advice?
    Practice and be confident! People will only focus on you being nervous rather than any content, take a few deep breaths and take it one step at a time and everyone will appreciate it! Good Luck!
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      Jan 6 2012: Hi Pierre, despite being slightly confused by your points, I'll try my best to respond.

      Either way, I wasn't criticising her or trying to put her down! As I stated above, I personally love the idea of becoming a TED speaker myself, and I think it's really great that Nicole obviously does have such enthusiasm. However, she has only stated a (very-wide) field of interest which I'm sure many other people are deeply involved in. Just as I might state that I'm extremely interested in education and the schooling system, but that does not mean that I, or Nicole, have anything massively interesting/revolutionary to say on these subjects.
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          Jan 6 2012: Well now you wish to debate what TED really is. Your view is that it's mere entertainment. If Nicole shares this view, then I think that she too should start planning.
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    Jan 6 2012: As Stuart mentions, you need an idea worth spreading. That's the basics.
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    Jan 28 2012: "ًhy businesses need a website".. is very good topic but you have to inspire people by focusing on the hidden aspects in this topic, for me you Must choose a topic that combines inspiration and hope, challenge and promising results.

    Once Tedx organizers will call and invite you, they will prepare everything with you Starting by review the dialogue and the theme, and how to go within 18 minutes of the introduction to the challenge and hope and inspiration, and finally end the topic.
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    Jan 27 2012: I would say listen to what Robin Patin tells you here:
    Why do you want to be a TED speaker? To stand out from the crowd? To be unique?
    All TED speakers do stand out and are unique, but IMHO they couldn't care less about TED when they started what they did, which eventually would make them a TED speaker.

    So should I ask myself the same question, I'd say: Forget about wanting to speak at TED and find what you'd love to do for the rest of your life (so you'll never have to work again, like Churchill said)

    Being invited at TED would be a perk, but not a goal per se.
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      Jan 27 2012: i'm starting to pity the poor girl. came here full with enthusiasm, and we poured cold water on her instead. but hey, that's the way it goes. :)
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        Jan 27 2012: Oh yes, sorry...
        @ Nicole (and Krisztian too, thanks for reminding me I can be a little harsh sometimes!)
        First, I think it's great Nicole that you want something bad when you're young (I'm a 38-year old schmuck)

        Second, to put it in a positive note: like Dinip says: only the core idea matters, the idea that will interest, inspire, delight people and have such a value to a critical mass that it will be "worth spreading".
        Last but not least, you are in a line of work can initiate great things. Technology can help others, just look at what they do with it.

        Good luck Nicole, hope to watch your TED speech one day!!!
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    Jan 17 2012: Actually,it has few difference betwwen a TED speech and a TEDxEvent speech.So relax.
    The advice below may help you.
    1. I think most of audience is come for leraning a new idea but not find out the faults.So what you need to do it is telling about your story ,your experiences and your idea.You don`t need to worry about the faults of your speech.
    2. You can watch some TED video.I think you have already do it.
    3. You may find some special ideas or some ideas different from the common thinking.That is amazing and will attract many people.
    4. A good public speaker must Inspire the audience and good idea,good thinking is the best choice,and also you must have a good speechcraft.Practice is the best way to success.
    Hope you will have a good speech.
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    Jan 13 2012: I also think that this advice posted by Seth Godin (multiple featured TED speaker) should be considered:
    "The TED Imperitives:

    1.Be interested.
    2.Be generous.
    3.Be interesting.

    In that order. If all you can do is repeat cocktail party banalities about yourself, don't come. If all you're hoping for is to get more than you give, the annual event is not worth your time. If you're not confident enough to share what you're afraid of and what's not working, you're cheating yourself (and us).

    These aren't just principles for TED, of course. They're valid guidelines for any time you choose to stop hiding and step out into the world. It would be fabulous if people who were willing to commit to these four simple ideas had a special hat or a pin they could wear. Then we wouldn't have to waste our time while looking for those who care about their work and those around them."
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    Feb 2 2012: I think, it will be one of the grand opportunity that you can undertake in TED as a speaker or guest. Just believe on yourself and your Idea. Yeah! Of course, help on brainstorming is necessary to seize multiple Ideas but in fact it leads you to become double minded.

    So, you need to take care of the adequate quality so that you can get benefit out of this.

    Wish you BOL :)

    Waseem Hafeez
  • Feb 1 2012: I can not answer your questions yet I hope I can at least provide some comfort and encouragement.

    Until recently, I had no interest in Spiders and failed to connect with various forms of abstract art. It was only through listening to talks outside of my direct interest (examples being by Cheryl Hayashi and Ursus Wehrill) that I have found new interests, new ideas and fascinating view points.

    It doesn't matter what topic you choose. I for one will be listening intently.

    Best of luck. I look forward to listening to whatever it is you choose.

    PS: Sebastian Wernicke has an interesting talk about "the optimum TED talk." It has some food for thought.
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    Feb 1 2012: Just be frank, and be comfortable yourself frist.
    From that, listeners will be also comfortable and will receive brilliant ideas from you.
    And about the other questions you asked lke "How should I prepare?", you will know more than us.
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    Jan 17 2012: I'm going to leave 2-4 to you. Question One however, since when you state web design I immediately think the graphic parts, I personally would be interested in its relation to the course of visual development (e.g. the web as an effect on the mind, patterns in successful design [patterns in successful graphics, the effect of sound in the web on viewers,] its relation to the cycle of visual arts, and how it is progressing our language into a visual one [then its relation back onto where the rest of visual culture is being taken.] )

    Because your web design is for business, it would be interesting to see what patterns in design have the most human affinity, taking the business out of business, and supporting a more profound transaction than that of a monetary one,.
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      Feb 1 2012: I think this is a very interesting idea. I would also want to know more about how web design has changed in the past 20 years -- and how it has to change in the future to reflect the upcoming paradigm shifts with whatever "web 3.0" will be. I find it amusing to look at tools like the waybackmachine in order to see what websites were like a couple of years ago. I wonder how I was able to relate to them, to find them attractive, and to interact with them, when today they seem to be so outdated. What were the big overarching principles designers were considering when designing 20, 10, 5 years ago, and today?

      But what's more important is the outlook: the internet is changing, the borders between what's virtual and what's real are continuing to blur with all the AR & VR applications, with robots and digital lifestyles. Will something like web design even be relevant in five years, or will we have surfaces other than websites to interact with?
  • Jan 13 2012: Nicole if you get there I will see your presentation. But I tought the speakers are invited? I really tought so. Cheers.
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    Jan 12 2012: In answer to your questions:

    1) Talk about what you are most passionate about, your idea that is most worth spreading, and something that resonates with the TedX theme that you'd like to be a part of. The more of a fit you are to their goals and what they'd like to share with the audience, the better.

    2) Practice, practice, practice. Keep a countdown timer, ask for feedback. Find more ways to engage and connect with the audience.

    3) Prepare your presentation from the point of view of the attendee. Think of it like this: most attendees are there to learn, to be inspired, to network, and because they hope that one day, they'll be up on that TED stage themselves.

    4) Be remarkable. In other words, be something "worth making a remark about," as Seth Godin would put it. If you're still in the stage where you are proposing/applying to speak at TED, be ready to show previous speaking examples (such as videos), press/noteriety about yourself or your work, and have other letters of recommendation or testimonies from other events at hand.
  • Jan 12 2012: Everyone has a soapbox, but not all have the strength to stand up on it and speak. For that I commend you. A platform like Ted is a very tall soapbox. Find a worthy cause that has no voice and stand up and speak.
    -thanks michael
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    Jan 12 2012: I appreciate everybody's comments on this. It's very nice to see feedback on my thoughts and advice. I thank you all for responding.

    I believe it's best for me to really think about what I wish to talk about. Like I said, I'm extremely passionate about web design. I learned it when I was 12 (that was about 7 years ago) and haven't let go of it since. I'm in no way trying to boost my business or my ego by being a TED speaker, but I sincerely want to make a difference and do something big. I have always wanted to impact people in a large way and I feel expressing a unique idea on TED would be amazing. I want to contribute something great just as other TED speakers have.

    I will keep brainstorming ideas and worry about the other stuff afterwards. I'm now thinking about talking about passion and motivation in a new light. Possibly related to adversity or youth. I will keep you all informed when I come up with a topic.
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    Jan 11 2012: Hi Nicole,

    I too would like to be a TED speaker. I have found that knowledge and passion are key to delivering a good presentation. Find your passion. What will excite you to spread the word about change?
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    Jan 11 2012: Hi Nicole
    I think only you can answer these questions.
    You like TED and want to speak at a TED event.
    So, Why? The motivation to speak is your answer. Perhaps you like TED and your goal is to be a part of it. You can do that without being a speaker. You can help publicize it. You can be a 'gofer' at the event and help make it as successful as possible.
    I think of TED as an exhibition of the leading edge by the innovators who are creating that edge. I know that actually TED is more than that. It has humor, music, art and design aspects as well as leading edge topics.

    AS TED says: "At TED, we search year-round for presenters who will inform and inspire, surprise and delight. Our presenters run the world's most admired companies and design its best-loved products; they invent world-changing devices and create ground-breaking media. They are trusted voices and convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses.
    Collectively, TED speakers have won every major prize awarded for excellence, including the Nobel, Pritzker, Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony and MacArthur "genius" grant. TED also seeks out emerging artists, scientists and thinkers, introducing them to the TED community well before they hit the mainstream."

    But you have to know yourself and how you can contribute something real, whether as a speaker or publicist, hostess, or gofer.
    If you have some shining aspect that you believe should be shared at TED, then go for it. If not, help in some other ways.
    Whatever you do, thanks for trying to make TED better in some way.
  • Jan 11 2012: Ted is all about being unique.. something YOU.. something special.. which only you know, you have experienced.. You believe in strongly.. and you are bursting at the seam to tell.. which will inspire, interest, and benefit everyone.
    idea is like being inside an egg.. the idea has to gestate, you have to break out .. You to come out and Express. All the best.
  • Jan 10 2012: and i want to connect your, i think i have some ideas may help u find a new market in the china,i think these market not full exploit ,is a chance a very big market.can u give me a email or skype account?
  • Jan 10 2012: hi,i have some special ,i think u can talking about u idea how to use u special skill to help more people in the other poor country,the country have the boundary but your web have not, u can find a new way can make the people from the western country who have a good life to know, the real life in the developing country.
    I think u idea not just make money but also can create more happy for many people,can improve the living with the developing of u web.
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    Jan 9 2012: Speak about what you know. And practice, practice, practice in front of big audiences. Most TED Talks speakers make it look easy. That's because they've delivered the same talk dozens of times already.
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    Jan 6 2012: All righty then, if it's not strictly about matching the topic to what you do on a regular basis, and you have no tangible topic to present, maybe you can find someone like me locally who has ideas and doesn't really enjoy presenting (I do it when I have to - I don't feel compelled to stand in front of strangers on a regular basis).

    Not sure you go about finding this class of quasi-hermit-like genii ;-)
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    Jan 6 2012: Don't do iit, Nicole.... Instead, focus on helping to organize/deliver the event and learn from it.
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    Jan 6 2012: As you want to become Ted Speaker. You should think but not too much. Let's act as much as you can to find the solution: Make a detail plan, connect regularly with Ted's host and members, become influencer or just simple a Ted translator, host, associate ..... People never know and understand you if you are not their friend ... lol..
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    Jan 6 2012: Hi Nichole and the best of luck in trying to speak at a Ted Conference

    1. I would say talk about something that you have a really good background in and would feel comfortable talking about. You mentioned that website design is something thing that is unique and informative and how business either do not trust or are apathetic to the benefits of being online. If you think your confident enough to persuade why businesses should use the internet and why this would be a good the for economy, then I would say go for it (I'd be interested in hearing it).

    2. I honestly do not have a real answer for this one being that everyone is different. I could tell you what I would do but I do not think I'm in a position to tell you what you should do. I would say this: you should watch various TED talks and study how the talkers present themselves, what they talk about, etc...

    3. I would say you should expect just about anything: applause, criticism, questions that you have never been accustomed to hearing before, people disagreeing with you, doubting that you wont even talk at the conference, etc...I would keep an open mind about what you could expect. As a guest, that depends on what your intentions for being there.

    4. You have a lot of time to prepare yourself for it so, if you have the time and opportunity to get it done then go for it. What I would also say is that if it does not work out, then try again. It may sound like a cliche but your hard work will only serve to benefit you at some point in time....

    Wish you the best of luck Nichole!
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    Jan 5 2012: Yeah, gonna be blunt here, but your topic sounds a bit self-serving for a TED talk, and your motives sound suspect. There are lots of fora for giving talks that really just promote your business, but unless you are doing something revolutionary, TED is probably not the place for it.
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    Jan 5 2012: I too would love to be a TED speaker at some point....but I think you're missing the most crucial thing. The idea(s). What are you doing that's different? And is it going to make people think differently? Basically, is it worth spreading? I personally would wait until you're completely sure about your subject, and why you're passionate in it, and what new things people can take from it.
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      Jan 6 2012: Yeah, this is the dilemma I'm coming to. I don't want to talk about something that's plain and generic. I want to talk about something that changes the mindset of my local area.

      My goal is NOT to promote my business in any way. My goal is to talk about something interesting and make the audience think. I'm just not sure what to talk about and the only thing I can think of is related to the web or web design.
      • Jan 6 2012: How about how web technologies and collaboration could change our lives...
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        Jan 6 2012: I think you should dig deeper into your own past experiences - don't see your experience from a web technology vs server technology perspective. Look at your experience in a different perspective that might help others in your local area - others who are not necessarily in the same web technology domain. For example, think about a time when you solved a major problem with a small web technology application - may be talk about how application of technology changed the nature of that problem.

        All the best! :-)
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        Jan 6 2012: Well, I don't think I need to tell you this but one of the things which really make TED Talks what they are is the evidence of the speakers passion, enthusiasm and belief in their subject.

        Now we could all sit and brainstorm about what different subjects you could do, but that would be us telling you what you should have passion for. I'd wait it out and see what rises to the surface. Take a look at the problems/misconceptions you face every day, and look for ways to solve/change them which are both creative and effective. Once you have this, and you really believe in it, then I think it's time to start focusing on a TED talk.

        Saying you want to give a TED talk but you're not really sure what subject you can even talk about is a bit like saying you want to be famous but you don't really have any talent. And if you want to see how that the x factor. Or American Idol. Or whatever version of the same-crappy music contest you have in America!
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        Jan 6 2012: Also...when I'm listening to TED talks on subjects which I'm not familiar with,I expect the ideas presented to be something that I, as a rookie in that field, couldn't come up with myself.

        As someone who's a bit of a technophobe, and has no interest/education in websites and web design, I would hope the idea you'd be presenting would be complex and informed enough that it wouldn't benefit at all from my input. That make sense?
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    Jan 5 2012: My quick advice.

    1. Don’t worry “yet” on speaking at TED/TEDx. Just come up with an idea worth spreading first.
    Running my own TEDx events I have seen amazing transformations of people on stage who are not big public speakers, but have an idea that they are truly excited to share and are passionate about. They hop on stage and it’s amazing!

    2. Attend and/or volunteer with as many TEDx events as possible. You’ll be amazed at what creative sparks you’ll get from hanging out with TED/TEDx’ers.

    3. Google the TED 10 Commandments of speakers. Print it and read it everyday. A great guide of what is expected.

    Good luck!

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    Jan 5 2012: Reach out to the organizers of that TEDx event. If you have speeches you have given on video, that would help a lot if you are not known to them. If you are passionate enought about it, write your speech before you even approch them. That's what I would do.
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    Jan 5 2012: Nicole have you taken the time to look at this?
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    Jan 5 2012: Hi Nicole,
    Firstly I wish to congratulte you for the bold step that you have taken in deciding to speak at TED. I too have that dream to speak at TED and hope that it gets fulfilled. I can relate with your state of mind.

    The answers to your questions are as below:
    1) Web design is a good topic... to give it a new flavour u can present some case studies which I could be able to suggest you a few

    2) Once you decide the topic you can make the relevant searches from google and have a mix of ur real life experiences.

    3) Expect that at least one person who listens to your talk will feel inspired with what you say

    4) Be genuine and start with the intention of giving and not expecting anything

    Best wishes to you
  • Jan 5 2012: As you consider your self as a good public speak.....

    All i can say is, all the very best for the event....will look forward to hear from you

    please update for the same,