Your program is the heart of your TEDx event, so it’s important to craft it with care. Think of yourself as an artist and your program as a work of art that needs all the pieces in the right places to shine.
Create your program
To capture the spirit of a TED conference, we recommend you follow TED's own program structure – it has evolved over 30 years of TED!
Here are some basic principles to follow:
- Start strong: You'll want to open people's minds right from the start – so be sure your event has a very strong opening.
- Mix it up: Break up your program with thrilling demonstrations and moving performances. Throw in a few shorter talks or counterpoints.
- End with emotion: Save the most gripping speakers and TED Talks for the end. This is when your attendees are most open to being moved. It will leave them with a feeling that will stay with them – maybe even motivate them to action.
Program sessions + schedule
Most people create 90-minute sessions, each of which have four full-length talks, and a few short presentations. Ultimately, the format is up to you.
A full day event should have four sessions, broken up by "conversation breaks" and lunch, and concluding with a reception/dinner.
A half day event should have two sessions as well as a reception or other post-event gathering, like lunch or dinner.
When it comes to sessions, cover a mix of topics that relate loosely to each other, allowing the audience to make connections and draw their own conclusions.
Mix up the order of your talks and performances. Vary the pace of your program by mixing standard 18-minute talks with a few shorter talks or counterpoints. Also, make sure to pad each session with an extra 15 minutes, to account for transitions, introductions, and other small delays that inevitably occur.
Note: All TEDx events begin with the short, official video introduction featuring TED Curator Chris Anderson. It ensures your audience understands what TEDx is and the difference between TEDx and TED. After the video, your host will introduce the first session.
Speakers and performers
There are few things to keep in mind when it comes to scheduling speakers:
- Talks may be no longer than 18 minutes. This is the maximum length, not the goal of every talk. TED often asks speakers to present for 3, 5, or 9 minutes, so make sure your speaker knows how much time they have.
- Take into account the length of each talk or performance when deciding which session to place each specific speaker/performer in.
- Consider using performances as “palate cleansers" between serious or slower talks.
As long as you encourage your speakers and performers to stay within time limits, you should be in great shape!
Playing TED Talks
When it comes to playing pre-recorded TED Talks for your audience:
For a full day event, one out of every four talks—or 25 percent of your total content—must be made up of official, pre-recorded TED Talks (talks featured on TED.com).
For events less than half a day (two 90-minute sessions) in length, a minimum of two official TED Talks must be shown.
Try to choose the TED Talks for each session based on that particular session’s theme, but don’t try to make too strong of a connection; let the audience make their own.
Note: Each TED Talk video should be introduced by the host the same way the live speakers are: with an introduction of the speaker and their specialty. (More detail below.)
Plan compelling breaks
All TEDx events, regardless of length, should have breaks between sessions. People need time to think about what they’ve seen (and use the restroom).
To make the most of time in between sessions, we highly recommend that you:
Provide food and drinks - Ideally, you should offer full meals (or at least the chance to purchase a meal) during breaks that coincide with breakfast, lunch or dinner time. Make filling snacks, coffee, and water always available.
Set up activities - Create stations with hands-on activities. These can be related to your speakers’ topics, local interests, or even feature your sponsors’ projects. We’ll talk more about this in Audience + Experience.
Aside from breaks between sessions, it’s important to keep a comfortable pace during each session. This is why we leave 15 minute cushions for each session, and also encourage introductions, interludes, and palate cleansers between talks, videos, and performances. Here are some examples:
Play brief non-“talk” videos - Short videos can act as the perfect bridges between two talks. Just don’t forget to obtain the rights to anything you use.
Get up and stretch - In the middle of your second or third session, have your host ask the guests stand up and stretch. It’s a good way to keep things casual, and clear the mind before the next talk.
Your host’s responsibilities
Your host has a big role to play in making sure the program goes smoothly, so make sure that they know their responsibilities. This includes:
Introductions - The host provides short intros of the speakers, videos and other parts of your program. 30 seconds is a good length for each intro. Introductions should tease, but not reveal, what each speaker will say.
Time-keeping - The host keeps speakers on track by enforcing time limits and encouraging quick transitions.
Troubleshooting - The host responds quickly to technical difficulties or delays in the program, and is able to help speakers rapidly resolve technical glitches.
Announcements - The host announces all “housekeeping” announcements and changes to the program.
Connections - The host helps link onstage content with the event’s theme, drawing connections to fuel conversation during the session breaks.
Audience participation - The host encourages the audience to engage with the speakers through applause, laughter, etc. A lively audience is not only more fun for speakers to speak to, but also plays better in video recordings. Set up a positive feedback loop early on in your event. Your speakers and your attendees will thrive on it!
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- Encourage conversation! One of your jobs as an organizer is to reduce tension and make everyone comfortable talking to strangers. A few ideas: Have audience members provide you with facts about themselves to be printed on their name badge as a conversation starter. Or have your host suggest essential questions that everyone should discuss during breaks.
- Your host should not give detailed responses to talks or congratulatory comments. Let the audience come to their own conclusions, which may well be different than yours.
Rules to Remember
- No session should last longer than 105 minutes.
- Everyone who appears on stage during your event must sign a TEDx Speaker Release Form. This gives TED and others the right to edit and distribute video of their appearance and/or presentation.
- No keynote speeches - all speakers are equal. No panel discussions. No breakout sessions. No Q&As. No podiums or lecterns (unless absolutely necessary).
- Don’t forget: You must record all original stage content (live talks, performances, etc.) on video, and make that video accessible to TED and the public by uploading footage to the TEDx Talks Channel on YouTube.
The basic TED structure
Remember this basic structure and you should be good to go:
- Format: A variety of powerful, short talks, each focused on a single topic or idea.
- Theme/focus: TEDx event themes should be multidisciplinary and broad.
- Schedule: We typically program 90-minute sessions, with four full-length talks and a few short presentations.