Select your speakers + performers
Your local speakers and performers are the inspiration centers of your TEDx event. So selecting, inviting, and preparing them for the big day will be one of the most important tasks you’ll have.
Finding extraordinary speakers isn’t always an easy task. Here are some guiding principles to follow in your search for speakers:
Look for ideas, not speakers
It’s actually not the person you should be searching for, but the person’s idea or innovation. This is a great way to decipher between a TEDx speaker, and an interesting person with an “okay” idea. What will the audience walk away knowing – that this person exists, or a new idea?
For example, if you were to describe a potential talk to a stranger and say more about the speaker (“this lady who runs that local charity,” “this guy who made this film”) than a specific idea, that's a clue that you need to go back to that speaker and find their idea, not their identity.
So, what ideas are you looking for?
- Look for new ideas that originate in your community but are widely relatable
- Look for ideas that need to be defended – not something self-evident, but an interesting argument, perhaps with an antagonist.
- Look for an idea the TED world hasn't heard before. (In other words, not a copy of a TED Talk you like!)
- Look for ideas that change perceptions. (e.g., a scientific discovery that changes how you think about frogs, a philosophical argument that reshapes your notions of friendship.)
TEDx Speaker Checklist
Is this speaker...
- a local voice that few people have heard before?
- someone who can present their field in a new light?
- someone with a perspective to which the global TED community may not have access?
- diverse by demographic, ethnicity, background, and/or topic?
Know where to look
Here are some approaches to finding great speakers:
Use your topics list
Remember that big list of topics we talked about earlier? This is the time to use it as a guide to find speakers. Are there individuals in your community with new ideas about these subjects?
Research local businesses and charities
Find the innovative, important work that is uniquely being done in your local community.
Read a local paper
Local papers can be a great source for discovering individuals with accomplishments that truly represent your region.
Read big publications
Flip through headlines in different science magazines, political affairs journals, and newspapers. Look at the people who the writers quote, and find out if they live nearby.
Search your social networks
Look to your most impressive friends, their friends, and their friends’ friends for surprising talks.
Vet your speakers
Every potential TEDx speaker should be vetted. After all, sometimes it’s difﬁcult to know whether an idea is worth spreading or not – and specifically, whether it’s legitimate. Here are some ways to figure that out:
- Research university websites, reputable science and health blogs, and databases of papers published in respected journals to verify a potential speaker’s credentials. If you have access to a local university library, a research librarian can help you source relevant journal articles.
- Ask your local university’s PR ofﬁce to connect you to a professor in a relevant ﬁeld, but is unconnected with the speaker, and ask him/her a few questions about the speaker and their idea.
- Ask a friendly journalist (or PR person, if you’re working with one) to fact-check the speaker’s work to journalistic standards.
If you’re still not sure about the speaker or idea’s credibility, you can always email the TEDx team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you produce a talk that you suspect doesn’t meet our guidelines, let us know. We will help review the material and determine whether or not it should be uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel.
Performers can make a bold statement with their act, or can simply be a beautiful “palate cleanser” for the audience in between a couple of your more serious talks. It’s preferable that your performers are local – use it as an opportunity to highlight the incredible artistry that comes from your community!
Some past TEDx performers have included:
- Spoken word poets
- Singers and musicians
- Modern dancers
Generally, most organizers don’t choose more than one performer for each TEDx event session. (So, usually no more than 3-4 performers for a full day event.)
Make an organized list
Once you have a list of potential speakers and performers that your selection committee has decided on, you should:
- Gather all suggestions and group speakers by topic.
- For each topic, pick your first, second and third speaker choices.
You’ll be using this list to create the sessions of your event’s program. For a full day event, plan on 3 or (at most) 4 sessions at 1.5 hours (or shorter) each; that’s about 20 speakers total. If your event will be shorter, change accordingly.
For this first attempt, simply choose what matters most to you (or your selection committee). This is just your first draft; we’ll get into more detail about sessions in a bit.
Choose an event host
One of the most important speakers at your event is your event’s host, or emcee. In an ideal situation, the event’s lead organizer is not the onstage host. The onstage host – the master of ceremonies – is the public face of your TEDx event. The host will be responsible for introducing speakers, time-keeping for the TEDx Talks, make any necessary announcements, and encourage audience participation.
Generally, your host should:
- have experience with public speaking or hosting events.
- be from the local community, so they can easily connect with the audience.
- know the TED and TEDx spirit well, so they can communicate the brand effortlessly.
You’ll learn more about your host’s responsibilities when you’re designing your event program.
My experience at TEDxParis gifted me an access to a new side of France. I went from being an anonymous American student in Paris to a thought provoker in French society. 1000s of inspirational people reached out to me to share their ambitions, their dreams and to exchange viewpoints.Anjuli Pandit, Speaker at TEDxParis
I loved my experience in TEDxMarin. I got to share my work and ideas with people with all sorts of different backgrounds, interests, and expertise - from brain scientists and bankers to artists and authors.Paul Piff, Speaker at TEDxMarin
- Here’s a great way to test a good idea: Can you describe the idea in about 6 words? (e.g., How to hack a pacemaker; what is a dung beetle's life like?; where does your poop go?)
- If it’s possible, have one executive team member dedicated to research and fact-checking speakers and their ideas.
- Be wary of using an application to search for speakers. Open platforms can sometimes be a great way to find speakers you would never know to look for, but remember that applications can attract commercial and professional speakers and, occasionally, fanatics.