I was at a party last year that was attended mainly by authors, agents, and PR people. And one of the authors heard that I helped people create their TEDx talks.
“Isn’t TED kind of played out,” she said, poking at her gin and tonic with a straw. It wasn’t a question.
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“Well, because it’s like everyone has one now.”
I paused, then said carefully, “You just published a book, right?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Well….why? I mean, aren’t books played out? Doesn’t everyone have one by now?”
I tell this story because she’s not alone. With the rise of TED (as with the rise of anything), the more people like a thing or want a thing, there’s always a group of people who now think it’s no longer cool or relevant.
Say, if you were way into the Dave Matthews Band in the 90s, and decided that after “Under the Table and Dreaming” album, anyone who was into them was a chump.
Insert any trend. Skinny jeans. Soy lattes. The list goes on.
Not only do more people watch TED talks, tons of independently organized TEDx events have cropped up all over the globe. TED has become the gold standard for public speaking, and more people not only consume them, but give them.
After the canon of TED talks went globally viral (and anyone you talk to about their fave talks will name one of them), there was an explosion in TEDx talks, and so it’s unlikely you’ve seen them all. And it’s unlikely that they’re all amazing (they’re not).
Now that there is more of an opportunity to give a TEDx talk than ever before, you might think that they’ve lost cache, value, or relevance. Nope.
TEDx talks remain a pretty strong calling card for the public speaking world…and it will work for you IF YOUR TALK IS GOOD. It’s a bigger pot than it was 8 years ago, but cream still rises.
And no, not all TEDx talks are amazing just because they’re given on a TEDx stage. It’s a real mixed bag. Because TEDx events are independently organized, what you’re seeing online is the result of one person or team’s decision and curation. Period.
There are lots of factors at play as to why some get viewed more than others. But it’s safe to say that the good ones get shared, and the views mean something.
Think of it like book sales. Sure, there are also lots of bad books out there that were published by mainstream publishers. Some you don’t like will sell a ton and garner millions of readers. Others won’t.
Bottom line: A TEDx talk is still worth doing—and that means it’s worth doing well. Here’s why:
It’s instant cred. Like it or not, having a TEDx talk matters. I’m not saying you have to be the next Brene Brown to give one, but fact is, the TED brand connotes value, even if your talk doesn’t set the world on fire. What do they say about what you call someone who graduated at the bottom of their medical school class? Doctor. TEDx is a media brand—and to get on that stage, you have to have passed someone’s test. Just as you must to gain the approval media gatekeepers to get booked for this or that show, or have your book put out by a major publisher. My life changed after my TEDx talk, no doubt. Even before it had millions of views. Having it, and having that thing to share, mattered. Especially when people were wondering if they should have me speak at their event. I don’t even have a speakers reel yet, and I have kicked myself for that for years. And then I realized–that TEDx talk is all people needed to see.
It’s a powerful thought leadership platform. If you want to be known for what you think, for your story, your idea, the TEDx stage is a great place to share it. Why? Because when you’re on that stage, it’s not about your business or brand or what you’re selling. It’s all about the IDEA. Thought leaders are known for how they think about the world, and if you want to change the way people think, the TEDx stage is the place to do it. Not all TEDx talkers are thought leaders, and not all thought leaders have TEDx talks. But if you see yourself as a thought leader, you’d be nuts not to consider doing one.
It forces you to get to the heart of your message. It’s easy to get caught up in jargon, in industry language, to get “small” around your idea because you’re used to talking to a specific group of people most of the time. But a TEDx talk requires that you think bigger than your brand or your business. You need to have an idea that people who do not know you or your industry can relate to and take something from. A TEDx talk is its own animal. Chris Anderson does an amazing job of explaining that in his book, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. He is the man behind TED as we know it today. Giving a TEDx talk requires that you share an idea. NOT just that something happened to you or that you did something good once. It requires that you extract meaning from a situation, a story, a truth. And when you do that? You can change everything. You could land on your idea for your next book, your next business even. You can reach people who want to meet you just on the basis of that idea.
I’ll tell you what IS played out: Cliche.
Now that there is a body of TEDx work out there, the onus is on new speakers to innovate, to share fresh ideas, or fresh takes on old ideas.
If you’ve heard it done a million times before, then you need to dig deeper into why this matters most. I’m not saying you can’t do a talk on a similar subject as another speaker; you just can’t brush up against easy platitudes and same-old advice.
In my experience, it’s not that someone doesn’t have a good idea; it’s that they don’t take that idea far ENOUGH. They stop short of meaning and originality, and settle with what’s familiar and easy. That’s cliche, and it won’t work.
Instead, your job as a TEDx speaker is to challenge an existing idea, to question the way we’ve always thought about things. To put something into our heads that gives us a new tool for thinking and perceiving the world.