Lots of people want to give a TED talk. And lots of people will tell you how to. Most of those people, though, haven't actually chosen the talks to go on a TED or TEDx stage.
But I have.
This advice may not get you onto every TEDx stage, but if you hew to it, you're a heck of lot more likely to make it on the one I choose speakers for: TEDxCambridge. And I want the very best ideas out there.
So what do I look for? Three things:
- What drives the speaker? Not just what is he or she passionate about, but what drives what s/he does and how s/he does it?
A great TEDx idea is usually a belief, approach, or concept tightly connected to that driving force, and a great TEDx speaker is one whose passion for the idea clearly comes through how they talk about the idea. In other words, the closer the idea is to the speaker's driving force, the better the talk. Carmine Gallo talks about this beautifully in his book, Talk Like TED, which I recommend (though it's more about WHAT makes a great TED talk, not how to create one).
I'm also looking to see that the idea is squarely in the speaker's "domain of authority" -- the speaker's experience, education, and/or actions all clearly demonstrate authority with the topic -- a critical factor of the talk's success.
- How can the idea apply to anyone? A great TEDx idea needs to be a "timeless principle," even if that principle is brand new. Meaning, even if what created the idea was the speaker's experience in science, or the arts, or marketing, or cooking, or whatever, the takeaway needs to be "independent of the context that created it" (a phrase we use in the company I work for).
It needs to make sense to, and resonate with, anyone, regardless of whether or not they have a similar background. (This is how we move from just having interesting stories to "ideas worth spreading.")
For example, one of my speakers (the head distiller of Privateer Rum) used the concept of "élevage" from winemaking and distilling, but talked about it in terms the audience could related to: How can you put all of yourself into what you produce... and hold fast to that?
- What gave rise to the idea, and how can that apply to anyone? What problem/challenge/question/unrealized opportunity did the speaker face that resulted in him or her coming up with the idea? A universal idea is most engaging when it solves a problem that everyone has experienced in one way or another.
A potential speaker I talked to recently is a cancer researcher. While cancer is something that touches everyone, the problem he's proposing to address is, "what makes someone continue to pursue an answer that is always one step away, despite all the progress we've made?" While all of his examples will likely come from his work as a cancer researcher, the problem is one we can all identify with, which makes his idea that much more powerful.
In other words, what is the universal problem your universal idea solves?
These three questions are simple, I grant you, but finding an "idea worth spreading" is a LOT harder than it looks.
And if you feel like you've got great answers to these questions? Then have someone tell me about them. I'd love to see you in Cambridge.