How To Pitch A Successful TED Talk

How To Pitch A Successful TED Talk

Can you picture yourself up there on that stage, laying down some wisdom for the masses in a perfectly rehearsed presentation, a respectful audience listening in awe? Well, you have to get past the pitch first. Here’s how to get out of the slush pile, according to a TEDx producer.

Tricia Brouk wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review about what she looks for when she goes through talk pitches. The first thing to know is that there are so, so many. And that’s not surprising; entire careers have been launched or transformed by a viral TEDx talk. Brouk has some specific things she’s looking for when it comes to offering this opportunity.

Keep It Short

Learning to pitch is its own art form. Maybe you’re an excellent public speaker who can write a long, well-structured talk. However, you need to be able to present the basic importance of your idea in just a few words. Only 15, to be exact:

Start with the idea and why you are the right person to take the stage and deliver this big idea. While it must be a big idea, you need to be able to communicate it in 15 words or less. Organisers are busy, and they don’t have time to read through lengthy pitches.

Share what the audience will take away, as well as the global impact of the talk. Don’t save the most important part of your pitch for the end; people may stop reading before they ever get to it, landing you in the “no” pile.

That’s very few words! It’s also an excellent exercise. How short can your idea get? How clear are you on what you’re trying to say? Hone the concept down. There will be space in the application process for you to expand, but the person reading these wants to know what they’re getting into ASAP.

Don’t Try To Sell Anything

Except your idea. Many TEDx speakers are promoting not just their concept, but a book or coaching style or product. Producers don’t necessarily object to that, but if your pitch is clearly just centering on your need to sell something, it’s going to be rejected:

Seventy-five per cent of the potential speakers who apply to my events, including TEDxLincolnSquare, The Speaker Salon, and currently Speakers Who Dare, end up pitching their business. That’s a lot of people who do not understand the art of a pitch, and who subsequently end up in the no pile.

If the thing you’re selling doesn’t have an edifying idea attached to it, maybe what you need to do is make a commercial.

Watch a Bunch Of Talks

Brouk doesn’t say this exactly — she recommends you know the difference between a good and bad talk. Watching them seems like the best way to do this. You’ll not only see what made it through the screening process, you’ll identify what you like and don’t like about speakers. Different styles make speak to you, or you may realise that this form of idea sharing isn’t what you want to do at all. The side benefit is that you might also learn something new in your research.


Watching isn’t enough. Let’s say you do make it through the pitch process; you definitely don’t want this to be your first speaking gig. Brouk suggests that people figure out if public speaking is even for them by trying to actually do it:

Public speaking is hard work. It’s time-consuming, and it’s emotionally and physically draining — especially if you are an introvert. But introverts can become engaging public speakers by flexing the muscle of being in public.

Practice by going to events and coming out of the corner. If you have a speaking engagement, take extra time that day to sit quietly, meditate, and refuel. If you are an extrovert, be sure to save your voice before you take the stage — you can always socialise after your talk.

Good advice. If you are selling something, you definitely want to save some energy for after the applause.

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