TLDR; There are two achievable ways in which you can make more EA-aligned TEDx talks happen: 1) pro-actively present yourself to TEDx organizers as a potential speaker and contact them with your (EA-aligned) talk idea, or 2) organize a TEDx event and invite EA speakers. Anyone can apply for a license to organize one.
I think TEDx talks could be a great way to get more accessible EA-aligned content out there through a trusted and well-liked platform. Potential EA-aligned TEDx talks could range from informing the public of a certain cause area to introducing them to some mindset/way of thinking specific to EA. Feel free to comment your ideas for TEDx talks related to EA so we can inspire one another.
In '22 and '23 I set up and was the lead organizer of TEDxLeidenUniversity. Due to this behind-the-scenes experience, I've learned how TEDx events and talks work. The good news is: they are not as mythical and unattainable as you think! I will explain in this post how you can become a TEDx speaker or TEDx event organizer.
Let's dive into it!
A) Join an existing TEDx event as speaker
(Or encourage someone else to do this! Equally impactful!)
Step 1: scout event organizers
Do you already know someone involved in organizing a TEDx event? They might be a good first stop to bring you in contact with the people in charge of selecting the event’s speakers.
Alternatively (or next to this) take a look at this map and see which events are +/- 2-12 months from now and at a distance you'd travel to (at your own costs or maybe there are some EA funds available for a cost like this?). Go to the relevant event pages, check who the organizers are at the bottom of the page, and use your internet stalking skills to find them (For example: LinkedIn/social media page DMs).
Note: you don't need to be a student nor someone related to the university/city where the event is held in order to become a TEDx speaker.
Step 2: contact those event organizers
Send the organizers a message introducing yourself and asking them if they are still looking for speakers for their line-up. In your message, pitch your idea for a TEDx talk and consider describing how your talk would fit with their event theme (if they have one on their event page or social media). Many bonus points if you add a link to a video where you are public speaking to give them an impression. You could also consider recording a short pitch of your topic and sending a link of this. Contact as many organizers as you can for optimal odds! The more the merrier!
Anecdotal evidence that suggests that this is worth trying:
One of the people who ended up being a speaker at our event got himself into the line-up by finding me on LinkedIn and messaging me with a link to a video showing him speaking. Maybe 2-3 people tried this strategy in total (though the others without a video). Based on this experience, I suspect this strategy is not so crowded that you wouldn’t stand a reasonable chance of succeeding. Just approach it as a numbers game.
B) Organize a TEDx event and invite EA speakers
You can organize an event for your university or another type of event such as a 'studio event', a TEDx youth event (for schools), a business event (internally for a company), a city event, a library event and more. Anyone can take the initiative and apply for a license with TED which (when approved) allows you to use the 'TEDx' platform in exchange for adhering to their rules. From what I have heard, it is not difficult to get a license approved. You could consider organizing a TEDx event as a project with your local EA group.
Organizing a TEDx event is a large time commitment (my estimate: 4-12 months 5-40 hrs a week for the head organizer, depending on your team and ambitions). I am not sure if the direct expected impact of this would be worth the time, keeping in mind opportunity costs. Though next to the direct impact, doing this can provide good career capital. I personally feel that I learned a lot (!) from organizing a TEDx event (e.g. leading a team, interviewing people, finances, logistics, project management etc.), and I think it has quite some CV value as well because 'TEDx' sounds very credible and prestigious and you get to learn a wide variety of things.
Are you any of the following:
An EA community builder? A student? Someone with expertise in something EA-related? A good public speaker? Someone looking for a (side-)project? Someone looking to gain expertise in event organization/project management/people management/fundraising/entrepreneurship?
- Or do you know someone who is? Then do consider going after this!
To get a better picture of what organizing a TEDx event looks like, check out the TEDx organizer's guide and feel free to contact me for questions/advice (firstname.lastname@example.org). For people considering to speak at a TEDx event, this post might also be of interest to you. Lastly, see this footnote for some tips on how to make your TEDx content go further.
One of TED's rules is diversity of topics of the talks at an event, so an event with several speakers on EA ideas might be difficult to get away with when you submit your speaker line-up. Though for us, TED did not check the final line-up so I think there is some room in how you interpret these rules and they are not overly strict about it. Additionally, the range of topics which might be relevant to talk about from an impact perspective is super diverse. So I think that even with only EA-aligned TEDx talks you can still make the range of topics diverse enough.
•Don't underestimate the power of a good thumbnail and title! Make it catchy and clickable. Keep this in mind as organizer or as speaker and spend a disproportionate amount of time on this.
•Have you ever seen a popular TED(x) talk where the person giving it was a not-so-great public speaker? Me neither! I think this is because charisma on stage is a strong predictor of how many views the talk gets. -> Take-aways of this:
-Organizing? Look for someone with great public speaking skills and charisma, I think this increases the odds a lot of the talk doing well online. Also, a training trajectory for your speakers can help draw out public speaking potential. Mostly it creates deadline accountability to finish drafts in time and creates an opportunity to practice in front of people and reiterate your talk.
-Speaking? Make your drafts early and take time to adjust them. Practice in front of people a lot. Get feedback from both experts in the field and from the people who would be your potential audience.