A viral TEDx talk transformed a little known researcher named Brené Brown into a regular Oprah guest and bestselling author. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's talk led directly to her book being given to every 16-year-old in Sweden. "Power pose" evangelist Amy Cuddy became a (now controversial) cultural phenomenon as a result of her TED talk.

Landing on the TED stage, in other words, transforms careers. No wonder every would-be thought leader in the world is clamoring to present their ideas there. But incredible interest means incredible competition. How do you stand out from the crowd and get noticed by the organizer of a TEDx event (which feed talent to the incredibly selective main event)?

Lots of experts have advice, but recently would-be speakers got some great tips straight from the horse's mouth when TEDx producer Tricia Brouk shared her wisdom at HBR.

If you want to give a TED talk, less really is more

When facing incredible competition many people's impulse is to do more--list more accolades, dig deeper into the idea, prove your expertise more thoroughly. That's understandable but also the wrong approach, Brouk suggests. TEDx producers are besieged with proposals, she explains, making brevity essential.

Just how short should your pitch be? Take a breath. Brouk insists you need to be able to express your central idea in no more than 15 words.

"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. Organizers 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," she advises.  

And "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," she adds.  

The mistake that dooms 75 percent of TED talk pitches

Honing your message to a lean, mean 15 words or less is essential to avoiding the dreaded "no" pile, but even if you have the most compelling, well-crafted idea in the world you're still far from guaranteed a place on stage. In fact, Brouk relates that a full 75 percent of applicants she's reviewed get their pitches tossed for a simple mistake that has nothing to do with their ideas. The problem? They sell their business or book in the pitch.

"If you want to sell from the stage, that conversation happens after you book the gig. Seventy-five percent 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," she writes.

That means that simply by being savvy enough to skip selling in your initial pitch you can leapfrog past three quarters of the competition. Then it's up to you to find those magical 15 words that will get you in front of a TED audience. The odds are still long, but Brouk's advice should certainly give you a better chance of beating them.

If you are lucky enough to have your pitch accepted, check out the rest of her HBR post for more advice on how to craft a successful TED talk.

Published on: Nov 15, 2018
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