Heather Younger Shares 5 Key Steps to Becoming a TEDx Speaker

Many people want to know how they can become a TEDx speaker. I wanted to know how until I became one myself. In May of this year, I stepped onto the beautiful TEDx stage with butterflies in my stomach and doubts in my head. How did I get there? What exactly did I do?

Because I believe that learnings should not rest on me alone, I think it’s important to share as much as I can with others. Some might ask, “Why are you giving away all your secrets?” I don’t think of it that way. I was put on this earth to do the work that I do, and part of that is uplifting others and helping them grow. I feel drawn to share.

Below I outline 5 key steps I took to become a TEDx speaker:

1. Believe You Can

As I said in my TEDx talk, Transforming Adversity into Opportunity, we must first believe that we deserve to be on the TEDx stage. If I am being honest, I have struggled a bit in this area. While I have always been driven to speak in public, as I stand there with everyone watching me and expecting an “expert,” I often feel like an imposter. Each time, I would muster up the belief that I was supposed to be there, in that environment, with those people, delivering that message.

Then, something clicked in me that made me pay more attention to the lives I was changing and not how people were “seeing” or “judging” me. I am fueled to uplift and grow others. Now, I focus my entire time on stage on the other and not on myself.

2. Think Small and Local

I applied two other times, without success, to one other local TEDx before landing my spot on the stage. I know people who have applied upwards of 50 times unsuccessfully. They will get their time, but the key is to find one in a smaller market that is either new to the market or unknown. That way, the demand is not as high as in the larger markets. So, don’t look to the big cities first; go to campuses, small towns with an emerging TEDx program, or collaborate to start your own.

This worked wonderfully for me. Nonetheless, don’t give up. Your time is coming!

3. Choose a Broad Topic

The most painful part of the TEDx process is getting your topic broad yet narrow. Sound confusing? Yeah, I know. Said differently, can everyone in the room engage and connect with your topic, but is the point you are trying to make crystal clear?

In my case, I work mostly with organizational leaders. Much of what I talk and write about is specifically focused on leaders or those they lead. The problem with trying to construct a topic in my space is that many in the audience are not managers or supervisors. I knew that my original thoughts on a TEDx talk would be too narrow and some would not “get” my message. That would land me in the big stack of “No’s” for the TEDx organizers. (Note to self: This is why I couldn’t get into the larger market in my own state, because I was too narrow in my first two applications.)

Take some time to outline 10-15 topics and see which one can meet these criteria and one that you can put your final “idea” on the tip of a pen, making it crystal clear. Remember to think broadly, but make sure your final “Idea Worth Spreading” is just one idea.

Like I said when I started this section, this was the painful part, but it is worth it.

4. Hire a Coach

I have been a professional speaker for several years now, but speaking on the TEDx stage is not quite the same. In fact, the TEDx organizers often decline professional speakers, because the focus is more on educating those in the audience and not as much on motivating people. Additionally, it’s harder to teach an old dog new tricks. (Yes, I just called myself a dog.)

Professional speakers usually have their own process for presenting to an audience. The TED guidelines, and thus, the TEDx organizers, are looking for a less-dramatic and demonstrative speaking style. Many professional speakers pride themselves on being hyper animated as a source of entertainment and motivation.

How did I do it? I hired a speaker coach who also had significant experience as a TEDx speaker coach for a large market. I knew I had no idea how to narrow my topic the way that I did, and I knew that I was way too demonstrative and excitable on stage. The coach taught me actual storytelling techniques that work. She tamed my gestures and my jargon.

I highly recommend you not skip this step. It costs, but it’s worth it.

5. Practice Furiously

After you have completed the steps above, you will want to practice like a mad person. This was the second-most-exhausting part of the process. I had to submit two different videos of my idea before I was accepted. Up until and then after that time, I practiced my talk like I had a bad case of OCD. I recorded myself on video and watched video after video. I tweaked my talk based upon feedback.

I didn’t really stop practicing until I walked onto the TEDx stage for my final talk. Unless you are a TEDx speaker, it’s hard to understand this next statement: I was seriously sick of myself after watching so many videos and making so many tweaks. I didn’t want to see myself for a long time.

I am happy I put in the time, but I am not in a hurry to do it next week.

Final Thought

I feel very blessed to have delivered one of the most important talks of my life on the TEDx stage. Some have stated that I am a “natural” on stage. What they don’t see is that I followed a process. I believed that I could do it, I excluded larger markets and focused on local and small ones, I worked hard to find a topic that was inside my space while being broad enough for everyone, I hired a speaker coach, and I practiced like my life depended on it.

If I appear natural on stage, it’s a product of all this.

Your time is coming. Get to it!

Guest Author: Heather R. Younger, J.D.

*Watch Heather’s Ted Talk here.


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