TED Talk: Want to Do a TED or TEDx Talk? Think Again… 6 Reasons Why Speaking at TED Won’t Help Your Speaking Business

TED Talk: Want to Do a TED or TEDx Talk? Think Again… 6 Reasons Why Speaking at TED Won’t Help Your Speaking Business

Speaking at TED and TEDx events isn’t something a speaker should aspire to. I know my opinion is not a popular one, but stick with me here… I have specific reasons why speaking at TED or TEDx events isn’t how to build a speaking business. As the “Mama Bear of Public Speakers,” I feel the need to explain what happens for speakers at TEDx events because so many speakers THINK doing a TED talk will benefit them and help them grow their business. But it won’t.

Of course, I’ve been inspired and educated by some TED and TEDx talks because that’s what good speakers DO. We inspire, we educate, we motivate, we entertain. So when you watch a speech, on any stage, theoretically, the outcome should be similar every time.  

Yet, as much as a photo or video with those giant red letters is coveted by speakers, it’s a curiosity to me. In my decades-long speaking career no meeting planner ever asked if I’d spoken for TED or TEDx, if I’m a member of any group or organization, or anything else like that. What meeting planners want to know is if you can present your topic well.

Conversely, the TED and associated TEDx organizations have made MILLIONS of dollars on the backs of brilliant speakers they never pay (in fact to attend the big international TED event, the speakers have to pay for their own ticket themselves, plus all the travel!).

Let’s look at the reality of the facts of doing business as a speaker and the 6 reasons why I believe TED isn’t a great choice for speakers to build a business:

1. Do the speakers get to sell anything, at all, anywhere at the event? No.
That means you’re never allowed to say anything at the front of the room to get sales, you don’t get a table to display any books or products, and you can forget about giving everyone any kind of order form or handout with details about how to buy anything from you. 

2. Do the speakers get the list of attendees? No.
If you want to know who the attendees are you’ve got to find a way to talk to everyone outside of your speech. Unless the TEDx event is tiny, it would be physically impossible to speak individually to everyone else in the room. But the organizers of the event are not allowed to give away the names of the attendees, even though those attendees saw the speakers names, and perhaps came BECAUSE of one of the speakers – maybe even you.

3. Can the speakers offer the attendees something for free to collect contact information? No.
Again, this is another no-no and not the model of how TED or TEDx works. So all the cool things you can do from stage to collect people’s information: mobile apps, texting a code to a special number, creating a simple opt-in page on your website that you tell everyone about, asking for everyone’s business cards to be collected, or even the tried-and-true sign up form going around the room – none of that is acceptable or allowed.

4. Do the speakers get any promotion before the event? Barely, if any.
The local pre-event promo is going to depend on the marketing and PR skill of the promoter of the event. In most cases, it’s very low. You might get your name on their website, although not even that is a certainty. On the TED main site itself, very little about the TEDx events is posted, and clicking around to find more is tricky at best. That means you’ll have to count on the skill of the organizer to put your info and maybe your photo on their site. 

5. Do the speakers get to keep and edit their own video? No.
As the speaker, you’d think your content is your content, right? Wrong. Not with TED. The only place the videos with the big red letters can be shared is through THEIR YouTube channel, so any traffic you drive to watch your video benefits THEM, not you (especially if you’re trying to build and grow a YouTube fan base… too bad so sad for you.) The rules on the TED website specifically tell the promoters of the local events, “Do not upload your videos on any other YouTube channels or video platforms.” So that’s out.

6. Do the speakers get any kind of compensation? No.
As a TEDx speaker, you get the privilege of taking a photo and getting video in front of those red letters that you can share, but that doesn’t belong to you. You get nothing else. Gee, thanks. A photo and video I can share that will benefit TED and expand it’s brand far more than me as a speaker? Ick.

Your Best Speech Ever?

Yet, even after all this, TED insists each speaker’s presentation is unique, falls within very specific standards, and makes speakers jump through all sorts of hoops for MONTHS in advance – and that’s even after they go through a stringent application process. All this while simultaneously making money on the backs of those speakers and their hard work for very little in return.

Look, I don’t blame TED for making sure speakers meet their rules. If you’ve ever hosted an event or even attended one with speakers and saw a speaker go rouge and completely ignore their time allotment, or went off the rails in any number of ways, you know what I mean! Yet still… to make speakers prepare what might be the best speeches of their lives for no financial or other tangible return? That’s harsh.

I’ve spoken with MANY TEDx speakers who thought that event was really going to catapult their speaking careers, bring them all sorts of clients, money, and maybe even a little fame or celebrity at least in their niche, only to be terribly disappointed at their hard work.

Not to mention, beyond posting that pic or video on social media, and maybe sharing the YouTube link on their website, most speakers generally don’t know how to market themselves to meeting planners after the event. In fact, I’ve spoken with MANY TEDx speakers who thought that event was really going to catapult their speaking careers, bring them all sorts of clients, money, and maybe even a little fame or celebrity at least in their niche, only to be terribly disappointed at their hard work with nothing but a photo to share and a memory with their hopes and expectations crushed yet again.

Are there stories of speakers who did a TEDx talk then then went on to do great things and become in demand speakers? Sure. But here’s the secret: they would have become successful anyway because they are awesome speakers and generally awesome business-minded marketers. Maybe being on the TEDx stage accelerated their time frame a bit or gave them a leg up in their marketing, but it was what THEY did to grow their businesses, not what TEDx did for them. 

Another secret: Meeting planners generally don’t go to TEDx events or websites to find speakers. If a meeting planner happens to be at a TEDx event and sees a speaker, maaaaaaybe that can get a person booked for a paid gig, but again, that’s not a strategy, it’s a hope and a prayer.

So … if your goal is to speak for a living and make money, TEDx is a giant distraction. You could be using that time to develop and hone your keynote speech, and to market yourself to places with a budget. If your goal is to have an ego boost (nothing wrong with that, as long as you know that’s mostly what you’re getting) or to be able to say you had the experience of speaking at a TEDx event, then by all means, go for it. But if you think going through the rigorous process is going to help you build your speaking business, think again. It’s a very unlikely possibility. 

What’s better? Here are some free gifts to help you get started speaking, make money speaking, and build a speaking business. You can get it all at HowToGetStartedSpeaking.com

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  1. Andrew Sillitoe February 29, 2020 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Speaking TEDx was the best thing I ever did and has led to a career in professional speaking

    If you can get TEDx talk do it..

  2. Michelle Mazur September 18, 2018 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    BRAVO! Thank you for saying ALL of this. I see so many business owners aspire to speak at TEDx and I wonder why. While some careers have been launched at TED, thousands and thousands of speakers are languishing in obscurity after giving a TED talk. It’s like if you want to be an actress and think well Jennifer Lawrence got discovered on the streets of NYC so I’ll go there, hang out on the streets, and be visible. She’s an outlier. As are people, like Simon Sinek and Mel Robbins. For the vast majority, TEDx is a dead end that you spend far too much time preparing for!

  3. Swanny Rose September 17, 2018 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    I can relate to Elizabeth’s #7 as well. Doing public performances for free only tells the employer you are willing to take less (or nothing) again. I ALWAYS remind my fellow musicians of this fact…because it affects the bottom line for us all.

    • Felicia Slattery September 18, 2018 at 8:29 am - Reply

      I’d never thought of it before, but if we’re trying to make a living, why present or perform without any chance to bring in any income by telling the meeting planner, “I’m willing to work my butt off for free!” LOL Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  4. Rob Anspach September 17, 2018 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    I know so many who promote their TED or TEDx talks and that’s all they promote. They don’t share any other talks from other events. It’s as if they put all credence on the TED platform. Oh but their coach or some guru says you are nobody if you don’t speak at a TED event. Nope, I have zero interest in speaking at TED or TEDx or anything with TED on it.

    And I second what Elizabeth McCormick said, and have seen her speak, met her at event we both spoke at and I can say she is the real deal and very entertaining.

    • Felicia Slattery September 18, 2018 at 8:31 am - Reply

      You’re right, Rob! I think that’s because so many only have their TEDx talk and that’s it, which is another marketing problem. I’m hoping this post makes it past the “gurus” so real speakers who want to build real businesses will be able to take notice!

  5. Kathleen Gage September 17, 2018 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Wow! Great article. Love your perspective and I really like #7. Never considered it. And yet, it makes sense.

    I’m going to give a different perspective though in that I have recently set the goal of getting on a TEDx stage.

    One reason why speakers may want to get on the TEDx platform. is visibility on a mass scale. But they better have pretty darned good broad shoulders as the criticism is rampant from some viewers.

    Actually, rather than say speakers, I should say authors. I’ve personally been known to buy a TedXer’s book based on watching an expert’s Ted Talk. Over the past weekend, I bought three books from three different speakers on a topic I’m very interested and passionate about.

    If the expert has their systems in place such as a good website, books on Amazon, conversion funnels, etc., a TEDx may be well worthwhile.

    However, after reading your post and point #7, I will dig deeper. But, if it was in my own backyard and the opportunity presented itself, can’t say I wouldn’t jump on it.

    I found Mel Robbins, The 5 Second Rule author, from a Ted Talk. I’ve been a crazy fan since then and bought some of her info including her book.

    I’m equally a fan of some plant based diet guys that rocked it on the platform and I await the arrival of their books.

    IMHO it’s all about reasons for getting on the platform and you present a great perspective my friend.

    • Felicia Slattery September 18, 2018 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Hi Kathleen –
      See… that’s the thing. Most speakers THINK there is a huge boost in visibility, but that’s simply not true in most of cases. The people running TEDx events generally aren’t internet marketing experts or local marketing experts, which means any promotion and publicity is generally left completely up to the speaker. In my unscientific test of looking at many upcoming TEDx talks around the county, some don’t even have the speakers listed on the site!

      As I mentioned in the article, the people you saw on video are good, but they would have found another way to get their message in front of you if there was no such thing as TED. Yes, they had that platform, but they weren’t likely counting on it being THE THING that blew up their businesses. It could have been — there are exceptions — but again, for the “in the trenches” speaker, it’s not at all likely to happen. For example, Mel Robbins, who you shared as an example, has been doing a huge PR push, on local TV, in huge national publications, on very popular video podcasts, and more. You were bound to hear of her somewhere because of her marketing efforts, that again, most speakers don’t know how to execute.

      But yes, if you know how to market yourself well (and I know you do!), and you’re NOT doing it to build a speaking business thinking this one talk is going to catapult your success or directly make you money (because it will not), then it could be a good choice in a marketing mix – especially if it’s in your own backyard. Yet there again… reason #7, which I’m going to add to the article, is compelling enough not to bother. 🙂

  6. Tracey Warren September 17, 2018 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    I agree with you as well!! At one time, I did aspire to speak on a TED stage, but that passed quickly when I heard stories. Also, when I watched some REALLY BAD TEDx talks! One specific one I remember – the woman was talking about storytelling and she was holding note cards. What the heck.

    I so appreciate you sharing this and also Elizabeth’s comment as well!

    Thank you!

    • Felicia Slattery September 18, 2018 at 8:47 am - Reply

      I don’t watch too many TED/TEDx talks, but I’m not terribly surprised there are bad ones. I’m glad you got over the urge to want to do one. It’s hard and you can fell left out when you see so many speakers sharing (and boasting) about it, like it’s the holy grail of speaking. It’s not. Good for you!

  7. Elizabeth McCormick September 17, 2018 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    I so agree with what you’re saying here and will add a #7!

    I speak at @100 events a year- and through those events develop long-lasting relationships with the meeting professionals. Many many times when I ask about the value TED/TEDx talks this is the response I’ve received in some version:

    “When I see that a speaker has a TEDx talk, I know that they are WILLING to speak for FREE and I can lower the fee I would offer and spend that budget in other places.”

    Promoting that you’re a TEDx speaker diminishes your value in the industry.

    • Felicia Slattery September 17, 2018 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      Oohhhh Elizabeth! I have not heard those comments, but it makes total sense to me! Great reason #7 to add!! Thanks for visiting, reading, and your insightful and useful comment!

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