So you want to do TEDx?

A light-hearted guide to give you the best chance of getting on the shortlist for a TEDx event, from someone that's been there.

TEDx is a prestigious event. A globally recognized platform for people to share their ideas. It's a live event followed by a video of your talk that can be listened to around the world via the TEDx video channel. It's been known to kickstart speaking opportunities and even careers.

When I tell folks I've done a TEDx I get two responses; "wow, that's amazing" and "What's a TEDx?" It's held in high regard by those who know it, but that's not everyone. I like to think of it as a badge of honour that lets people know you're an informed and interesting person worth knowing.

I did TEDx Warrington (UK) in 2022. It was supposed to take place in 2019 but got postponed due to the pandemic, so I had a lot of time to mull over my idea. What follows is just my advice, my takeaways and knowledge from taking part combined with my years of performance and speaking experience. I was also part of the TEDx Warrington selection team, on the inside looking out, in 2023 and those secrets I'll take to my grave!

If you are successful in making the shortlist it can be very stressful.

If you are successful in making the shortlist it can be still very stressful. My own experience was no cakewalk, I was finalized as a speaker towards the end of the process, after going through the speaker coaching process (and being on the speaker panel the following year I understand why). My advice here is don't place too much pressure on getting what you want, and look after yourself. The selection is governed by a lot of factors. Yes, it's a great event to be part of and a great experience but remember, It's just a talk. In a room in a building somewhere in the world, while outside there is ice cream to eat and pets to hug.

You don't have to be an experienced speaker to do TEDx. I might suggest being comfortable speaking in public and having some stage presentation experience, however in my experience, the strength of the idea comes first and the energy and honesty of the speaker can (I've seen it happen) trump experience.
When I submitted I had 20 years of stand-up comedy under my belt, and once or twice had to put my ego in a box and leave it outside. Too much experience can be a disadvantage.

Your idea.

The TEDx tagline is 'ideas worth sharing', so that's the first question, do you have an interesting idea you really want to share?

  • Be original, nothing is too unusual (within reason)
  • Avoid bandwagons. If your talk is about something current or in the zeitgeist you'll probably be competing with other people in the same space, make sure your angle is unique
  • An idea is not a book or a product, don't try to sell anything in your talk.
  • Anything science-based needs to be backed up with facts. If you mentioned it in your talk you'll need to provide evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of a fine-toothed comb.

Every TEDx event will be different at some level. There is a very detailed model provided by TEDx itself, but each event will necessitate some flexibility (venue, location, staffing, etc). Events can be themed, so basing your idea on one of the themes of the event can benefit you too.

Video submission.

At this early stage events can differ, most have a video submission process. This is a 2-minute video of you on camera explaining your idea and getting the organizers excited to discover why it's worth hearing.

  • Make the most of being seen, use body language.
  • Don't spend 30 seconds telling people who you are, they can read that in your submission text. Just introduce yourself briefly and get straight to your idea.
  • Don't waffle, be super clear about your idea.
  • If you're uncomfortable watching and listening to yourself on video now is a really good time to get over that.
  • Avoid using the word passionate, everybody uses the word passionate.

That first one again, use body language. If you have the space record yourself from the waist up, so we see your whole upper body. If you're using a phone stick it in landscape mode to capture your arms flapping about as you get excited about the subject you're talking about. Rather, think of yourself as a TV presenter in a documentary. Allow yourself to be fully seen. This will give you a little more credibility and give those watching a better idea of you as a person.

Selection process.

Once the event submission deadline has passed, you'll find out if you've been successful in reaching the longlist/shortlist. This is the list of possible candidates for the event. Again just going from experience, the candidates are narrowed down until the final selection are invited to a face-to-face rough run-through, to present their idea in person. it's not a guarantee you'll be on stage, it's an offer to be part of the process.

This is by no means what your final talk will look or sound like, it's an opportunity to share the first draft of your talk in full. At the face-to-face event you'll meet the team who are putting the event together.

Most events provide TEDx coaching, a very experienced speaker who is assigned to you to help you develop and refine your talk. Listen to them, take on board their feedback and prepare to do the hard work. My TEDx coach was Catherine Sandland and she was ace.

My Talk went through six revisions, and talking to other speakers they likewise went through a similar number of revisions from the initial idea to the final script. This can be a tough part of the process as you can also be limited for time.

  • Less is more. Even if you're offered longer stick to 10 minutes. It's not just a live event it's the video too and short-form content often gets more clicks.
  • Don't get precious at this stage, edit your talk mercilessly.
  • Remember to use body language, and find something to do with your hands.
  • Plant your feet and stand firm whilst speaking.

Work with your coach, edit your talk, and help the other speakers, be a team player in the lead up to the event. That's really as much as can be asked of you at this stage.

The TEDx event day.

Some of this is common sense. Have an early night the day before, eat healthily and drink plenty of water. The event day can be hectic, with a lot of moving parts and people, which is easy to get caught up in. Add to that your own stresses and excitement and it's important to give yourself a moment. Look for quite a space, if you're fortunate like our event there was a quiet space designated for speakers before going on stage.

Another wonderful thing done at TEDx Warrington was speakers who came offstage were taken to a different space to those who had not yet been on stage. This meant relieved and elated speakers who had delivered their talks already didn't interfere with the nervous excitement of those yet to go up.

Once you're on stage.

Too late. No advice I can give you as it's happening now, just enjoy it.


It's not the end of the world if you don't make the selection process. Events can use understudies or stand bys. What you can do is politely ask for feedback from the organizers. If you're willing to ask for good honest constructive criticism and let yourself take it on board, you can always have another crack at it next year with a new idea.

Are you thinking of doing a talk? Need some TEDx coaching? I can't promise you'll make the shortlist, but I can give you everything you need to make a great impression.

Get TEDx coaching with John Cooper.

For a bit of inspiration  in 2017, here's my top 5 pick of TEDx talks in 2016. It's the end of the year. Sad though it is I'm not going to dwell on the number of famous and talented deceased. We're all going to die one day, and I don't mean to be morbid. If anything it's a reminder to me to get busy, make a mark and do good work.

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator

“You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” once said Aaron Sorkin. Tim Urban has a great blog and I even have his grim but refreshing life calendar. Here he explains why people tend to put things off until the last minute, and why that's sometimes ok. Inspiration.

Mike Rowe: Learning from dirty jobs

I chanced upon Mike Rowe as I was listening to loads of podcasts and prepping to launch my own . As well being funny and shocking there's a valuable lesson about 'doing it the right way', Aristotle and goats testicles.

Dave Morris: The Way of Improvisation

Dave Morris's seven steps to improvising is a great refresher as to why improv is such a valuable learning tool. Play, listening, allowing failure as part of the process.

Susan Greenfield: Technology & the human mind

Are our attention spans getting shorter? Susan Greenfield gives a great talk about how children's minds develop and the effect technology. The effect social media is having on our ability to engage and have quality interactions, i.e. Texting is bad. This is stuff that comes up in some of my training workshops, when we talk about the value of unspoken communication. I do draw issue with one point. Being a gamer I'd argue there are some role playing games which engage at an emotional level in a way that books cannot, and it's an unfair comparison, as the engagement level is different. All good points to bring up though.

Diana Nyad: Never, ever give up

I watched this on a flight to the USA at a time I was feeling pretty down and feeling old. Listening to Diana Nyad's was akin to a hand come out the screen and slap me across the face. Good health intact, age is relative and pretty irrelevant. Every year is a year to build and improve. Swimming with jellyfish and sharks at 64?

Thanks for reading my blog, and Happy New Year.

John Cooper. Inspiration for 2017. My top 5 TED Talks of 2016.

John Cooper. Inspiration for 2017. My top 5 TED Talks of 2016.

John Cooper
Comedian & Improv coach
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