Richard Lee-Thai – How to become a TEDx speaker
How did you become a TEDx speaker?
This is a question I get a lot! There are many people who are under the misconception that you already need to be famous and invited to be a speaker. There is a difference between TED and TEDx. The "x" means that it’s an independently organized event and the team can set their own parameters for accepting speakers. So, when people ask me how they can become a TEDx speaker themselves, I’ll tell them that they can simply apply to different TEDx events – there's a list of all upcoming events here: https://www.ted.com/tedx/events
I applied to TEDxYouth@VictoriaPark which is an organization in my hometown of Calgary specifically aimed towards speakers under the age of 25. I submitted an online application with a draft of my speech. Then, I was invited for a 5-minute audition, before I was selected as a final speaker. Different TEDx organizations will each have their own application process. For example, some TEDx organizations will curate speakers and specifically invite people to be speakers, rather than having an application process open to the public.
Most TEDx events will be centered around a theme, and they would want speakers to have their talk relate to the theme. The theme at my event was "Ctrl Alt Del". According to the organizers: "The idea of Ctrl Alt Del is meant to highlight individuals who have dared to take control of their lives by deleting old, fixed-mindset based ideas and pushed their innovative, alternate ideas forward!"
What did you learn from being a TEDx Speaker?
While I grew a lot as a public speaker, one of the most important things I got from my TEDx experience was actually learning more about myself. Giving a TEDx talk is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It made me reflect on the question of: "What's the one key message that I want to share with the world?" Answering that question requires a lot of introspection and a deep understanding of my life’s purpose.
I realized that making meaningful connections has been the common thread throughout all of my academic, extracurricular, and career-related activities. My purpose could be summed up as: "I make meaningful connections in the service of others." So I knew I wanted to give a talk that would help people make meaningful connections in an easier way. That's how I landed on the title of "How to Find Excuses to Connect" and that was also the catalyst for starting a business called Excuses to Connect. Because I have much more clarity now on who I am, I know that I will continue promoting and spreading this message for the rest of my life.
How to improve your public speaking skills? Please share some tips with us
There is a fantastic international organization called Toastmasters which helps people with their public speaking and leadership skills. Toastmasters helped immensely during the process of me preparing for my TEDx talk. This was because I had opportunities to practice in a supportive environment, receive detailed feedback, and have mentors who would help with everything from speech structure to body language. Toastmasters is not the only place you can improve your public speaking skills, but I would highly recommend you find a mentor of some sort because it will accelerate your skill development instead of trying to learn on your own.
As for some practical tips on public speaking, here are 2 tips that have been important during my journey as a public speaker:
- Share personal stories – there is only one you in the world. You have your unique combination of experiences, personality, skills, and world view. An audience can really connect with you when you share stories and be authentic. It's okay to be vulnerable and talk about the adversity and accomplishments you've had in your life.
- You don't need to be perfect – public speaking is a skill you develop over time. You can place a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself by believing that your speech has to be perfect, or that people will judge you if you mess up. That belief will severely slow down the development of your public speaking skills, and also make it something that you dread instead of enjoy. Recognize that every time you practice public speaking, it's worth celebrating, and you’re improving each time!
Finally, I also wanted to share
I’ve had the honour of mentoring a friend of mine to get his own TEDx Talk! His name is Ahmad Jabbir, and he delivered a talk on "Why You Should Pursue Social Discomfort" back in February 2022. It's been such a rewarding experience to help someone through the TEDx process from beginning to end. If you ever wanted to do your own TEDx talk, I’m more than happy to support you along that journey. Shoot me a message on LinkedIn or Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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