For some in the PR world, TED talks represent the “holy grail” of thought leadership initiatives. But how should PR professionals approach securing this highly competitive opportunity?
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). The organization began in 1984 as a conference and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. There are also independently run TEDx events that help share ideas in communities around the world.
PR practitioners know that once they’ve booked someone for a TED talk, the publicity machine will be in full force to leverage the opportunity for increased name recognition and acknowledgement as an authority in a relatively exclusive and rarefied community. But one challenge involves how to tell whether a potential speaker has the right stuff to be a worthy contender for a TED talk. Here are some criteria.
Focus is on the idea, not the person. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Some companies get hung up on nominating a key executive or industry thought leader, and it’s true that a great speaker adds to the experience, but the true goal of a TED talk is a new idea.
Novelty and relevance are key. Speakers needn’t be discouraged if their core idea isn’t absolutely novel; however, it must be presented in a new context and be relevant on a broad scale. When TED’s most popular speaker to date, Sir Ken Robinson, tackled what’s wrong in schools, it was clearly more about his perspective than the simple notion that worldwide, education needs fixing.
There should be potential to provoke “contagious emotion,” viral ideas, and above all, shareable content. Talks should “provoke a lump in the throat or butterflies in the stomach” or similar emotion that triggers audience reaction. One of the top TED talks of all time is that of Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who used her own brain tumor to further her research into creativity. Worth a listen!
Above all, storytelling matters. What many in the media call a “secular sermon” that will inspire people. Speakers are discouraged from presenting anything more than a brief mention of facts and figures and zero sales talk! There is emphasis on humanizing the piece as much as possible, ala this talk from Swiss author Alain deBotton, ironically on “the new atheism.”
It is also crucial for potential speakers to attend one or more TED talks and, like many exclusive opportunities, there is at least a year’s wait to be selected. Is there a top-secret, insider tip to securing a TED talk? No, say the experts, there’s no room for a slickly produced video or creatively packaged presentation. The TED talk application is a simple form and its up the to nominator (often a PR rep) to address the following:
1) Why this speaker’s vision will change how community members approach their own work;
2) How the idea will change and improve a field in significant and surprising ways;
3) What experience and evidence the nominee brings to his or her topic; and
4) How this approach or idea might be applied across varied fields and disciplines
Does your PR team work with any leaders who’ve got what it takes?