What makes a TEDx Speaker?

TEDx, microphone

At TEDxCapeTown, we receive a lot of applications from people wanting to be a speaker, or wanting to nominate someone to speak on the TEDx stage. 

Sadly, many people get it wrong, not quite understanding what a TED talk is and what we TEDsters are looking for in our quest to spread ideas. This article is here to answer all your questions to make your application process (and our lives), easier.

TEDxCapeTown Speakers

Let’s start off with what we are NOT looking for:  

  • Motivational speeches 

  • Elevator pitches

  • Political agendas

  • Religious proselytising

  • Pseudo-science

  • Recycled ideas

Now let’s look at what we ARE looking for...


Ask yourself: Is my idea new? Is it interesting? Is it factual and realistic? 

We want to hear something we haven’t heard before.  In fact, we have a strong preference for the idea that deserves the attention it is not getting. Something original, different, novel - within the realm of reality of course. We want to hear ideas that compel us to think differently, ideas that challenge our preconceived beliefs about the status quo. If we have heard it before, it is not an idea worth spreading. If it’s a familiar topic or idea, it has to be a fresh take on that known idea, not confirmation or regurgitation of it. 

Our speakers don’t have to be famous, they have to be the right/ qualified person to talk about the idea. We encourage diversity in our speakers and are very open to those with little experience. Being the right person simply means being fully engaged with both the idea as well as effort it takes to deliver a talk. Often, this can be really hard to achieve with more famous people, as they are often blind-sided by the thorough and demanding speaker preparation process. Remember, an idea worth spreading has no gender, race, age, income or capability barrier. 


We want to know why your idea is important to you. Why do you care about it? We are looking for ideas that have impact and will change the way those who attend our event think, feel and behave. If a potential speaker cannot articulate this authentically and believe in his or her own idea, how can we as the audience be expected to believe in it?


A great idea will bring the audience on board your journey. It’s not enough if the speaker believes in his or her idea - we need to know that others will, too. This may come as a surprise, but your idea isn’t actually about you. It’s about your audience. A TEDx talk is delivered for an audience who gives of their time to listen to you talk. This means your idea has to draw them in with something they care about, too. 


At TEDxCapeTown, we don’t want our beliefs confirmed. We don’t want to discuss the status quo. We don’t want to affirm our biases. No, we want to leave the room stirred, with our brains churning and our minds racing at having learnt something new and surprising. We want to be amazed. Does your idea provide new insights or has it been done before?  


You may have an idea worth spreading - but is it the right time? Why now and what happens if you don’t spread this idea today? Sometimes any time is a good time. Sometimes now is best.


TEDxCapeTown Speaker



Images: (top left) Lauren Jacobs, (top right) Adewale Adejumo, and Cindy Mkaza-Siboto - all speakers from the 2018 TEDxCapeTown event, 'Pause & Effect'.