3 reasons not to give a TED talk

TED talks may seem like the ultimate speaking opportunity, but they might not expand your network and boost business like you’d think.

When I talk to clients about speaking engagements, they invariably bring up TED.

It’s natural: TED’s reputation is that it’s a hip, highly stylized and talked-about conference that attracts star speakers from Oliver Sacks and Sheryl Sandberg to Bono.

But when clients say they want to speak at TED, I ask, “Why?”

They tell me they want to make an impact, spread their ideas and expand their base. This leads to a discussion about the hundreds of other events that will reach those goals faster. Many of these events are more tailored to specific subjects and industries, and bring like-minded people together (a prime networking potential).

The CECP Summit, for example, is geared toward philanthropy and corporate citizenship. South by Southwest V2V focuses on entrepreneurship. These prestigious events are just two of countless conferences much more likely to help a thought leader than an 18-minute TED talk.

I advise my clients to remember these three things:

1. Bigger isn’t always better. Think quality over quantity. One eager buyer is often more valuable than 1,000 people who listen but don’t act. Seek out intimate venues where you can engage with people who are interested in what you’re saying. Workshop formats that allow your audience to practice what you’re preaching are increasingly attractive.

2. Play to your strengths. Not everyone is an effective keynote speaker and can command a stage for 60 minutes or more. Do you thrive in active conversation? A panel presentation where you can engage in a lively discussion with other experts and audience members may be ideal.

3. Speak the language. It’s essential to know your audience members. Are they technical professionals or c-suite executives? Will they listen to stories and anecdotes, or do they want data and results? Understanding who you’re talking to—and tailoring your messages accordingly—makes the difference between hitting a home run and striking out.

Cast a wide net when you look for speaking engagements, and consider different platforms. What is most beneficial isn’t always sexy.

Tara Baumgarten is a vice president with Stern + Associates, a thought leadership communications consulting agency. She also leads the agency’s direct engagement/conference core competency, leveraging strong relationships with influential speaking platforms to create powerful connections for clients.


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