How To TEDx: 5 Speaker Management Must-Dos


Every speaker has a different route to the TEDx stage and organisers should adopt a management strategy that is tailored to each speaker.  Below are some of the most effective ways of influencing a speakers talk.  You’ll struggle to tick every box with each speaker so see achieving each one as a step towards a great talk.

How to TEDx, Hannah Witton

Find Out The Why 

Some want to influence or educate, others may do it simply because they really like you.  Whatever the reason, be sure to find out before you give them the go-ahead.  Each speaker needs to fit in with your theme and if you understand their why, you have created a management tool.  Be wary of the self-promoters; that’s not what TEDx is about.

Cut The Waffle

When you receive what the speaker believes to be the final draft, that is when you start editing.  Your job is simple: make the talk as short as possible!  Be brutal and challenge the speaker on anything that you think is noise.  Key questions to ask include:

What is the relevance?
Is it memorable/worth remembering?
Has the point already been made?
Does it strengthen/have no effect on/weaken the theme?  

Judge the successfulness of your cull on how many minutes you manage to loose from the talk (my record is 8!).  Will Stephen’s TEDx talk demonstrates why this is crucial.

Give Them The Fear

‘The Fear’ will help to ensure speakers put in the time and effort required to produce an amazing talk.  It will also get your more unreliable to stick to their deadlines.  Here are my top 5 ways of giving your speakers the fear:

1.  Compare them to your most prepared speaker: ‘I’ve received 4 video drafts from one of my speakers so far, so I need one in from you ASAP.
2.  Set achievable deadlines that create urgency and get commitment to them.
3.  Call a spade a spade: ‘I don’t think your talk is where it needs to be at the moment – the theme isn’t clear enough.’
4.  The 121 performance (see below).
5.  As a last resort, you can set an ultimatum.  ‘It’s got to a point now where if I don’t see a first draft by x date, I will have to pull in one of my reserve speakers instead.’

Make sure you strike a balance.  Overdo it and the speaker could quit, so pair fear with a plan that gives the speaker hope and confidence.  Preparing a good talk will always be difficult, but it should always feel achievable.

Watch Them One To One

By far the most effective way of preparing speakers for the big day. The set-up is simple: 1 empty room, you play the audience, they play the speaker.  While it will feel strange for both parties, it is the easiest way to create an uncomfortable environment for the speaker to perform in.  This has to be done face to face, so don’t make the mistake of thinking a Skype performance is a suitable substitute.  If you want to take it a step further, record the performance so they can watch themselves back.  You’re welcome!

Build Them Up

The speakers should have gone on an emotional rollercoaster in the weeks leading up to the event.  With all the talk ready, you need to make sure your speaker is too.  You’ll be the busiest person of the lot, but make time to tell them they are going to be brilliant, it’s a little thing that will go a long way.

This blog is part of the How to TEDx Series.  If you enjoyed it – please like it, share it and comment below!

How To TEDx: The 4 Types of TEDx Speaker

In my article The Speaker Matrix, I the outline four types of speaker that you will meet while putting together your line-up.  Below is some information on what each style means and where your focus as an organiser should lie for the speakers to produce a mind-blowing talk.

Quadrant 1 – Innovative

Innovators ooze creativity and what makes them unique is their ability to think differently. Singer-songwriters, designers and everything in between; managed well, they will make the day unforgettable.  The problem is, those that choose to perform or showcase their work onstage often struggle to gain traction online, especially if they are up and coming.

‘In a world of infinite choice, context – not content – is king’ Chris Anderson

Innovators need to be multifaceted and cannot rely on a performance alone to stand out. Help them to incorporate an idea and a talk around their performance.  Sting’s TED talk is a great example of how an idea can give context to a performance and you don’t need a multi-award winning international superstar to do it.

Quadrant 2 – Maverick

Rule breakers and idea makers, Mavericks test boundaries.  Throw away the rule book, agree on the idea and let their brilliant minds do the rest.  Be warned though, give them too much free reign and you risk them getting lost in a stream of consciousness on stage that leaves the audience feeling enthused, but unable to pinpoint why.

‘When you’re focused on everything, you’re not focused on anything’ 

Looping is a technique that writers use to strengthen a theme.  Help them use it to cement their idea as the backbone of the talk.  Mavericks are elusive, so expect a some sleepless nights.  When you do manage to pin them down, treat each meeting as your last chance to influence their talk.

Quadrant 3 – Intellectual

Highly analytical and meticulous in their preparation, intellects will put together a substance rich talk. Normally, they present their work to their peers which means that the talk will need a lot of TEDxifying early on so make sure you are deadline conscious.  Your job is to help them see past irrelevant intricacies and keep perspective of the bigger picture.

‘True simplicity is about bringing order to complexity’ Jony Ive

The success of an intellectual’s talk will come down to how well the audience can relate to them and their idea.  Props will go a long way to bringing about that understanding but there is more you can do.  Challenging the speaker on how they can get from A to B in the quickest way possible; it will help you decide what should make it into the final talk.


Occasionally, you’ll come across someone who has accomplished something extraordinary.  You arrange to meet and find this unassuming, down to earth individual who is reluctant to draw attention to their achievements. They don’t do it for the glory, they do it for self-fulfilment, so getting them to share their story may be a challenge.

‘Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today’
Robert McAfee Brown

Your job is to create a narrative that comes to life. Treat it like a piece of prose and make sure it appeals to all the senses. The audience needs go on the journey with the speaker so spend time helping them understand the mechanics of how they have achieved their feat. This will help you both decide what idea to share.  Chris Hadfield’s TED talk is the gold standard. Watch it, learn from it and enjoy!

This blog is part of the How to TEDx Series.  If you enjoyed it – please like it, share it and comment below!

How To TEDx: The Speaker Matrix

Experienced TEDx organisers will tell you to tailor your management style to each of your speakers.  The problem is, speakers come in all shapes and sizes and knowing what approach to take can be a real challenge, especially if you are a first time event organiser.

I’ve created a matrix that splits speakers into four quadrants based on their personality type and the tone of their talk.  While each quadrant requires a different strategy, the reality is everyone has levels of each style.  Use the matrix to work out which quadrant most suits each speaker and then check out The 4 Types of TEDx Speaker article for more information on what each style means.

GradLifeLondon How To TEDx Alex Merry

This blog is part of the How to TEDx Series.  If you enjoyed it – please like it, share it and comment below!

Speaker Technique: Looping

Looping is a technique used by writers to create intrigue, build anticipation or strengthen a theme. It is typically done by referring back to a point that was made previously.

The secret is to leave the loop open by changing the subject without disrupting the flow of the narrative.  A basic loop will do this by telling the audience what is about to happen: ‘we’ll come back to this point in a bit.’ However, the most powerful loops use a subject change as a distraction and then close the loop by later referring back to the original point.  Audience satisfied, point emphasised, job done.

Here is an example of how Milton Jones uses looping for comedic effect. Comedians are of course, the masters of public speaking.

How To TEDx: An Introduction

Organising a TEDx event is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. The last 12 months has taught me more than I could have possibly imagined.  We got a lot right in our first event, but we had to learn many lessons the hard way and some of those could have been avoided. TED provide organisers with little more than skeleton instructions and I am yet to find an easy to use content source for running an event.

Over the next few months, I will be writing a ‘How to TEDx’ series to bridge this gap.  With just one event under my belt I don’t claim to be an expert, but by documenting the lessons I’ve learned, hopefully organising a conference can become a little easier.  Along the way, I will be inviting other organisers to share their advice in guest posts with the goal of creating the most comprehensive guide to running a TEDx conference out there.

If you would like to feature as a guest blogger – fill out the form below!

My TEDxVision: One Year On

It’s almost been a year since the plans for TEDxClapham were first announced.  Now, just days after the final talk was released, it seems like a good time reflect on what has been achieved.

The Goal
To host a 1-day TEDx conference for 100 attendees that set out to:
1.  Prove that TED/TEDx talks can help to create tangible change
2.  Show that there is more to Clapham than it’s infamous night life
3.  100,000 video views in 12 months
4.  3 talks to make it to TEDx Editors Picks
5.  1 talk to make it to TED Editors Picks

The Numbers
Speakers: 17
Ticket applications: 300+
Attendees: 100
Video views: 120,000+ (First talk released 5 weeks ago)
Hours pledged to Clapham based charity organisations: 420
Talks that made it to the TEDx Monthly Editors Picks: 1 (so far)
Talks that made it to the TED Editors Picks: 0 (so far)

The Talks

JC Movember TEDxClapham GradLifeLondon

Click here for the TEDxClapham 2015 Playlist

Pretty good overall – everything we can control we have achieved. As for making it to the TED and TEDx Editor’s Picks, well that’s in the hands of the TED Gods in New York –  keep your fingers crossed! Ultimately, the true success of our event boils down to one question:

Can TEDx talks create tangible change?

After all, that seems to be the sticking point for TED’s critics.  I think this event has shown two things:
1.  Mix like-minded people with opportunity and you have are providing the perfect environment to create change.  420 hours pledged in 90 minutes by our audience isn’t bad!
2.  The most inspiring TEDx talks haven’t been written to inspire others but to challenge perception and issue a call to action.  Comedian, Dave Chawner’s talk on eating disorders is a great example of this.

Every talk should have a greater purpose and if TEDx organisers can keep this in mind when choosing their speakers, change has a really good chance!  Edwina Thompson used her talk to help influence key decision-makers in several European governments, NATO and Interpol prior to face to face meetings, it’s no wonder TEDx picked it up so quickly.

I’m yet to see or hear of a TED or TEDx event that has been solely responsible for creating change, but I do believe that running or speaking at an event can provide a powerful platform a) for change to be showcased and b) to aid positive change globally.

What about TEDxClapham 2016?
We’ve been overwhelmed by the support that TEDxClapham has received since it’s inception.  Our post-event reach on social media has exceeded 1.5 million and that will continue to grow with time.  The team is currently enjoying some well deserved r&r, but we are already in the early stages of planning next year’s event.  If you’re interested in being part of next year’s team, fill out this form and I’ll be in touch soon.

What to expect?  Think spring time, new theme, new format, new speakers and lots of surprises.  It’s likely to be a similar size to this year, so if you’re interested in applying for a ticket you’ll need to get in quick. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to get first movers advantage; if last year was anything to go by, they’ll sell out quickly!

For us, the most important thing is to make sure TEDxClapham 2016 is an event that’s like no other.  London plays host to some astonishing events in and outside of TEDx and we are going to have our work cut out to make it our most special event yet.  For now though, on behalf of the TEDxClapham team, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way, I hope we’ve done you proud.

Alex Merry

My Catch-up With Captain Hindsight

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my first 6 years in the working world.  In that time, I’ve been lucky enough to have been an employee and an employer and one thing I’ve noticed is that graduates a year into work are much more desirable than those fresh out of university.  It’s a great way to avoid the entry-level mistakes that are made at another company’s expense.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of student and graduate employment, but year in year out, the same mistakes are being made by a new generation of people.


My chats with Captain Hindsight are always a pleasure and this particular meeting was summed up nicely by Judy Belmont:

‘Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know
now what seems so obvious in hindsight.’

Below are the minutes taken from the meeting, if the contents of your next chat are different to mine, then this article has been a success:

Mid-week drinking etiquette
There are few things more exciting than going out for drinks on a school night; it’s naughty and everyone knows it. After all, isn’t the best business done at the bar?!  Things will probably get pretty loose and my personal advice would be to sit back, enjoy and let nature take it’s course.  As long as someone senior is more intoxicated than you are you’ll be fine.  However, when you wake up the next morning feeling like you have been scraped off the bottom of a shoe, be sure to follow the office hangover etiquette guide below:
1.  Get to work on time at all costs.
2.  Get your head down and crack on.  If you prove you can work hard and play hard, it will impress.
3.  If you’re lucky enough to still be drunk when you arrive, ride the wave and use it build some momentum.
4.  No mention of the hangover, you’re not at university any more.
5.  If none of this is working, go and hide in the toilet for as long as you can get away with.

How much are you actually worth?
Your salary is a reflection of the return on investment that you will bring to the company/social enterprise/charity you work for.  Whether you are in sales, administration or human resources, ultimately you have an impact on the bottom line.  So when the time comes to ask for a raise, don’t expect to get one unless you can show your employer how you will maximise their return on investment in you.

Learn to manage up
Relationships work both ways and while it might seem like a role-reversal, you can and should manage your boss.  Here are some simple ways of doing this:
1.  Manage expectations; under promise and over deliver. It is all too easy to get carried away with an exciting development that hasn’t yet happened.  Bosses don’t like nasty surprises, so while it might feel good to get some praise in the short-term, it won’t feel nearly as good as when it’s happened.  This is a fast-track way to becoming the most reliable person in your team.
2.  Keep one step ahead by pro-actively scheduling in meetings with your manager.  If you own the meeting, you own the agenda.  As with any meeting, all attendees should know what they need to have prepared and make sure there are clear outcomes and action points.
3.  If a project is looking like it may veer off-track, have the foresight to recognise it early and the guts to tackle it head on (yes that means tell your boss!). Sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and hoping everything will miraculously sort itself out will only make the matter worse.  Instead, bring solutions to the table and don’t dwell on how it wasn’t your fault.  Your solutions may not always be right, but you will be approaching it in the right way.

How to write an email
Obviously spelling and grammar must be perfect, but something equally as important is tone.  It’s so easy to misinterpret an email and doing so can cause unnecessary friction with the recipient (this incidentally, is probably responsible for the unfortunate increase in work emoticons 😩🔫).  Business is built on relationships, so put personality and feeling into your correspondence and check that nothing will be misread.

Don’t forget your manners
If something is paid for by the company; don’t just take it for granted.  I’m not just talking about the jaegerbombs your manager bought you on Thursday night, what about the qualification your employer has paid for to aid your development, or the client lunch your boss invited you?  If you enjoy the perks, appreciate them and remember, givers gain.

Everyone is replaceable
If you work for an SME, the chances are the skill set that you build will become more and more specific to the company that you work for.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are irreplaceable and that no-one else could take your place.  Don’t get complacent for two reasons:
1.  If you don’t produce the goods they can always train someone else.
2.  You will stop pushing yourself and where growth stops, decay begins.

Pick up the phone!
If you’ve been given a task that involves people remotely, don’t waste time waiting for them to reply to an email; pick up the phone and get it sorted there and then!  Use emails to confirm action points.  You’ll finish projects faster and build relationships quicker… win:win.

Your manager isn’t always better than you
You have been employed because you are seen to be the best person for that position, just because your manager used to have your job, it doesn’t automatically mean they are better at it.  Markets change, paradigms shift and as a result the challenges will rarely be the same.  Ask for their advice, but don’t expect them to have a magic solution for every problem that comes your way.

Working Overtime
Many companies will expect you to work well above and beyond the hours you are contracted for, especially if you’re heading for a career in finance or law.  In fact, they’ll even offer incentives like free dinner or a taxi home if you are working past a certain ungodly hour of the night.  Think that’s unfair? Yeah probably, but if you are lucky enough to be in a job that you enjoy, you’ll be willing to give your time to it.

Don’t chase the brand
One of the biggest misconceptions of finding employment post-university is that the graduate job market is a saturated one.  Countless articles in the press describe how applicants are competing against hundreds and sometimes thousands of others for one position.  This is rubbish, there are jobs everywhere. The problem is everyone applies to super brands like Google, Accenture or GSK without any knowledge of the job they are actually applying for.  There are incredible opportunities everywhere and my happiest friends work for companies that I had never heard of at university.

Take complete ownership of every project you are assigned. For example, a networking event involves sales, marketing, administration, operations and finance.  It’s unlikely that your job description covers every area, but as project manager, the success of each ultimately falls on your shoulders.  Be thorough, delegate appropriately and leave nothing to chance. I was advised by Tom O’Leary, the former Curator of TEDxHousesofParliament, to hold ‘where is it going to go wrong‘ meetings with each sub-team – a very valuable piece of advice.

Take pride in the invisible details
One of Steve Job’s design philosophies was that every detail of a product must be beautifully designed, regardless of whether it was going to be seen or not.  The same applies in your job. Often it’s the attention to detail in your work, the bits that you think no-one will notice that make the external aspects exceptional.

Thanks Captain Hindsight! If you liked this but want some proper career advice, I would point you towards Careercake TV.  It’s founder, @Aimee_Bateman has won several national awards and I don’t believe there is anyone better. Her recent talk at TEDxClapham talk speaks for itself… Enjoy!