How to Source Great Speakers for your Events - Tips from TEDx

I often get asked whether I know of any good speakers for events. The answer is always yes, but whether or not they’re suitable for your event is another question. 
We all know through attending/planning events, that a guest speaker is only successful if the topic, the delivery and, most importantly, the speaker’s connectivity with the audience, is spot on. If they are missing one of these elements, the audience is likely to switch off. 
So, it got me thinking, how do you choose a speaker that is right for your own event? To get some tips I caught up with Fenella Kernebone, Head of Curation at TEDx Sydney
TEDx and TED talks are by far some of the most well known in the world and are usually aimed at a very diverse audience (including a virtual audience) that spans all walks of life. So, how does the team behind TEDx events manage time and again to curate such an engaging line up of speakers that keeps people returning to their events year on year? 
Join me as I find out from Fenella what TEDx Sydney do to source the best speakers for a successful event.


Fenella was quite clear – it's about the idea first. 
At the start of the planning process Fenella and her curatorial team get together to brainstorm speakers. They think broadly about the type of topics they want to cover in the coming year’s event. Hundreds of ideas and speakers may reach the board, but then it’s a process of narrowing it down to some key ideas and themes.


This is where the real leg work begins. Fenella and her team research speakers and then are responsible for tracking down possible speakers on that idea. 
To find the experts is a challenge and a lot of hard work. They scour the internet, ask advice from previous TEDx Sydney speakers (aka TED Alumni), network like crazy and when they think they’ve got a potential candidate, they reach out to them. 
However, this is not the end. Initially a potential speaker is introduced to what TEDx is and asked if they are interested. When they show interest, they are then asked to submit their ideas. If their ideas are strong and interesting, then they take the next step…


Fenella said that after all their research they will end up with around 100 potential speakers, which they then narrow down to about 16-18 speakers who will speak at the event. 
They start with what they call for fun ‘the long long list’, then they narrow this down to ‘the long list’, ‘the long short list’, ‘the short list’ and then finally, ‘the confirmed list’. This process is time consuming, but essential to getting not only the right speakers at the event, but the ideas worth spreading. 

Fenella explains that the aim is to find speakers that plant an idea. Speakers that leave guests thinking, “I learnt something today. I felt something today”. 
As event organisers, Fenella sees it as their responsibility to curate the experience that the audience will take home with them. 
If the speaker is not going to convey the right idea – Fenella and her team keep looking. 
Fenella was quick to point out that, “we’re not saying their ideas are wrong or not worthy, they just might not be strong enough to convey the topic we want to talk about that year”.  
An interesting point is that they also do not lock in any speakers until the final list is ready – this is to ensure they have diversity in the overall program. 


Not everyone with great ideas is a confident or experienced public speaker. Fenella referenced Chris Anderson, Head Curator of TED, who believes that no one is born a public speaker, it’s a skill that can be learnt.
Fenella explained that the TED model is to wrap their arms around their speakers to help them feel confident and supported to deliver their idea on stage. 
This includes helping them with the content. Each of the TEDx Sydney curatorial team is assigned a couple of speakers each, who they will support and coach up to the event day. 
Fenella adds, “Speakers need to be able to take on the constructive feedback given by the curatorial team. Understanding where some elements can be honed and shortened or simply ‘cut’ to make the overall presentation better”. 
When briefing speakers, Fenella said, “it’s important that speakers understand what’s expected. It’s not a promotional opportunity – audiences can feel that – they want the idea. The act of being there is the promotion, the talk is the idea.


In the lead up to TEDx Sydney there are several rehearsals to ensure everything runs smoothly, including a full-dress/ technical rehearsal onsite at the venue two days before. This helps build confidence in the speakers.
Fenella admits that one lesson she learnt from last year was that they needed to create Event and Speaker Guides for 2018. These guides not only outline to the speaker when and where they need to be, but what to expect on the day. Tips on what to wear, what the ear piece will look like, how the presentation clickers work and the specs for any presentations are included, as well as a guide to writing their talk. 

Final word…

Sure, TEDx Sydney is a huge event, with loads of speakers, but their process of finding and securing the speakers can be applied to any scale of event. 
The most important element is to ensure your conference or event includes the right topics and ideas and it is important to consider this carefully before you even start looking for speakers. 
Next, concentrate on doing the hard yards to make sure you find the right speakers to convey the ideas you want to express at your event. 
And finally, coach your speakers - guide them as much as possible, so that come event day, they are guaranteed to connect with your audience and plant an idea in their mind that will grow.    

TEDxSydney is the leading platform for the propagation of Australian ideas, creativity and innovation to the rest of the world. If you’re keen to attend TEDx Sydney this year, tickets are now on sale. 
P.S.  A huge thank you to Fenella Kernebone for her time and for sharing her tips with us. In addition to being the Head of Curation for TEDxSydney, Fenella is also a noted television and radio presenter and producer. She is also an excellent MC, presenter, interviewer and keynote speaker. I’ve seen Fenella in action and if you’re ever looking for a top-notch MC or panel interviewer, I recommend you look her up!

© Header Image Jean-Jacques Halans | TEDxSydney