Is Giving a TEDx Talk Really Worth It? Answer These 3 Questions First.

Giving a TEDx Talk is more than a passion project; it's a big investment. Here's how to think about returns.

learn more about Sherry Walling, PhD

By Sherry Walling, PhD

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many entrepreneurs believe TEDx is a catalyst for internet fame. The journey is an urban legend: Distill your idea into an 18-minute talk on YouTube. Turn online virality into brand awareness. Become the next Simon Sinek, who racked up millions of views with an idea to "start with why," wrote five books and became a sought-after leadership consultant.

Even TEDx organizers will tell you this scenario is unlikely. First, the odds of getting selected are slim. I spoke at TEDx in 2022. But before my talk at Breckenridge, "Why a Grieving Psychologist Joined the Circus," my applications to other TEDx events were rejected five times. Fellow entrepreneurs have asked if the repeated attempts — and my TEDx Talk itself — was worth all the coaching, costs and time away from my business. I tell them the answer depends on their goals.

As a psychologist specializing in entrepreneurship, and as someone navigating grief, I wanted to change the conversation around mental health. More than anything, I had a burning desire to challenge conventional grief therapy; I spoke about prescribing movement as part of a holistic healing practice. For me, the answer is yes. Your answer may be different.

Before you apply for TEDx, here are three questions to consider about your investment:

1. Can I influence the conversation?

Their tagline, "Ideas worth spreading," is not a marketing platitude. It is fundamental to the TEDx philosophy. Does your idea inspire action or development within the conversation? Your talk's relevance to the theme can help with your answer.

Since 2009, more than 13,000 TEDx events have been held in 150 countries. Themes set the tone for events that might otherwise lack cohesion and, I believe, are used by organizers to weed out applicants who don't adhere.

The theme at Breckenridge was "Integrate," which, for me, reinforced my contribution to the conversation. I'd integrated grief into my life after losing my brother to suicide and my dad to cancer within six months of each other. I'd integrated movement in the form of aerial arts into my healing journey. I don't recall the themes of the events I applied to previously — a hint that they weren't right for me. I believe that theme is weighed heavily during the application process and is a perfect way to gauge your own commitment.

To sum up: Are you passionate about your idea and convinced it will offer inspiration and insight for an audience outside your network? Does the TEDx theme and format naturally support that idea? Before you set goals, this answer should be "yes." You will spend months honing that idea into an 18-minute talk.

Related: 4 Keys to a Successful TEDx Talk

2. What are my expectations?

To be frank, my TEDx Talk had a personal and professional mission, but no clear business objective. It can be difficult for entrepreneurs, with our instinct to monetize ideas, to set these soft goals, which are still important to our well-being. In my regular practice, I encourage clients to pursue hobbies and build an identity outside of work that provides meaning. TEDx might be the perfect outlet for personal fulfillment.

I wanted to work with a speaking coach, who helped me immensely. Through my talk, I've deepened the understanding of grief therapy for my clients and for a wider audience. These are my successes.

If you're looking to grow your company or brand with a TEDx talk, set clear KPIs. Are you expecting a certain number of views? More newsletter subscribers? Higher speaking fees? In my opinion, setting business goals around reach is tricky since the distribution of your TEDx video won't be entirely within your control. This brings me to the final question.

Related: 5 Creative Ways to Get Exposure for Your TEDx Talk

3. Is it worth the time away from my core business?

TEDx involves a lot of time and resources. There is no speaking honorarium. I covered travel and accommodation expenses (TEDx organizers are passionate volunteers; they are not getting paid, either). I spent many hours away from my business rehearsing. All of this was a worthwhile investment in my professional development and the broader conversation around mental health. How many hours can you afford to spend away from your core duties? Answers might vary for startup founders versus leaders of established companies.

If you consider TEDx to be like a marketing expense in that it will increase brand awareness, ask yourself: Do I have access to another platform with an existing audience? Perhaps an industry conference or even a white paper would earn the same prestige for a more corporate-oriented goal. These alternatives would involve your team and company resources, meaning less time away.

You will have more control over your message and presentation on owned channels. Presenting at TEDx, like any large conference, involves a bureaucracy. Some elements of my talk turned out different than I'd imagined, but I had to let these things go. If you have a very strict vision, you'll have to do the same.

Ultimately, I can't tell you if a TEDx Talk is right for you, but I can offer my own answers from personal experience. I can prompt you to ask yourself the right questions.

Related: Here's How to Apply to Give a TEDx Talk

Sherry Walling, PhD

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CEO and Lead Psychologist

Dr. Sherry Walling is a clinical psychologist, podcaster, author, and mental health advocate. She helps entrepreneurs navigate transition, loss, conflict, and exits. She hosts the ZenFounder podcast, and is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Shit Together and Touching Two Worlds.

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