So, You Want To Be a TEDxNavesink Speaker (Or Select the Speakers)?

It is truly an honor and privilege to be invited to apply to speak at a TEDx event. It is just as much so to be a volunteer organizer, especially to serve on the curation team. But have you ever wondered: Who decides what the event’s theme will be? Who decides what topics will be covered and who will speak—how and why are they chosen? I’ll share my observations and experiences to shed some light on the selection process.

(Almost) Knocking down the 4th wall
The answer to the first question is simple. The main core organizers, the ones with “chief” in front of their TEDxNavesink role titles, serve as the event’s strategists. They meet throughout the event planning process. An agenda item in their meetings is to discuss and determine a theme for the following year—required knowledge for the curation team, in particular.

What is the curation team?

In this case, curation team is a nice posh-sounding synonym for speaker team. Our role is to find and select the best fit speakers (and sometimes to help vet potential entertainment acts). What may be surprising to know is that not all members of the curation team review and evaluate the applications. The actual selection of speakers is done by a smaller curation team, which consists of the five main core organizers plus a few others.

As exciting as the job is, it comes with great responsibility and patience. Most notably, and predictably, this year there was a huge flurry of applications submitted in the last few days before the deadline. It was daunting to review and evaluate all of them in a short period of time. To help the team’s efficiency, a sub-committee was formed to first determine which ones might be suited for TEDxNavesink: Accelerators. Those applications were then reviewed and evaluated by the smaller curation team.

What types of applications are there?

There are two types of speaker applications we receive: personally curated and unsolicited. Personally curated applications are when members of the curation team research and reach out to invite people to speak. Unsolicited applications are open to the general public, freely submitted from promotion on our website and utilization of an additional outreach method: a PR service, which contacts its subscribers. Our applicant pool was significantly increased—over 100 applications were subsequently received with the latter tactic alone. Forrest Gump would describe unsolicited applications like a box of chocolates, sans guide: we never know what we’re going to get.

What is a TED-worthy talk proposal?

It’s an application that has a strong story related to the theme, that isn’t vague, sparse, missing information (especially required information), nor lacking supporting documents. It’s an application that looks like time and effort were given to filling it out, crafting it to fit the guidelines and theme. Applications stand out when they are personally submitted by the intended speaker and present a topic that’s not overdone. Submission timing matters as well, since applications also stand out when they’re the first one covering a particular topic in a given year—insert trite adage about the early bird.

What criteria are used in the selection process?

Each application is reviewed and evaluated generally independently, using a rubric consisting of four different dimensions: theme fit; speaking skills; unique idea; and strength of story. We evaluate each criterion on a three-point scale. The scores are averaged for each dimension and then into an overall score. While metrics are a telling indicator of how well the potential speaker and proposed talk will likely fit with TEDxNavesink and the year’s theme, numbers aren’t everything. If applicants come across as strong speakers (or could easily be helped to improve), and their topic and story are compelling and seem like “ideas worth spreading,” then they could be approved to speak. While there is objectivity used in the selection process, subjectivity and individual interests, i.e., personal likes and dislikes, are present as well—much like many other things in life, especially at the core of accept/decline decisions.

Submission has been closed for applications since November 20, with the exception of a few from personally curated applicants to come in soon. At our last meeting, we were still in the process of evaluating the most recent applications and making more decisions from our list of potential speakers.

How do we make the final cut?

To help visualize what the event will look like, and aid us in our decision-making process, we took a cue from favorite TV crime dramas. During one of our more recent curation team meetings, the potential applicants’ names and talk topics/titles were put on color coded Post Its and stuck to sliding glass doors, grouped into 11 broad categories.

And to be sure, the rejections made recently were increasingly difficult and disappointing for some of us who had personally curated applicants still in the running. The caliber of these potential speakers is particularly very high this year—in fact, the overall caliber of applicants is higher than years past—and there undoubtedly was a considerable degree of heartbreak in cutting them from the final list.

But what happens if we disagree?

How do we decide then, and who gets the final say? We generally work it out through discussion and debate, politely yet passionately pleading and arguing our cases and opinions. Generally, decisions are made by majority consensus. However, one or two of the main core organizers could invoke veto power.

We strive to provide a memorable TED-worthy event: a TEDxNavesink event that both you and we would be proud and thrilled to attend. More than having the heavy task of simply putting on a great event, and beyond the benefit of giving ourselves self-congratulatory joyful pats on the back, we know we’re held accountable by you, our audience, to deliver the best possible talks and experience.

How can you help us?

Surveys count! We need your feedback. So when you are asked to provide your thoughts on the year’s event and what you would like to see covered at next year’s TEDxNavesink, please inform us. Your opinions are valued and taken into consideration. We love to hear from you and want to know: what you would want to make the next event better; what would interest you; what you feel we should keep doing or might consider changing; and what would you like to see when you attend next year?

I cannot give away too much more, but suffice it to say that as of our latest meeting on January 13, we have approved 25 accepted speakers/talks of our 25+ time spots. Keep checking back for news and updates on our social media accounts and website: and click here to get your tickets to the April 11th event before they are sold out.

JennHom1In addition to serving on the curation team as its curation manager, Jennifer Hom also serves on the marketing team as its marketing analyst and a content contributor, sometimes functioning as the liaison between both teams. This is her second TEDxNavesink event as a volunteer. Previously, she served on the marketing team as a social media manager and live reported during the 2014 event: Play. When not seeking a full-time job, Jen can be found advocating various causes and regularly volunteering for different non-profit organizations. A vegetarian since 1998, she is a lover of the arts, service, and sustainability. For more on Jen, please click here.