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TEDx or better off TED? What’s the (real) difference?

TEDx or better off TED? What’s the (real) difference?

Today, there is no more a potent platform for spreading ideas than a TED stage.

In the smartphone era, many believe one of the first steps on the pathway to thought leadership is not a book. Rather, a surer way is a successful TED Talk. (Publishing a book can follow that “digital focus group test.”)

A successful talk comes with a resume gold star; it gives presenters a level of credibility that is difficult to match. Indeed, time on the “red dot” (i.e., TED’s circular red rug) makes a national conference keynote a possible next step.

Plus, million view talks reassure speaker bureaus that an aspiring keynoter should command pro-level fees in the many tens of thousands.

Yet, the same cannot be said of all TEDx Talks.

TEDx compared to “Big” TED.

TED has existed since 1984. But it didn’t gain widespread attention for two decades. It wasn’t until 2006 with the release of 6 archived talks, that TED’s ideas exploded on YouTube. And they went truly viral — shocking even the nonprofit organization’s New York City staffers.

Since then, many thought leaders have subsequently made presentations at TED conferences that went truly viral: Brene Brown (60M views); Simon Sinek (55M views); Bill Gates (45M views).

Think professional baseball and picture home runs by New York Yankee Babe Ruth or Boston Red Sox Roger Clemens. TED.com is the “Big Game.”

On the other hand, continuing the baseball analogy, TEDx events can be thought of as the Minor Leagues. They started on the scene in 2009, beginning in Boston and a handful of other first-mover cities. From there the semi-open source experience exploded.


For example, pre-Pandemic, there were some 3,500 regional/local TEDx affiliates events produced worldwide. With each averaging 4–20 speakers, the math means each year there are some, 14–70,000 new talks annually!

Yes, that volume produces a handful of potential Cal Ripkin-like breakout speakers. But sadly, a LOT of middling to mmhehhhh talks produce results that are decidedly NOT spread-worthy. Indeed, most sit largely unwatched in the cemetery of YouTube.

They just sit.

That’s because, much like baseball’s tiered levels, a player can play for a Farm League or Triple-A team. TEDx conference quality between, say TEDxMayberry and TEDxSanDiego, tends to be a wide gap.

So you see, a LinkedIn banner boasting, “I have a TED Talk,” is a lot like claiming to be a pro ball player — even if you’re playing for a podunk, no-name farm team.


Yes, just like Wade Boggs, you have a logo. But the next (albeit impolitic) questions for the discerning are:

“What event — TED or TEDxSomewhere?”

“What are the at-base stats — as in talk views?”


All that said, MANY events in the TEDx community are vibrant, creative, and ever-striving. Great ideas bubble up all the time. Great talks too.

TEDx events are not created equal.

Just as in the minor leagues, a player (speaker) can “jump” to appear on the TED’s home page. For example, here’s one breakaway talk by one of my “alumni” clients. (Note the view count. It is an all-time, TOP 10 TED TALK.)

Sadly though, many of these middling talks were the product of TEDx events plagued by inexperienced producers and low-quality audio, video, and/or lighting.

In part, that’s because TEDx events are run and funded through the efforts and creativity of volunteers. As a result, a great disparity exists between the quality of events. And that says nothing of the stress-tested caliber of the ideas or the speaker coaching — if it even exists.

An invitation to the TED main stage is highly competitive — arguably more competitive than scoring a spot on the starting roster of the Devil Rays baseball team.

With a handful of “Big TED” events a year, that’s maybe 200 new main stage talks? Compare that to the tens of thousands bubbling out of the worldwide TEDx community.

So sure, the TEDx Minor League is a realistic entry point for aspiring TEDsters. In fact, some speakers have taken multiple (painful) swings at bat. (It is a difficult presentation form to master.)

As such, there are a few considerations to weigh before investing dozens, if not hundreds, of hours into preparing your TEDx presentation.

My suggestion: avail yourself of a top-performing speaker coach (note their stats too!) and it won’t take so many strike-outs.

Yes, TED is not TEDx.

And TEDxMayberry is not TEDxSanDiego.

DEVIN D. MARKS is known as The TED Talk Whisperer. His Boston-based firm, Hutchinson, Marks + Company, has represented hundreds of TED, TEDx, and TED-style speakers with millions of views. His team helps leaders, just like you, catalyze insights.

You can call Devin at 617–804–6020; or email him by clicking here.


Here’s your check-list:

[ ] Has the event organizer** produced one (or 3) before?

(Learning on the job or been-there, done-that?)

[ ] How many cameras? There should be at least 3.

(Main stage TED events roll with 9+.)

[ ] Will the production team market your talk?

(How? PR push, outtake footage, social media?)

[ ] Do they have a quality, up-to-date website?

(Details matter, so no broken links or amateur copy.)

[ ] What’s the team’s (baseball) talk stats?

(How many are actually featured on TED vs listed? Views?)

[ ] What’s the bench strength of the leadership team?

(Two people or eleven; veterans or students?)

[ ] What’s the quality of the best talks, to date?

(Uneven audio/lighting or the “Big TED” feel?)

Again, not all TEDx events are created equal.

Volunteers produce mixed — stuttering to stellar — results.

So don’t just jump to the first stage you’re invited on. Chances are, if one event producer is interested in you, others will be as well.

** Well, actually, you don’t want to “ask” these. (No sense in offending the event lead.) But you do want to suss out answers to the above, as best you can.


Congrats, you were asked to give a TEDx Talk!


It is an HONOR to be asked.

But be wary. A bad talk will follow you like a sloppy tattoo by a drunk prison artist. You want a STRONG, affirming, addition to your digital brand — not an embarrassing eyesore. (And bad can mean a weak delivery or crappy lighting — sometimes both.)

So let’s get your progress towards a TED stage… moving!

It’s time to find your BIG IDEA worth spreading.

And connect with TED organizers.

And compel your viewers to action.

It’s time for… The BIG IDEA Mill

Simply put, you need a refined BIG IDEA to connect with your audience and spread a message. The best TED Talk speakers know this. They work doggedly to clarify…

The controlling idea.

The central theme.

The silver bullet.

The red thread.

The thru-line.

It takes work to distill your idea into a message that truly captivates and compels.

Good news!

The BIG IDEA Mill can be one of your first steps to center stage!

Details here.


Ever wonder what category of talk you are best suited to deliver? There are 8 distinct types of TED Talks that take center stage. To get clarity on which one could be yours, click here.

In just 12 questions you’ll have your answer and a PDF with worksheets, TEDster examples, and ways to begin shaping your idea worth spreading!




When Colin Stokes’ 3-year-old son caught a glimpse of “Star Wars,” he was instantly obsessed. But what messages did he absorb from the sci-fi classic? Stokes asks for more movies that send positive messages to boys: that cooperation is heroic, and respecting women is as manly as defeating the villain.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES: After this TEDx Talk* was elevated from the YouTube level to the TED homepage, Colin was flown in by the film team of Frozen to weigh in on a script rewrite. Talk about an impactful idea WORTH spreading!

Now, for some TEDster inside-baseball:

His original TEDx Talk follows. Note the local-level edits, shorter delivery, and different title.

The hidden meanings in kids’ movies (10:42-min)

And here’s the final TED team-edited version, with a rework of the title and an expanded length in the final edit.

And here’s the final TED team-edited version, with a rework of the title and an expanded length in the final edit.

How movies teach manhood (12:40-min)

Note the significant differences, in the editing decisions. TEDxBeaconStreet streamlined the script by almost two minutes; TED added two minutes of nuance and critique.

TED often invests upwards of 100 hours of post-production editing to a given talk. So it is always interesting (and informative) to deconstruct TEDx vs TED versions of a successful talk! (Drop me a note if you’d like a script-by-script comparison emailed your way.)

  • Colin Stokes is an “alumni” client of mine. He has 4 TEDx talks under his belt. This isn’t the one we worked on together — though I’m a fan! (Drop me a note if you’d like a link to that one; it is a superb expression of The TED Messaging Method at its finest; and it is also fatherhood-focused.)


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Devin D. Marks

Devin D. Marks


The TED TALK Whisperer. Clients enjoy 1M+View TED Talks. Also grateful host of Thinker Thursdays™ ( Join: https://bit.ly/3kLt5wr)