How to Become a Main Stage TED Speaker: Interview with TED Content Director Kelly Stoetzel

TED Kelly Stoetzel and Chris Anderson

How to Become a Main Stage TED Speaker: Interview with TED Content Director Kelly Stoetzel

Stepping Onto the World’s Stage

Most of you probably already know my obsession with TED. Their 1,700+ free videos from the smartest, most talented, influential, creative and crazy people in the world provide more useful education and inspiration than just about anything else I’ve found on the Internet. To date their talks have been watched well over 1 billion times.

Over the past few decades the TED stage has become one of the most prestigious on the planet. Those who share their ideas in front of that crowd often immediately rocket to the top of their industry. And even their independently organized TEDx events can create a ripple of their own.

To date, by far the most powerful single thing I’ve done for our LYL movement and my career was to stand on the TEDx stage in San Francisco and give my talk on How to Find & Do Work You Love (that’s somehow gotten over 1.7 million views and ranks top 20 of over 40k TEDx talks). I could have given a thousand non-TED-related talks, and I doubt it would have had even close to the same impact. And to prepare – of course – I watched dozens of my favorite top talks.

If you’re looking to change the world (or simply have your idea heard), there’s probably no better venue than TED.

So today we’re going to learn how to get on the main stage – directly from the person who chooses TED’s speakers…

While most people have heard of TED, odds are you haven’t heard the name Kelly Stoetzel.

Neither had I, until I attended my first live TEDActive Conference for their 2014 30-year anniversary (#mindblown). She and her co-host Reeves were the emcees for the week.

So why is Kelly such a big deal? Well, she’s the Content Director at TED. This means is she and her team are directly in charge of finding, vetting, choosing and training the annual TED Conference main stage speakers. Talk about responsibility – and a dream career!

The best part is that she started out as a camp counselor (which she claims as her most important job), became an art gallery director and then moved to trial evidence presenter – all of which lead her to one of the coolest and most under-the-radar influential jobs in the world.

But as I got to know her, what piqued my interest even more was her passion for spreading ideas and possibility to kids. Her biggest passion project is TEDYouth, where over 100 youth events are held around the world on the same day to show kids what’s possible and help them find the career paths they are meant to pursue. Amen to that! (2014 TEDYouth is on November 15 – get involved or access the free live stream here.)

Needless to say, I can’t wait for you to watch this interview, where she covered the ins and outs of TED and TEDYouth.

In this video we’ll cover: 

  • How TED finds and chooses their main stage speakers
  • The TED speaker training “un-formula”
  • Top 80/20 tips for giving a TED-worthy talk and killing the nerves
  • What not to do and how to avoid giving a talk that bombs
  • How she connected with TED owner Chris Anderson
  • How TEDYouth is changing the future of kids’ educations
  • The importance of career “steps” and trying many different careers
  • How Kelly handles being an introvert while hosting events for hundreds of the world’s most influential people
  • One question to help identify the impact you want to have on the world
  • And a lot more…

See below the video for the audio mp3 download and detailed time-stamped notes.


How to Become a Main Stage TED Speaker (and other really good speaking advice): Interview with Kelly Stoetzel, TED Content Director

Don’t see a video? Click here.

Download the audio version mp3 file here.

Detailed time-stamped interview notes:

  • 1:56 Defining the TED Why
  • 2:45 The TED & TEDx secret: The talks are only the tip of the iceberg
  • 4:30 The curious career path that took Kelly from camp counselor to picking TED main stage speakers
  • 4:45 Why “Camp Counselor” was Kelly’s most import career step leading her to TED
  • 7:10 Her simple strategy for building a genuine connection (and getting a job) with Chris Anderson, the leader and owner of TED
  • 8:50 Explains her all-powerful role of finding and choosing TED speakers
  • 9:20 The fear that comes with choosing and inviting the right speakers
  • 9:50 Her speaker-finding process to identify the gems among 10,000+ candidates
  • 11:40 TED speaker training process and the “un-formula”
  • 12:10 The initial vetting and interview process
  • 12:45 Kelly’s first key to killing nerves and creating the environment for a world-changing talk
  • 13:10 The importance of curating the right audience and its effect on the speaker
  • 13:40 Top advice for dealing with stage fright, killing nerves and building confidence
  • 15:00 The importance of the “Power Pose”
  • 15:25 Nailing eye contact and how to not do it
  • 15:55 A simple reframe to take the majority of the pressure off the speaker
  • 16:20 The mindset for creating the most compelling slides and visuals
  • 16:50 Every single thing you do as a speaker comes back to one cardinal rule
  • 17:15 Learning from the ultimate talent search – 14 countries, 3 months, 293 speakers and what it taught TED about speaking
  • 18:40 How Kelly handles being an introvert while hosting events for hundreds of people and avoiding panic attacks
  • 19:15 Battling the speaker’s worst enemy
  • 19:30 The key to being an engaging host or emcee
  • 20:15 How to simply communicate incredibly complex topics
  • 21:15 How TED decides the length of a talk
  • 21:30 The 80/20 guidelines for presenting a TEDx talk that’s worthy of the TED main stage
  • 22:15 Avoiding the risks of memorized talks and two methods for knowing your talk is prepared enough
  • 24:00 Nailing your one idea and what makes an idea TED-worthy
  • 25:20 What not to do and how to avoid giving a talk that bombs
  • 26:15 The one word that makes speakers seem like they have a huge ego
  • 27:00 The process for choosing the TEDx talks that make it onto
  • 27:20 Tips for speakers to have the best chance of their talk ending up on TED
  • 28:00 For TEDx organizers: 2 crucial tips for getting your talks on
  • 29:40 The story behind TEDYouth – Kelly’s real passion and what it’s all about
  • 31:10 How TEDYouth is visibly changing the future of education and dream career potential for kids
  • 33:25 Advice for choosing the right career path and finding and doing what she loves
  • 35:40 Why the underlying (and often hidden) skill set of a job is often more important than the job itself
  • 36:00 Warren Buffett’s top career advice
  • 36:25 How to support and become a part of TEDYouth
  • 37:30 The pride of having a 10-year-old daughter as a 3-time TEDx organizer and host
  • 38:20 Kelly’s rather odd TED speaking topic if she had to take the stage today
  • 39:00 One question to help identify the impact you want to have on the world

So… what TED Talk would you give if you had the chance?

It’s a question I asked myself for years. And it eventually led right here.

Give it some thought and tell us in the comments. And if you have speaking questions or advice, please share those as well!

A huge thanks to Kelly and the team at TED for the impact you’re having! I’m so grateful.

And be sure to check out TEDYouth, apply for a free ticket, and see how you can get involved either with their main event in New York or the 100+ around the world. All the talks will also be live streamed for free.

Here’s to taking the stage that can change everything…


P.S. Keep an eye out for our annual Start a Blog Challenge coming soon too. Without a blog, LYL wouldn’t exist, and I certainly never would have been asked to speak at TEDx. Get ready for some fun. 🙂