TEDxPeachtree 2011Having been asked numerous times these last few months about how one puts oneself in the running for a TEDxPeachtree speaker slot, I thought I would share how we secured 2011 speaker Ekaterina Walter, global social media strategist for Intel who had been featured in Forbes.com.

Ekaterina and I first met two years ago at a pretty dull marketing conference for commercial printers in Chicago. I was a little intimated at the time. Having had the benefit of getting to know her through Twitter and at conferences, I now realize that she has an uncanny chameleon-like ability to morph from corporate suit stiff to cow-girl laid-back casual.

It was destiny that I ran into Ekaterina again at SXSW 2011. We bumped into each other at the Samsung Blogger’s Lounge and I was among her sea of groupies chatting her up. But I had a slightly different agenda from most of the others.  I was curating speakers for the 2011 TEDxPeachtree conference and was chatting up all sorts of random but interesting strangers in an attempt to uncover individuals with “ideas worth spreading,” the mission of all TEDx conferences. I remember asking her if she would consider submitting a self-nomination to speak at the conference and was truly surprised at how genuinely excited she was at the idea.

(From l) Jacqui Chew and Ekaterina Walter in the Samsung Bloggers' Lounge

I had underestimated the power and allure of giving a TEDx talk and it was most certainly on her bucket list.

We talked several times after SXSW and neither she nor I were sure what her topic would be but I was certain I didn’t want her talk to be about  social media. Too commercial. And whatever topic she submitted had to fit into the 2011 theme: breakthrough.  Then the idea struck and stuck.

Ekaterina would submit her self-nomination to talk about her breakthrough immigrant experience. All nominations are submitted online evaluated and voted upon by the five-member planning team.  Speaker champions (in this instance, it was me) were not allowed to vote. Sure enough, her nomination was unanimously accepted.

See for yourself if you thought we made the right decision.

Ekaterina’s 15-minute talk on November 4th 2011 was heartfelt, moving and inspirational. For fellow immigrants like myself, it was a sweet articulation of the constant tension we feel with one foot in this country and the other in our birth country.  For Americans, it was a reminder of just how amazing this country still is despite its woes and that the American Dream is alive and thriving.

Hers was the second talk of the day. It followed a well-received, light-hearted talk by a world renowned expert on primate behavior (this talk was recently promoted on TED.com and received 280,000 views in less than five days!). Ekaterina later told me she was so nervous, she was nauseous.

But she nailed it. Six minutes into her talk, the tears appeared. A few drops at first and then surely, I saw streams rolling down faces. Quite a few in the audience were dabbing their eyes by the end of her talk. Even the guys in venture capital. And that made me smile.

Key takeaways for prospective speakers:

1. Formulate your hypothesis and if you’re not familiar with TEDTalks, review a few on TED.com to get a sense of the types of ideas that are TED-worthy.

2. Review your hypothesis for any sort of commercial slant. We generally do not select nominees who are touting their book or the work that their company is doing.The one exception would be an invention.

3. If you can’t share a video link of yourself giving a speech, consider recording a short 2 minute segment explaining your hypothesis. It is the only indication we have of your proficiency in public speaking.

Additional speaker guidelines can be found here and you can submit your nomination here. Good luck!

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