How to Find an Idea Worth Spreading in Your TED Talk with Elena Pawęta

Reading Time: 11 Minutes

In today’s podcast, we’re joined by Elena Pawęta where we discuss all how to become a Tedx speaker.

After the Interview:

About Elena Pawęta

Dr. Elena Pawęta is an executive communication coach, speaker, TEDx organizer, and university professor. She conducts courses, trainings, and workshops on effective communication and business presentations internationally.

Dr. Elena is a TEDx speaker and has played a big role in organizing TEDx and TEDxWomen conferences in Poland for the last 8 years. She is also a marathon runner and the mother of two daughters. Her clients include KPMG, PwC, Bosch, Deloitte, Bridgestone, GE Healthcare, Nestle, Santander Bank, Goldman Sachs, and Astra Zeneca.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders Podcast. I am your host and executive coach, Allison Dunn. I am thrilled to introduce our guests today. We have with us Dr. Elena Paweta. She is an executive communications coach, speaker, TEDx organizer, and university professor. She conducts courses, trainings workshops on effective communication in business presentations internationally. She is a TEDx speaker and has played a big role in the organization of the TEDx and TEDx women conferences in Poland for the last 8 years. She’s also a marathon runner and a mother of 2 daughters. Her clients are among KPMG PA, OSH Deloitte and Goldman Sachs. Dr. Elena, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Elena: Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure.

Allison: Outstanding, I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. My question is, what would be your number 1 leadership tip for our listeners today?

Elena: Number 1 leadership tip. I would have so many tips on leadership. I think that the most important one would be to focus on others not just to think about yourself, but to focus on the people, on your team and whom you want to lead.

Allison: Fantastic. Thank you very much for that. You are a TEDx speaker. What is your TEDx speaker topic on? I’m just curious, just to kind of share with our audience what your area has been?

Elena: Yes, so I’ve been organizing TEDx events for last 8 years and all the time, people would ask me, when are you going to speak? When is your TED Talk? And all the time, I was saying that, Oh, I don’t have this big idea to share from the stage. I was always this behind the scenes person. I was coaching others. I was putting– Giving them the stage time but last year, I decided to speak myself and I gave a speech which is called, “What can we learn from global startups?” It is based on my book about born global intrapreneurs and it says about the qualities of international entrepreneurs, and what can we learn from them.

Allison: Fantastic. That was your idea worth spreading. I love that. You mentioned that you’ve coached others, so I guess, one of the things that I’m always curious about is what do you need to do to be able to achieve the opportunity to get an invite to be a TEDx speaker?

Elena: First thing that TEDx organizers are looking for, is an interesting idea. This is what TED events are all about. We are not looking for speakers, even if those speakers are amazing, international speakers, professional speakers, this is not what we are looking for. We are getting a lot of applications saying that– With CVs, with descriptions and buyers of speakers and this is not something that we’re interested in even if this is the most amazing speaker in the world. We’re looking for ideas. If you have an idea that is interesting, that is new and relevant for the local audience with whom you want to share this idea, then we would consider this idea to– For the TED stage.

Allison: Fantastic. In the evaluation of the idea, like trying to curate an events, what are some of the best ideas that you’ve seen come forward and is there a particular area of focus?

Elena: I guess it depends on the community where the events are organized. Usually, when we start organizing an event and this is the same all over the world. They’re– The team– The organizing team would start by choosing the topics that are relevant and interesting and important for the local community right now. For example, currently in Poland, we have a big refugee crisis because we have war going on in Ukraine and this topic would currently be one of the top topics that we would want to cover. How to help refugees? How to help in a smart way? What can we actually do to support those people? And I think that in every community all over the world, those topics would be different depending on the current state of affairs in the country, in the city.

And when we have this list of topics, we start looking for people who could share those ideas and at the same time, we have people applying for the event from the outside, not from our– Let’s say, in our suggestion list from what was curated by our team but completely new ideas from the outside and sometimes we choose those ideas as well because they are amazing and something absolutely new and groundbreaking.

I think that the best ideas that we usually curate on the stage, those are– This is something that was not shared before and something that– Not necessarily shared by professional speakers. As an example, I could mention, a lady– For a young lady who was speaking on my stage 2 years ago. She was just 18 years old when she was standing on the stage and during the first pandemic year, she developed the app, the online store with cosmetics but actually, if you bought one of the creams or something available in this online shop, you would not actually make a purchase but you would report the case of domestic violence.

This is how people could do this in an anonymous way without actually sending the report but doing this discreetly and then she had a lot of psychologists supporting this cause, doing this voluntarily and she shared– When she developed this application, she was just 17 years old and when she was 18, she was already standing on the TED stage. This is one of the examples of an amazing idea that really helped many people in the society and at the same time, it was her first big presentation. She never spoke on a big stage. I think that TED stage allows for that if the idea is really great and worth spreading.

Allison: That’s a fantastic story. I’m just curious, how did she know that that she should be on that stage, like what encouraged her to get there or did someone?

Elena: This was actually the person that we reached out to because it was the first pandemic year, it was the end of 2020 and we actually– When we were organizing this event, we did not know if it will be live or online or hybrid because it was the first year like this. We had no idea how it will work out and we decided to cover different topics, different challenges, issues connected with the pandemic. One of the topics, it was this domestic violence and how could– How the site reacted to such things and then the other topic, we had a lot about mental health issues. We had a lot about distant working. This was actually the year that we covered– When we covered relevant topics for our local community during this year. Of course– And every year it is different.

Allison: What are some of the mistakes that people make when they’re trying to get an opportunity to speak at TEDx?

Elena: We get a lot of applications with descriptions of achievements, of conferences that we spoke at. Sometimes we would read that, oh, I’ve been speaking here and there and I am an international speaker. I’m a trainer and coach. I have 20 years of business experience and so on and it is amazing if you’re looking for a job somewhere, but if you’re looking to– Or maybe if you’re looking to speak at some commercial conference, let’s say to be a speaker but if you’re looking to speak at TEDx event, then I would move all of this to the end and I would start with what is actually my idea that I want to share? And why this idea is relevant for your audience? And why it is interesting and relevant right now? Why it is new? Why it was never shared before? All of those things before speaking about yourself, if I see that someone is really promoting themselves, promoting their businesses very often, then this is very often no because TEDx is not about promotion. We cannot come to the stage and start promoting our products, our services.

Another thing that I would not recommend doing is to recommend your boss. Very often we have oh, my boss, my CEO is amazing. He’s an amazing speaker. I would like to recommend him but then I don’t see the person who will be speaking. I don’t see the idea behind this person. I don’t see why this person is valuable. I don’t know even if this person is motivated to speak on our stage. This is also something that is not suitable for TEDx stage.

Allison: If you want to talk about someone else. Yes, OK. That makes sense.

Elena: Yes, absolutely. We– I would want to speak to the person who would want to actually be on the stage.

Allison: OK, fantastic. Ideas first, and obviously being self-motivated to actually apply for the opportunity and submission. OK. What are some of the– So someone gets the opportunity to get invited, like, once you’re accepted, like what happens next?

Elena: Usually it depends on the event. Sometimes, if it is, some– My events that I organized, they are quite big because we have developed a lot of procedures over the years and if you would apply for one of the bigger events, then definitely you will have the big team behind and you would have the team of speaker coaches. Usually we have the teams, marketing teams and event experience teams, logistics teams, and there is a big speaker team. The team which is supporting speakers on the way.

We’re organizing workshops, we’re organizing trainings so that speakers are actually prepared for this big stage because as I mentioned, very often those people are not experienced in public speaking because we’re looking for ideas not speakers, very often this is their first big speech on the stage. That’s why we are coaching them, we’re preparing them for the stage. We’re taking care of them for several months, at least for 3 to 4 months, definitely up to half a year. We’re making sure that the speech is stage ready but also, before even applying for the event another thing that you can do is also to work with a coach to help someone to prepare this idea of speech and speech to be accepted and then when you are accepted very often the event would take over and they would also take care of you so that when you’re on stage, you’re absolutely sure that it will be a success.

Allison: That’s been fantastic that you provide that support for people to kind of express their ideas. I’m just curious because I don’t think I understand like the full– Like if someone’s set this as a goal, what should they expect? It’s a– I feel like it’s like at least a half a year commitment, correct? And is there a monetary commitment to be able to be on a TEDx page– Stage?

Elena: No. TEDx and TED events, they are all nonprofit events so you will– You don’t pay to be a speaker and also events never pay to speakers and as you probably know, there are a lot of very well known people who were on TED stages and no one can get paid. This is a nonprofit event. Of course, if you hire a coach and it will be your individual wish to work with someone experienced who knows how to craft a speech, how to craft the application for TEDx event, then this would be your personal decision but according to TED rules, your– There is no financial commitment because TED events, they are nonprofit and they’re based on sponsors and partners support.

Allison: Fantastic. All right. I knew that but I just wanted to put it out there in case someone’s listening to the episode and it’s one of their goals to understand that.

Elena, you are a TEDx coach. You coach people through their speaking and I’m just– Could you share, what are the essential tips for storytelling in your TEDx and/or like, how do you apply that concept to business?

Elena: Yes. A lot of people, they start with their stories when they want to get on TED stage. Very often, they come to me and they say, I would love to share my story on a TEDx stage, what can I do? And then where we start working on their stories and it is– It can be actually quite hard to find an idea out of the story. It is very important to understand that a story is just a way of conveying your idea. You need to make sure to first know what is your main message, actually? What do you want to share with the audience? Because such messages as you can do anything or if I achieved success, then you can also achieve success. Those– This is very vague and a lot of those motivational messages, they can get lost in hundreds of similar messages.

Of course, every story is unique but you need to also find a unique idea out of your story. This is definitely what I would recommend to first start with your main message, what you want to actually achieve through the story and then use your story as one of the ways to convey your idea.

Storytelling is an amazing tool and you can use it in business. I’m also doing trainings for business audiences on storytelling, on public speaking and it is very important to have this emotional connection with a person too because when we hear someone speaking about emotions, we also start experiencing emotions, we feel this emotional connection and there is no other way than just to connect with this person and to open up to this person.

But still, we need to understand that in our audiences, we have different people. Some people, they are more stories oriented, some of them are more numbers oriented. Usually, what I recommend is to use several pieces of evidence. You have this idea that you want to persuade everyone that this idea is very important. Yes, you can use your story but another thing that you can do is you can use some statistical elements, you can use some facts, you can use some figures, you can use some other evidence, maybe someone else’s testimonials.

There are a lot of pieces of evidence to choose from. Do not focus only on the story because if you tell your story, and you want this to be your speech, then it might not be very credible for everyone. Some people will definitely connect with you but not everyone. So use different types of evidence and then finish this all with your big idea that you want to share.

Allison: In the storytelling, I work with my clients a lot to make sure that they’re communicating to all of the types of people the way they think so making sure you incorporate all of that. Good. Fantastic.

I am super curious, in your 8 years in Poland, what is your average application rate for a TEDx conference?

Elena: When I started, we did not have a lot. We didn’t have many applications but now I can see that every year we’re getting more and more applications. We get maybe, I would say hundreds– Couple of hundreds of applications every year and majority of them, they are– They don’t have this big idea described. Automatically, we are looking at more or less 50% of those applications and those ideas sometimes are amazing, we really have to choose from this or we have a committee. We are choosing.

And also, we have a lot of applications and speakers but also we have a lot of interest from the community, more and more people want to attend our events. In the last couple of years, we had about 500 people, 500 places available in the theater. We are organizing the theater and then we had about 1500– No 15,000 people interested in the event, in the Facebook group and we had all the tickets sold in the first second.

We opened sales and then the tickets were sold. We have– And we observe that every year this interest is getting bigger and bigger. I would say that this platform is getting hotter and hotter every year from what I observed from the inside. It is really important to to be there if you want to work on your personal brand, if you want to work on your business, if you want to increase your credibility in business and this is definitely the platform to be on in the next couple of years.

Allison: Fantastic and as a coach, I have a lot of organizations that really rely on the TEDx platform as a place to share ideas and nurture ideas amongst their team members and definitely an educational platform. Thank you for that.

And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the TEDx that we’ve put on here in the Boise [Phonetics 00:22:08] market as well. We have one in Idaho and those involved in that is just top notch. Thank you very much for that. Elena, what is the best way for people to connect with you and/or find you?

Elena: I’m inviting everyone to my social media. Let’s connect via social media. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn. It is Dr. Elena Paweta, everywhere and also my website is I have a program, “How to become a TEDx speaker?” If you’re interested in this platform, then you’re welcome to schedule short call with me and discuss how can I support you on the way to this big stage?

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

Join our list for exclusive tips, content and a welcome gift – our ebook on how to engage your team and boost profits.