With the new year comes new goals. And for many industry thought leaders those goals often include becoming part of the TED phenomenon. It’s a natural inclination: TED has acquired a reputation as an uber hip, highly stylized, much-talked-about conference that attracts star speakers from the likes of Oliver Sacks and Sheryl Sandberg to Bono. But for most, TED is simply not the right platform – especially if the underlying goal is to reach and influence decision makers, and grow thought leadership and business.

TED is successful because of its leadership’s tireless efforts to build a desirable platform that works. But – with all due respect – its triumph has become its biggest liability. Once inspiring and one-of-a-kind, TED is now a commercial enterprise, imitated by dozens of other platforms looking to mirror its success, its value watered down by the sheer number of speakers who have appeared there over the years. While a TED talk video might live forever online, it is also often buried in a sea of others just like it (unless perhaps Ben Affleck or Dave Eggers recommends it). And though it might give someone a bit of press for a time, it doesn’t usually make a lasting impact, nor does it turn a speaker into the next Malcolm Gladwell.

When looking for speaking engagements, consider platforms “closer to home.” What is most beneficial isn’t always the sexiest.Click To Tweet

Why TED Isn’t Right for Every Thought Leader

So when clients say they want to speak at TED, my first question is: Why?

What they tell me – they want to make a major impact, spread their ideas and expand their base – almost always leads to discussion about the hundreds of other events that will reach those same goals. Many of these intensely targeted platforms are more tailored to specific subjects and industry verticals, thus bringing together like-minded people whose interests are closely aligned (prime networking potential). The CECP Summit, for example, is geared toward philanthropy and corporate citizenship. South by Southwest V2V focuses on entrepreneurship. These are prestigious events in their own right – and are just two of the countless coveted conferences much more likely to help a thought leader evangelize his or her ideas amongst the people who matter most to his or her business than an 18-minute TED talk ever will.

Of course, this is not to say TED isn’t the ideal venue for anyone. If you’re an academic or neuroscientist or have a radical idea tied to the greater good, it can be an appropriate and influential platform. But the truth is, TED’s powers-that-be can sniff out a traditional, business-minded speaker dressed in sheep’s clothing a mile away – sales talk is not what they’re after (and you can’t pull the wool over their eyes). Sure, you might have a new idea about strategy or innovation, but it really must be unique and unbelievably clever for the folks at TED to sign you on.

Clients don’t always like hearing this insight, but our counsel is most valuable when it’s honest and aligned with their best interests – and that of their businesses. In fact, many come back after appearing at another conference we recommended to thank us for directing them away from TED and to a place that provided much more targeted exposure and opportunities for networking.

To garner the thought leadership reach to which you aspire, cast a smaller yet wider net when looking for speaking engagements, and consider new and different platforms “closer to home.” You will likely find that what is most beneficial isn’t always the sexiest.

Are speaking engagements key to achieving your communications goals in 2017? Our free guide can help make sure your strategy is the right one.

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Tara’s curiosity and creativity consistently drive clients and colleagues toward their goals in ways never before imagined. Whether she is making powerful connections on the conference circuit or translating narrative into a compelling visual form, Tara is counted on for her sharp ability to make communications concepts come to life. In her role as vice president, she leads our direct engagement competency and guides strategy for visual and graphic projects. Tara’s inquisitive nature extends to her personal life where she is learning to craft leather handbags and building a hockey rink for her children in her backyard.