TED is all about big ideas. Conference talks cover a wide spectrum of topics and styles, and have historically been given by some of the world’s most well-known personalities and brightest thinkers like Bill Gates or Al Gore. If there’s a negative blip on TED’s radar, which is arguable, it’s been maybe a bit of an elitist reputation—the notion that it’s put on by smart people, for smart people, and the masses are not invited. But now, with a new contest called “Full Spectrum,” TED aims to open up the speaker floor at the 2012 conference to at least one relative unknown.

That’s right, TED is accepting auditions for speakers. The 2012 conference theme will be “Full Spectrum,” which is their way of highlighting the “technologies, formats, and styles to make an impact on an audience.” In other words… they’re looking for speakers and presentations that stretch the traditional conference-speaker format into new territory.

There are, of course, a host of ways to tweak the traditional speaker-audience relationship. TED lists a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:

  • a ‘slide-blizzard’, more images than words
  • a talk accompanied by an imaginative soundtrack
  • a talk given in front of a custom-animated movie
  • clever ‘choreography’ between a speaker’s words and what we see on-screen
  • improv / audience interaction
  • intense campfire-style storytelling
  • a brilliant performance (music, spoken-word, dance  … surprise us!)
  • a rant delivered at blitzkrieg pace, an intelligent comic routine, a mystery
  • a remarkable new invention
  • or… just an amazingly good classic TED talk with an ingenious ‘idea worth spreading’

The contest runs for a few more days–April 25th is the deadline. Interested parties need to complete the online application here, and also upload a one-minute audition video to YouTube or Vimeo.

Now… I could stop right there. And we could spend a few minutes discussing what the winning individual’s style or topic might be. But it seemed pretty obvious to me that we should take a look at a few auditions. Just a few minutes browsing both video platforms is all it took to find several “Full Spectrum” audition videos that have already been uploaded. Let’s take a look at a few, shall we?

This fellow named Igor Lipinski has some pretty wild ideas about audience interaction and showcasing the power of the human mind:


Chris Houchens is aiming for one of those “clever choreography between speaker and slides” talks:

This college student has some big ideas about “the way people think”:

Ryan ONeil is going for sensory overload–grabbing the audience’s attention with sights, sounds, and more:

This Vimeo user has a passion for correcting misunderstood scientific principles, and uses some animation to help make his point:

Heather Slutzky wants to talk about how to “become a compassionate, empowered medical advocate for someone you love”:

So even with just a sampling of the audition videos that applicants have made public, we can see there are big ideas all around—and big ideas about how to present our big ideas. Of course, this is exactly what TED was hoping for. It would be foolish to assume that everyone with “an idea worth spreading” had already been discovered or risen to the top. So with just one little stone, TED is going to be able to kill two birds—to help dust off the elitist criticism and also find another gem of a session for their next annual conference.

If you’d like to be a speaker at TED2012, you have a few days left to apply–be sure to let us know if you do so that we can all check out your audition video.