Episode 5 – How To Select and Equip TEDx Speakers with Tamsen Webster

Tamsen Webster

Part two of our series on preparing for TEDx. Bob and Jon welcome Tamsen Webster to program. Tamsen is Sr VP of Executive Communications at Oratium, and the Executive Producer of TEDx Cambridge. As producer she finalizes the roster and is charged with preparing the speakers before they take the TEDx stage. Listening on the go? Bookmark this for future reference because you’ll find lots of great points to notate. Enjoy!


During this episode

Dmitri Gunn, Executive Director of TEDx Cambridge, got Tamsen Webster involved with the event. As executive producer, Tamsen is in charge of who gets on stage, and equipping them beforehand.

The ideal time to prepare TEDx speakers is 12 weeks with heavy emphasis on the construction of the talk. The delivery doesn’t matter if the material isn’t solid.

TEDx Cambridge has a multi-stage process for selecting speakers. Typically, they have 40+ submissions plus others they seek out based on recommendations.

They look for ideas that have a potential to change the world (one’s state, community, industry, etc), and domain of authority – that the idea relates strongly to the speaker.

TEDx Cambridge events usually have 6-8 speakers. They do not seek them out to “fit” a theme. They’re not looking for a collection of conference keynotes.


The Junior Satorialist: Tobias Otting was nine years old when he took the stage at TEDx Cambridge. Tamsen and his mother, Laura Gassner Otting, trained for the Boston Marathon in 2013.


TEDx Cambridge speakers start by defining what action they want the audience to take as result of hearing their talk, what information do they need to come to that conclusion and what are the stories and examples they need to support that.

People who are natural speakers can have a difficult time adapting to the TED style.

Great comedy is scripted. Comedians go over their material again and again. Honing it to deliver maximum impact. Delivering a great TED talk is no different.

Progression of constructing a TED talk

You are now entering The Valley of Awkward

Learn the talk, don’t memorize. Aim for a conversation at large.

“I’m sorry I wrote you a long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short one.” – Tamsen Webster quoting Mark Twain

Be forewarned: Mother Webster has the power to pull a speaker before they go on stage.

There’s no better prep exercise than having the speakers see each other rehearse.

S l o w  d o w n  o n  y o u r  m a i n  p o i n t s

Advice to TEDx Executive Producers – put faith in the audience and your speakers. It all starts with the design of the event and the speaker selection. It’s not just the quality of the idea, but the character of the speaker.




We asked Tamsen to describe her husband Tom Webster. Tom is an EVP at Edison Research and tells the story of numbers. “He has a marvelous ability to see right to the heart of the story that’s often hiding in the columns.”

If Tom gave a TED Talk it might be entitled “How Do We Restore America’s Ability To Have Civil Debate?”