How I Got a TEDx Talk

Click to watch "Stop Searching for Your Passion"

Click to watch “Stop Searching for Your Passion”

The only thing more stunning than walking into the Kauffman Center in Kansas City when it’s full of people is when you’re the only one there.

That’s where I stood, slack jawed and awestruck on Saturday afternoon, August 29, 2015, hours before the thousands descended for the annual TEDxKC event. The pale wooden panels of this huge vaulted space gave the whole room a warm, golden cast. I felt like I was in the hull of some monster ship, or a cathedral, or tucked right inside God’s ear. I stepped up onto the round red carpet, the x-marks-the-spot for TED presenters.

And Then…

And I thought what anyone else would think: WTF am I doing here? Impostor syndrome is like psychological herpes—it’s far more widespread than you think, and while it may be inactive or latent much of the time, an outbreak can be easily triggered, and there you are with a full-blown case. It doesn’t go away, and you basically hope that it will go back to wherever it spends most of its time hiding.

Why wouldn’t I feel like an impostor? I, like you, have been watching TED talks for years. I even bought a book this summer, How to Deliver a TED Talk, downloaded it on my Kindle on a Sunday in Central Park, and it made me feel worse, not better. Because the author had watched and analyzed a zillion TED talks and had come up with a formula, and the whole thing made me tired. His analysis was interesting in part, but didn’t inspire. That wasn’t how this would happen.

(Psst. Interested in doing your own TEDx talk? Join me for my live, two-day workshop in NYC, Tapped to Speak LIVE June 7 & 8, 2018!  Learn more and reserve your spot at tappedtospeaklive.com.)

So How Did I Get a TEDx Talk? 

I’ll answer this question for you now, since it’s the one I get asked the most.

I am sure there’s a more standard way (research which TEDx events are happening, apply to their call for speakers, etc). But that’s not how it happened for me.

Rather, a contact of mine, Chuck Brandt, a skilled and gifted app developer at VML (the agency that runs the TEDx event), reached out. He had kept me on his radar since my days at Martha. And I hadn’t heard from him in years. Until one day in July he messaged me on FB, asking me if I wanted to do a TED talk in Kansas City. Someone had dropped out. It was less than a month away.

Um. Yes?

I love when people drop out. Seriously. It’s my jam. Nature abhors a vacuum, as do I. It’s how I got a spot at How Design Live last spring, when someone dropped out. You snooze, you lose! I was so grateful for that opportunity, and it showed—I was ranked the #1 speaker at that event. So this year, I’m going back, but not because someone else couldn’t make it.

But trust me, I in no way had this TED thing in the bag. Hardly.

TEDx director Mike Lundgren agreed to get on a Skype call with me, and asked, “The question is, do you have a TED talk in you?”

Yes, I said. And here’s what I did: I pitched. But not like sales-pitchy. I talked to him about some ideas I’d been kicking around for some time, issues that made me curious, frustrated, things that I’d thought long and hard about and thought other people would connect with.

We talked about career and relationships, wrongheaded ideas we’d fallen prey to, or that had been swallowed whole by our culture, and yet didn’t sit right with me.

And THAT was what led to the subsequent Skype call the next day, and the day after that. I talked to Mike every day for nearly a week, and I wrote more every night. We were approaching an idea.

This was the leading one: My belief that the “search for passion” is a bunch of navel-gazing garbage, and wasted effort at that. And that it’s a question people ask when they don’t know what else to ask, and we fill in answers that we think sound good. And that there’s more to a passionate life than having the single best answer to that question.

My Best Advice

Opportunity favors the well prepared, right? So my advice is this: Always be chewing on something—an idea, a thought, a question, something that eats away at you and pokes holes in the platitude-laden universe. These are the ideas that fuel your best work, writing, business ideas, blogs, products, events, and yes, TED talks.

What’s that little grain of sand working at the soft body of your mind and heart? The more you struggle with it, the more luminous the pearl.

Don’t attempt to neutralize the ideas that feel controversial. Kick the tires, honk the horns. Open them up like a speed boat to see how fast they go. Question everything. And—be willing to be vulnerable, to share a story, to tell the truth. Even if you fear others won’t like it.

I didn’t get invited to present at one of the biggest and most prestigious TEDx events in the country because I’m a “good speaker.” There are plenty of good speakers, but not nearly enough challenging, brave, risky ideas or people willing to champion them. So make it your business to cultivate those juicy ideas, and share them, any chance you get.

Join me for Tapped to Speak LIVE, June 7 & 8, 2018 in NYC! It’s going to get you fired up and focused on your stand-out signature talk.  Learn more and reserve your spot at tappedtospeaklive.com.
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Why You Should Stop Trying to Inspire People

I work with people of all backgrounds and businesses who have something to say and are dying to say it.

They want to do media and launch podcasts, give TED talks and write books. They want to “put themselves out there.” If there were two words that literally every person says to me, it’s that they want to “help people.” That’s not unique, but it’s a good direction to head in.

There’s another thing they want to do: “inspire people.” In a post-Oprah world, it’s no wonder that this is a common goal. They see authors and thought leaders and everyone else signing copies of their books and strutting around the TED stage, and it looks like those people are up there with a single goal: to be inspiring. That might be the effect, but I don’t think that’s why you get up there to begin with.

It’s not a bad intention, don’t get me wrong. But I think when we set out to inspire, we’re missing a step.

I’ve wrestled with this for a while—why it sticks in my craw, why it bugs me, why I feel like even though it seems great it’s the wrong goal. And the reason is this: It presumes I need inspiring, and that only you can fix my lowly, sordid self.

I don’t believe that’s what moves people.

When I teach people to craft their killer talks, I beg them to NOT to try to be inspiring. Be the opposite: Be vulnerable and honest and self-deprecating and real. Be willing to show how you struggled and messed up and why you’re no different from the rest of us. 

(Psst. There are still seats available for my transformational, two-day, in-person workshop event, Tapped to Speak LIVE June 7 & 8, 2018 in NYC. Learn more and snag your seat here.)

In his (amazing) book, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson talks about how the pursuit of “inspiring people” is a little too on the nose:

“Inspiration is like love. You don’t get it by pursuing it directly. In fact, there’s a name for people who pursue love too directly: stalker.”

And there it is. The reason “I want to inspire people” doesn’t work (in a talk, but really, anywhere) is because it’s more about what YOU want, not what I need. And if you assume I need what you want, you’ve jumped a few steps, and you’re no longer leading with message, but agenda.

I think of inspiration as a little like self-esteem: You can’t give it to someone; it must be earned. It’s a byproduct of vulnerability, wisdom, courage. Your willingness to take a risk will inspire us far more than anything you do “to” inspire us.

When I had the opportunity to pitch my TEDx talk idea (“Stop Searching for Your Passion”) to the organizer of TEDxKC, I never, not once, said I wanted to do it to inspire people. Are people inspired by TED talks? All the time. The good ones, anyway. But it’s not because people got up there with the sole purpose of inspiring you; they had something they wanted to say, some truth they’d come to, some struggle they’d had, and wanted to share it.

The last thing I wanted to do was “inspire people to follow their passion.” I’d always felt that “follow your passion” was unhelpful advice, and I knew I couldn’t be the only one who rankled against it. I didn’t go in to “inspire” people with my brilliance, but to share how I’d struggled with an idea, and how I’d ultimately come to terms with it. I had the sense I wasn’t alone, and I was right.

So? Don’t go in to inspire. Instead, make it a point in all that you do, whether it’s writing, speaking, leading, managing, delivering, to tell us the truth, to show us the work. To change the way we see a thing. Share your own contradictions, complexities, and struggle. Take us with you down the path of your own discovery, so we can see how you got there, what decisions, and mistakes, you made.  

That, to be sure, will be the most inspiring thing you can do.

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What’s actually missing from your talk (just ask Sarah)

I was giving a presentation the other day to a roomful of authors and people who work with authors. The topic? Why every author needs a TEDx talk. (Because they do.)

One woman raised her hand and said she’d been having trouble getting her own TEDx idea accepted. She assumed it was because she didn’t have a book. (Actually, you don’t need a book to give a TEDx talk.)

Her topic? Choosing the right career. She says that the world of work has changed dramatically, and you can’t choose the right one if you don’t know yourself.

Ok, fine, I said. But we were missing something: Her story.

That’s when she told me she herself had had SEVEN careers. Aha!

Then I said, “Does that mean you as a person kept changing, or did you not know yourself until now?”

She dismissed it quickly: “I don’t think my story would be helpful to anyone.”

Wrong, I said.

The fact that she doesn’t think her story matters is the very reason this talk hasn’t found its heart yet. She has a topic, but she has not tapped her own story yet.

So, what role does personal story play in your talk?

HUGE. Talks without story are dry as a bone, and leave no impression. But when you share something real, it changes everything.

I think of story, anecdote, examples, scenes as the FAT of a talk—an essential fat. Ideas and data are like fat soluble vitamins—you can’t digest them without the fat. And that’s why story-less talks slip right through your system, undigested.

You can also have a story—an amazing, terrifying, moving, amazing story—and not have much of a talk. Because a talk isn’t just storytelling, either—you must extract meaning. You need both if you’re going to knock it out of the park.

Sarah Montana (below) is a writer and performer. She does not yet have a book. She does have one hell of a story, though, and it took her years to be able to tell it.

In the TEDx talk you absolutely must watch (“The Real Risk of Forgiveness—and Why It’s Worth It”), Sarah tells the story of how two members of her family were murdered in their home.

It is, hands down, one of the most powerful talks you will see.

But it’s not JUST “hey this happened and it was terrible” (which of course it is). It’s about how you wrestle with forgiving the unforgivable.

She challenges the very notion of forgiveness, and changes the way we see it. Do you have to have endured traumatic loss to tell a worthwhile story? Wrong again. You just have to have lived on the planet a while and experienced something, anything. (Seriously, watch it.)

So, how does YOUR story challenge how we see things? Think about it.

The reason I mention it is not just because it just went live…but because who ELSE to teach the power of personal story than Sarah?

Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that Sarah Montana will be one of the featured presenters at Tapped to Speak LIVE, the live in-person workshop I’m hosting in NYC June 7 & 8.

You’ll not only start writing your talk right then and there—you’ll learn how to wield your own personal stories responsibly (and how to know you’re ready to tell them).

(Learn more about that event here.)

The key to partnering with other humans

If you think that being a successful person, professional, entrepreneur, or human requires that you “do it on your own,” boy are you making life hard for yourself.

I’ve been on my own for almost 7 years now—7!—since I was laid off from my magazine job. And people always say, “Wow, you went out on your own. You built this on your own.”

Kinda. And kinda…not.

I wouldn’t be anywhere without other people. And if we’re being honest, NONE of us would. It’s a misnomer, the idea that you have to do it all on your own.

Being independent does NOT mean you seek no help from anyone. What it means, to me anyway, is that you’re resourceful, capable, and not able to do everything, but that you know how to enlist the support of those who can.

I’ve had some very successful collaborations with other people. Some are long-term, like the business partnership I have with Paula Rizzo, cofounder of Lights Camera Expert (who was a friend for years before we started sharing a bank account).

In fact, people ask Paula and me all the time how we made, and continue to make, our partnership work. Granted, some people are JUST business partners, meaning all biz all the time, and they don’t have a friendship outside of their work. Fact is, Paula also happens to be one of my very best friends, too. That means there’s some balancing to do.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR PARTNERSHIP ALIVE AND WELL

1 | Know your roles

I know what I’m good at, and what she’s good at. And most important, we agree on these things.

If I’m going to benefit from Paula’s gift for creating spreadsheets and general order out of chaos, I have to admit that that’s not my jam. And while Paula is a published writer and is quite capable of drafting copy, she knows that’s what I do really well (and really fast) and so she lets me do that. If pressed, either of us could do the other thing of course! But we move more quickly and efficiently if we allow each other to do what we’re best at.

2 | Keep romance alive

To be clear, Paula and I are not romantic partners. But when I say “romance” I mean the part of us that keeps us connected as humans, keeps us in love with what we do and if we’re being honest, in love with each other (albeit in a platonic way).

If all we do is email, we will lose that. We make it a point to have dinner, to hang out, sometimes drink aperol spritzes on the roof of her apartment building—and not talk about work. We need to remember that we are people and friends, and to laugh at stuff and have fun. NOT just worry about our email funnel. The minute Paula and I have nothing but email funnels to talk about, it’s over.

3 | Don’t get it twisted. I love texting, and I do it ad nauseum. But. Sometimes texts can be taken out of conTEXT. They can be misread, or misunderstood. They hit the wrong tone, by accident, and before you know it, one of us is thinking that the other is mad or isn’t listening. Bad news.

So what we make regular practice of now is voice text. Meaning: You leave a message via text using your voice (sorry Android users, not sure how that works in your world).

This makes all the difference in the WORLD. Because then you hear the message and the tone, and this prevents anything being taken the wrong way.

I make sure I do it particularly when talking about things that could easily be misunderstood, or when I want her to hear the tone, and warmth, in my voice. She does the same. It can also be really fun.

AlSO, SEE OTHER PEOPLE

Paula is very important to me. She’s a long-term partner. Others are short-term, meaning we partnered for a few successful one-off projects, and we keep looking for ways to do more stuff.

Take Tricia Brouk, and we come from different industries, with different backgrounds. Tricia is a force. Choreographer, director, podcaster, coach, writer, artist. TEDx curator and producer. She’s really something to behold. (And I like being around people like that. So I make sure I’m around her as much a I can be.)

We have similar interests. We even offer some similar services in the speaker consulting business.

In the short time since we’ve met, we’ve gone to and supported each other’s shows. We’ve asked for each other’s opinion and given honest feedback. She wrote me into a screenplay she was working on. If you look closely at a video she did to promote her fitness business, I’m in the background doing deep knee bends.

She produces TEDxLincolnSquare, and I will send people her way whom I think could be a great fit for her show. The first year, she booked me to do standup comedy at her TEDx event…and then the following year, invited me to host the thing!  

Why does this work? Because Tricia and I know the difference between managing and collaborating. We trust each other to do our thing, and create safe containers in which to do it. THIS IS KEY if you want to do more stuff with more amazing people.

We recently did a FB live together to discuss the art of collaboration, to promote the premiere of a mini-doc she directed and produced, called “Just Enough” (more about it here).  

Our next step together as collaborators?

I’ve invited her to be a featured speaker at my first live, in-person workshop, Tapped to Speak LIVE, where I’m helping professional speakers up their game and create their own TEDx talks. Remember, Tricia and I both work with private clients to do this.

But she not only offered to come help my attendees learn to deliver with power from the stage…she is promoting the event to her OWN list as an affiliate and has already sold a bunch of tickets! Now that’s pretty stellar collaboration.

PRACTICE COLLABORATING

So how to do you invite more short term opportunities and feel out potential longer term partners? You need to date them. Here’s how:

Show up to—and support—the people you admire. As you meet new people, and separate the ones you like from everyone else, take an interest in them. Show up to their shows, their events. Buy tickets, reserve seats, opt-in to their lists. Share their stuff on social media. Take them out to lunch. Show an interest in what they’re doing, not just how they can help you.

Don’t push to get “married” too soon. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you’re looking for a long-term partner, you need to start with short-term. Paula and I didn’t start our business on day 2 of our friendship. We had had a long time observing each other at work and play before we made that jump.

Plus, if you push for something with high stakes and big commitments before you know who they are or what they value, you not only risk a potential partnership, you could ruin the relationship.

Take some low-stakes gambits, and find out what they’re like stressed. Dream big, sure. But start very small. Rather than attempt to collaborate on a 2000-person event with someone, start with a little workshop. Or a webinar. Give yourselves each a chance to try taking risks and even losing a little together.

It’s like what they say about picking a life partner: Seeing them at their best is easy. What you need is to see them at their worst. Make it a point to be around them after they’ve been drinking too much, or had no sleep, or under a lot of stress. THAT is the person you’re dealing with.

You can’t change a person, but you must know what you’re getting involved with. That goes for marriage, and business partners, and friends, too. The best and most successful partnerships will be those with a capacity and real interest in knowing and working with the other person as they are, not as you wish they could be.

…Pssst. Is giving a TEDx talk on your bucket list? Join me for Tapped to Speak LIVE, a transformational two-day in-person workshop in New York City on June 7 & 8. Walk in with a bunch of half-formed thoughts, walk out with your TED-worth idea. To learn more and reserve your seat, visit tappedtospeaklive.com. 

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3 Things that Keep Good Speakers from Being Great

If you’re a speaker, or would like to be, chances are you watch other speakers with a very keen eye.

Maybe you scrutinize the bio. Watch the way they carry themselves on stage. Maybe you judge them based on how relatable they are, or how useful their content is. 

And if we’re being honest, you may wonder how we measure up. Could I do that just as well as she is? Could I be maybe even better? Why aren’t I up there, by the way?

I thought the same thing myself, every time I was at an event. Sometimes I was blown away by the speaker. But most of the time, not.

As my own speaking career grows, I have had the opportunity to see and work with even more speakers. And I see the same mistakes over and over again that hold good speakers back from being great.

1 | They underestimate the power of story.

Nothing compels and connects like story. Meaning: narrative examples of other humans. Versus, say, statistics.

If you’re about to get up in front of a group of people, realize, they’re going to pay closer attention to stories, and care more about them than pie chart. Never sacrifice story to put in more information, because stories are what help us digest and interpret information. A bar graph with 12 pt font is the death knell of attention.  

2| They think their topic is interesting (or boring).

Ah! A common mistake that everyone makes. There IS no such thing as a boring or interesting topic.

It’s true.

You can make anything interesting, and anything boring. It’s all in the positioning and articulation of the talk. BUT. If you think your topic is too boring—or already interesting—you’re not doing the work to make it compelling. I’ve seen one person make Excel spreadsheets look like fun, and another make sex toys look like a snooze. 

==> Want to do this yourself? Click here to get early bird notice of Tapped to Speak 2019 to craft your TED-worthy talk. 

3| They assume the audience is on the same page.

They are not. Assume the audience has zero context for what you’re saying—even if they’re in your industry.

That doesn’t mean you patronize or talk down to them. But it does mean provide enough context that we can follow you, because we’re really not. In fact—sorry—what were you just saying?

Assume we’re intelligent but are walking in cold (because we are), and we’re also very distracted. If someone stops following you, what you’re saying, or what you mean, they don’t listen harder. They tune out. 

A great talk isn’t one that’s delivered by a sales consultant or a bigger personality than you. It’s one that’s both universal…and uniquely yours. 

This means that as long as you have a very clearly articulated and relevant point and do the work to make it matter to your audience, trust me, you’re doing more than most. Some people stroll on stage and pop open a can of spam. And everyone knows it.

I can’t say it enough: Your stories, your insights, your ideas—not cliche, not motivational mumbo-jumbo—has the power to change the way someone sees their work, their job, even their lives. Make it count.

 

Join me for Tapped to Speak LIVE, a transformational, two-day in-person workshop event April 4 & 5, 2019 in Boston, where you’ll learn to develop your TED-worthy talk. Space is limited! Learn more and get on the waitlist for early bird pricing here.

 

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Are TEDx talks played out?

I was at a party last year that was attended mainly by authors, agents, and PR people. And one of the authors heard that I helped people create their TEDx talks.

“Isn’t TED kind of played out,” she said, poking at her gin and tonic with a straw. It wasn’t a question.

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“Well, because it’s like everyone has one now.”

I paused, then said carefully, “You just published a book, right?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well….why? I mean, aren’t books played out? Doesn’t everyone have one by now?”

“Good point.”

I tell this story because she’s not alone. With the rise of TED (as with the rise of anything), the more people like a thing or want a thing, there’s always a group of people who now think it’s no longer cool or relevant.

Say, if you were way into the Dave Matthews Band in the 90s, and decided that after “Under the Table and Dreaming” album, anyone who was into them was a chump.

Insert any trend. Skinny jeans. Soy lattes. The list goes on.

Not only do more people watch TED talks, tons of independently organized TEDx events have cropped up all over the globe. TED has become the gold standard for public speaking, and more people not only consume them, but give them.

After the canon of TED talks went globally viral (and anyone you talk to about their fave talks will name one of them), there was an explosion in TEDx talks, and so it’s unlikely you’ve seen them all. And it’s unlikely that they’re all amazing (they’re not).

Now that there is more of an opportunity to give a TEDx talk than ever before, you might think that they’ve lost cache, value, or relevance. Nope.

TEDx talks remain a pretty strong calling card for the public speaking world…and it will work for you IF YOUR TALK IS GOOD. It’s a bigger pot than it was 8 years ago, but cream still rises. 

And no, not all TEDx talks are amazing just because they’re given on a TEDx stage. It’s a real mixed bag. Because TEDx events are independently organized, what you’re seeing online is the result of one person or team’s decision and curation. Period.

There are lots of factors at play as to why some get viewed more than others. But it’s safe to say that the good ones get shared, and the views mean something.

Think of it like book sales. Sure, there are also lots of bad books out there that were published by mainstream publishers. Some you don’t like will sell a ton and garner millions of readers. Others won’t.

(Dying to give a TEDx talk and want to learn how to do it? Join me in NYC June 7 & 8, 2018 for Tapped to Speak LIVE.)


Bottom line: A TEDx talk is still worth doing—and that means it’s worth doing well. Here’s why:

  1. It’s instant cred. Like it or not, having a TEDx talk matters. I’m not saying you have to be the next Brene Brown to give one, but fact is, the TED brand connotes value, even if your talk doesn’t set the world on fire. What do they say about what you call someone who graduated at the bottom of their medical school class? Doctor.

    TEDx is a media brand—and to get on that stage, you have to have passed someone’s test. Just as you must to gain the approval media gatekeepers to get booked for this or that show, or have your book put out by a major publisher.

    My life changed after my TEDx talk, no doubt. Even before it had millions of views. Having it, and having that thing to share, mattered. Especially when people were wondering if they should have me speak at their event. I don’t even have a speakers reel yet, and I have kicked myself for that for years. And then I realized–that TEDx talk is all people needed to see.
  2. It’s a powerful thought leadership platform. If you want to be known for what you think, for your story, your idea, the TEDx stage is a great place to share it. Why? Because when you’re on that stage, it’s not about your business or brand or what you’re selling. It’s all about the IDEA. Thought leaders are known for how they think about the world, and if you want to change the way people think, the TEDx stage is the place to do it.

    Not all TEDx talkers are thought leaders, and not all thought leaders have TEDx talks. But if you see yourself as a thought leader, you’d be nuts not to consider doing one.
  3. It forces you to get to the heart of your message. It’s easy to get caught up in jargon, in industry language, to get “small” around your idea because you’re used to talking to a specific group of people most of the time.

    But a TEDx talk requires that you think bigger than your brand or your business. You need to have an idea that people who do not know you or your industry can relate to and take something from.

    A TEDx talk is its own animal. Chris Anderson does an amazing job of explaining that in his book, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. He is the man behind TED as we know it today.

    Giving a TEDx talk requires that you share an idea. NOT just that something happened to you or that you did something good once. It requires that you extract meaning from a situation, a story, a truth. And when you do that? You can change everything. You could land on your idea for your next book, your next business even. You can reach people who want to meet you just on the basis of that idea.

I’ll tell you what IS played out: Cliche.

Now that there is a body of TEDx work out there, the onus is on new speakers to innovate, to share fresh ideas, or fresh takes on old ideas.

If you’ve heard it done a million times before, then you need to dig deeper into why this matters most. I’m not saying you can’t do a talk on a similar subject as another speaker; you just can’t brush up against easy platitudes and same-old advice.

In my experience, it’s not that someone doesn’t have a good idea; it’s that they don’t take that idea far ENOUGH. They stop short of meaning and originality, and settle with what’s familiar and easy. That’s cliche, and it won’t work.

Instead, your job as a TEDx speaker is to challenge an existing idea, to question the way we’ve always thought about things. To put something into our heads that gives us a new tool for thinking and perceiving the world.

Played out? Not a chance.

Want to up your speaking game in a big way, and maybe even craft and pitch your own TEDx talk? Join me in NYC June 7 & 8 for Tapped to Speak LIVE, a transformational two-day event where you’ll learn how to turn your ideas, expertise, and personal story into a TED-worthy talk. Space is limited! (Trust me! I saw the room!)

How to get people to pay attention (because they’re not)

It’s hard to get people to listen, for like, longer than two seconds. It really is. Even when it’s their job to pay attention.

Ever read Oren Klaff’s “Pitch Anything?” He made it so clear to me why we miss the mark:

It’s because we assume that the moment we pitch (what we think is a genius) idea to someone, we imagine we’re transmitting that idea from the smartest part of our brain to the smartest part of theirs.

Nope. Not how it works. At all.

What happens is that this (genius) idea leaves the CEO’s office of your brain…and has to actually go around back and face off with the big dumb bouncer at the base of the other person’s brain stem—the part that’s 5 million years behind and communicates in grunts.

In other words, every time you pitch, you start from scratch.

You can’t start at level 7 or 8 (which is what we tend to do). You have to go back to zero, maybe subzero, to make it really clear. Can’t explain it or don’t want to take the time? You’re done. No one wants to run to play catchup—they need you to slow down so they can get on the bus.

This applies in literally every incident in which you’ll pitch an idea—from getting your boss to give you a promotion to getting your spouse to go with you to see a romcom.

But for people who are trying to get their ideas heard in the media, it’s particular important. Because you know why most people don’t end up getting on TV or being featured in magazines and podcasts? 

Not because they’re not smart or attractive enough.

And not because they have nothing to say. 

Either they don’t know how to ask, or they simply don’t ask, period. 

I spent the better part of a decade as a magazine editor at Martha Stewart. My biz partner Paula Rizzo spent so many years as a TV news producer (Emmy award-winning, mind you), that she backtimes her grocery delivery (it’s a producer thing. She’s ruined for life.) 

And over the course of our media careers, we’ve said no to most pitches that came across our desks, and yes to a fraction of 1%.

And if you’ve ever worked in a newsroom or editorial office, you’d hear all the crosstalk that happens as media gatekeepers of every stripe talking about why they can’t use half the things they get—and why they jump all over the good ones.

But unless you were a fly on the wall, HOW WOULD YOU KNOW? You wouldn’t.

And while yes, you have to cultivate relationships with the media (and there is an art to that), you also have to have something they want. I don’t care how “nice” you are. Without a great idea, you can’t get anywhere. Trust me on that. 

So…what DO they want? What’s the best way to give it to them?

  1. Something that serves them, not you. I know you want to promote your book, your brand, your business. That new mission or revolution or cool tech product you came up with. That’s great! But no one is interested in promoting your stuff. They’re not.It’s like trying to get someone you don’t know to care about your kid’s baby pictures. Cute, but, like, I not only don’t know who this kid is, but I don’t know who YOU are.

    Instead, start where THEY are. What do THEY want? Well. Something valuable to THEIR audience, and which fits what they’re trying to do as a publication or outlet or show. You’ve got to start with where they are, not where you are.

  2. An idea that challenges an old assumption.Cliches are like weeds in a newsroom or editorial office. They persist endlessly and take up space. Editors and producers are ignoring or expunging them to clear the way for the real stuff.

    Since editors and producers have seen and done everything before, their eyerolls are on a hair trigger.

    So even if it’s new to you, assume that an idea you have (for a story, topic, segment) is probably one they’ve come across. So take the assumption—and twist it. How can you come at your approach in a FRESH way? A counterintuitive way? Challenge yourself in the process, and you will come up with something you might not have thought of.

There are so many other “open” secrets about pitching media. And trust me, the media is not trying to keep any of it a secret! They wish everyone knew these things but they simply do not have time to teach you.

But we do. And we’re doing it for free on March 13 and 14, 2018.

Paula and I are running our live free training, 5 Little Known Secrets to Snagging Media Attention, and you can register for it here.

I know everyone says spots are limited, but this is the truth because the Zoom webinar we use caps at 100, and we’re close to full. BUT. If someone who did register doesn’t show up, you could grab their spot. But you have to be on the list. 

So get on it! It’s going to be so fun. And besides. It’s high time more people knew about you. 

==> REGISTER NOW!

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3 Life Lessons You Can Learn from Being on TV

If you’re smart, you’ll learn something new from every job. And given that you’ll switch, not just jobs, but careers several times over your life, your unique advantage comes from the wisdom you pick up along the way.

If you worked in customer service, you’ll know how to handle clients when you go into business for yourself.

If you used to work as a reporter, you’ll have a nose for asking the right questions when you start law school.

And if you’ve ever douched your own nasal passages on national TV, you’ll know how to, quite literally, go with the flow.

(True story. More on that in a minute.)

For years I served as a magazine editor at Martha Stewart—and part of my job was doing regular TV segments on hers and other daytime shows. I also hosted my own daily radio show on Sirius XM for years.

Media, I’ve found, is a pretty powerful crucible for learning how to think on your feet when it matters most.

And should you decide to pursue media as part of your career (say as a contributing expert or guest, or perhaps even as an editor or producer), here are some key insights that will serve you on the air—and everywhere else.

Lesson #1: Keep it moving

In TV, you have maybe 3 to 5 minutes tops, so you have to make the best of every single one of them—especially on live TV. There is no editing, and there’s no time to hit the brakes if things go awry.

One time on Martha’s show, I was demonstrating a series of meditation apps. They worked fine during rehearsal. But when we went live? No dice. There we were, and for two long seconds the balloons that were supposed to dance across the screen, didn’t.

Martha started asking, “Why isn’t it working,” and rather than dwell on it, I waved it off (“Who knows?”) and kept things going. I said, “Well, what you would have seen, had it worked, was…” and spent a second or two explaining it, rendering the actual demo unnecessary.

In Real Life (IRL): Don’t dwell on it. Doesn’t matter if your powerpoint slides wouldn’t advance, or why three people canceled on your meeting. We waste far too much time looking backwards, trying to edit the past.

Obviously, understand a problem well enough so that you don’t let it happen again. But there are some times when inexplainable blips occur and at some point, it isn’t worth revisiting.

Instead, think like a host who is on to the following segment: “Next up! Let’s find out how to juice kale at home!” It doesn’t matter why the world didn’t going your way. Just. Keep. Going.

Lesson #2: Make an impression

The people who do well as on-air contributors are not only clear communicators—they aren’t afraid to stake their claim.

The people I booked as experts on my radio show were those who brought their ideas and opinions to the table, not the ones who played it safe all the time.

IRL: The more you waffle and hesitate, the less impressive and less interesting you become. The people who stand out and get tapped for bigger opportunities are the ones who aren’t afraid to own up to what they really think, and stand by it.

Lesson #3: Be game for anything

There’s no room on TV to do anything less than 100 percent. Even if you’re nervous. Better to see it through than fail halfway.

I was about to step onto the set of Martha to discuss a series of natural flu remedies, including the neti pot, an ages-old practice of flushing the nasal passages with warm saline water.

The plan changed five minutes before I went on the air, when the producer said, “Martha wants you to demo the neti pot.”

Um, what?

“Get me a towel and a bowl,” I said. And I walked on stage and douched my nose on national television. It was messy and, yes, I was dying a little inside as I did it. But you can’t fake a neti pot demo. You have to go all in.

(You can watch that clip here—at the 1:50 mark)

The audience laughed, Martha clapped, and a clip of it ended up on some online video called “WTF is going on with daytime TV?”

That was a win.

IRL: Commit. You’ll get real props for trying something, whether it works out or not—especially if you fully commit to doing it.

Realize that you don’t actually learn much from doing things right. You learn from doing it period. Win or lose, the effort teaches you so much more, not only about what you have done—but, more importantly, what you can do.

Want to learn more about how to be a go-to media expert? Register for the FREE online training I’m giving with seasoned TV producer Paula Rizzo, “5 (Little-Known) Ways to Snag Media Attention…That Even PR Pros Get Wrong” on March 13th or 14th.

Knowing things you shouldn’t know

I was on a first date last summer when I decided to play the game again: I asked this man if he had had a dog growing up. All I knew was that he was raised in Missouri, the youngest of three boys.

“Yes, I did, actually.”

I could almost see the dog in my head. “You had a middle sized, reddish brown mutt named … Matty.”

He looked at me curiously. “You’re almost 100 percent right. Not Matty, but…”

“No. Stop. Wait. I know it’s a person’s name. It sounds like ma.” I waited a beat. “The dog’s name was Max.”

He was stunned. “Ok, now I’m a little freaked out.”

So was I. The weirdest part was that it wasn’t the first time that had happened, particularly involving dogs.

A few years prior, I was visiting Florida with my then-boyfriend, and we stopped by the home of an elderly couple his parents knew, but he didn’t, in fact he’d never been there before. We weren’t told anything about this couple. But as we got out of the car, in my mind I saw two bloodhounds race out the front door. It was just the flash of an image.

“Do you know if these guys have dogs?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Really? Because I feel like they have two bloodhounds.”

“What? That’s random. No. I have no idea.”


We walked into the house; no dogs. In fact, we were there 30 minutes before I heard my boyfriend, who was in another conversation in another part of the house, say “What? Tell Terri that. Tell her.”

“Yes, we have dogs. Two of them.”

“Yeah. What kind.”

“Two bloodhounds. They’re outside somewhere.”

Now that’s weird. And if that were it, that’d be weird enough.

I was telling my sisters about all this last summer while drinking frozen margaritas on the patio of a bar in Newport, Rhode Island.

“Why do you know these things? Better yet, why don’t we?”

I waved over a waiter. “Ok this is going to sound weird, but yes or no, did you have a dog growing up.”

“Yes.”

“It was a fluffy white little dog, right? Not a poodle, but something like that.”

The waiter, who was sweating, dirty glasses in his hands, smiled and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“Yes. It was a Bijon.”

“What!” my sisters said in unison. My youngest sister shook her head. “Could I have another one of these,” she said, gesturing to her slushy glass.

And if THAT wasn’t weird enough, I was visiting a new friend who lives in the West Village, a Tarot card reader and astrologist—whom you wouldn’t have to be a psychic to imagine had a small fluffy dog at some point. I told him about all of this strange dog-knowledge, and he said, “Well, you might have some psychic ability. You just might.”

Then I said: “Kevin, I would have thought you had a dog.”

“Oh yes, we did,” he said, cranking the cork out of a bottle of pinot grigio. “Jack. He died two years ago.”

Hmm. He walked out of the room a moment to get something, and a name flashed through my head, loud, as if someone had whispered it in my ear.

“Alright, then who’s Teddy?” I called out after him.

Kevin walked into the room slowly with a weird look on his face. “Teddy was my very first dog,” he said.

Now realize that for every time I get it right, there are many I get flat-out wrong. I find it easiest to guess a thing if I’m new to that person, and there’s nothing else to cloud my vision. And yet, I find as soon as I “try” to know a thing, to get it right, to impress them, it’s game over. I’m wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was on a first date last week and I was sure he’d had a black dog, a spaniel of some sort. It was almost like he wanted me to get it right, but the fact was it had been a chocolate lab and I was way off. But then I said, “Ok wait let me guess. You’re the youngest of three. Your sister is the oldest, and your brother is the middle child.”

“Ok that’s weird. Now I’m freaked out.”

I’ve guessed two people’s first names, and one person’s last name. I can do birth order, turns out, but not birthdays.

Understand this is a perfectly useless party trick. And it’s a secret I should probably keep to myself because all of those dates were first dates, and I haven’t seen them since. Of course there were many other factors, and if you think I know what those are, I don’t.

If I have any kind of psychic ability, aside from sheer luck, it’s sporadic and not to be trusted. It’s like having a weird genius friend who, when she shows up, makes you look amazing. Most of the time, she flakes. But when she’s around, it’s magic.

I’m not about to make my fortune as a fortune teller or psychic. Nor would I want to—that pressure is far too great. I don’t even think I “have a gift.” I think the gift borrows me from time to time, a kind of tempermental genie who uses me as a party trick.

Fact is, I don’t know anything that anyone else doesn’t. In fact, I probably know far less. In fact, most people don’t know as much as you think. Not your mother, not your boss, your dentist, your lover.

We are all winging it, in one way or another, and I don’t altogether think that’s a bad thing.

I really don’t. Some people claim it, own it, identify with the spontaneity, bask in the notion of being guided by a big benevolent, unseen hand. Others blame circumstances, or other people, or themselves. I think we’d be shocked if we all realized how little each of us knows. Which is why we enforce a kind of fiction, that we all know precisely what we’re doing, which makes us feel a little bit better.

We have resumes and accolades and milestones to point to, that light the way we’ve come and hopefully shed some of it on where we’re going. But if we say that we know where we’re headed and exactly how we’ll get there, we’re lying.

But no one knows what is or will happen, and you won’t know, and that’s kind of the best part. It’s a secret we’ve all asked each other kindly to keep so that the world starts to make sense, but I don’t know that it achieves that goal, or needs to.

Author and entrepreneur Peter Shankman likes to say, “Every day an entrepreneur gets out of bed and jumps off a cliff, and fashions her parachute on the way down.”

It’s true—and not just for entrepreneurs. This is what all of us do every day. Improv actors will tell you life is improv, and opportunities happen not when you write a script and follow it, but when you say yes to what comes up.

Life may be a box of chocolates. But if we’re being honest, it’s more like a big, lumbering bus, and we’re basically all keeping ourselves busy waiting for it to lumber around the corner, and pause long enough for us to climb on.


The fiction is that we know everything. The fun is that we don’t. The fun is guessing, and guessing it wrong. I’m tickled when I’m flat-out wrong, by anything—my surefooted assumptions, my knee-jerk judgments. When I’m wrong, it often comes as a relief. Because it means I don’t know everything, because if I thought I did, I’d collapse under the burden.  

So how will you know what to do or say today or tomorrow? How will you know how to push your life forward? Getting hurt or burned or let down helps. So does being loved. That’s as good a guide as you’ll get. And most of it, really, is listening for it, hazarding a guess. If you’re lucky, you may land it from time to time. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll have no idea what’s next.