This weekend I went to see my friend perform in a staged reading of “Welcome to the Doll Den.”

It’s a play inspired by real-life events about the first all-female radio station, WGAL, in Memphis, Tennessee in 1955.

Talk about standing out—these ladies were the first, they were special, they were different.

Over the course of the next decade, however, things changed…dramatically.

The civil rights movement, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the rise of feminism, a host of unrest—all of this challenges WGAL’s idea of what its role on the air even is.

Are they willing to open up the phones and talk about the (real) issues, rather than swap recipes? Can they be not just a novelty act, but real leaders?

Or are they stuck on being “dolls”—providing cute, lightweight, benign radio while the rest of the world moves on?

To their credit, the jockeys were willing and brave…but surprise surprise! Management wasn’t. The show ends on a sad note: WGAL closes its doors and goes off the air for good.

After the reading, there was a “talk back” with the director and performers. This particular work has been through many iterations. No fewer than 30 artists, writers, and performers have had a hand in the play so far. (Learn more about Electric Eye Ensemble here.)

The feedback came first from people who had seen earlier iterations, and who were attached to their initial experiences of the show. Ok, fine.

But they wanted the artists to “make it more hopeful” and to “give the characters more wins.” I was shocked. This brainy and theater-minded audience of New York theatergoers wanted, it seemed, to be comforted more than challenged.

I, of course, can’t keep my trap shut. So I spoke up.

“First,” I said, “I’ve never seen this show before. And I loved it, and didn’t need more songs or more hope or more Disney characters or a happy ending.”

(My friend, who was sitting with her fellow actors, burst out laughing. She knows me.)

I went on to say that there is a dangerous temptation to want every woman to win at everything, and win the long game, and earn their Hollywood ending. But that isn’t how any of this works.

Every big step—and WGAL was a big step—takes us a bit further down the road. But no one takes us all the way. We all play our part, and sometimes that part ends.

But it’s worth looking at this, too:

WGAL lessened its impact (and lost its business) because its leaders feared taking their innovation beyond novelty.

They made history by being first, yes. But being “new” is not the same as being sustainable, or taking real risks.

What were they afraid of? Of opening up the mics and hearing what people really thought. Of getting into the real issues, of fights, disagreements. They wanted to be sweet as sugar, and were afraid to offer anything but.

You may not think that any of this applies to you, but boy does it.

Because how often do we beg off tough questions and issues because we’re afraid of conflict? How often do we go with safe and sweet out of fear of offending?

I know I likely offended some of the people in that audience who want theater to feed their emotional preferences or comfort.  

But that isn’t what art is meant to do. And it’s not what you’re meant to do, either.

I see you over there you know. Hiding. In plain sight.

I hide, too. I hide from email. I hide from people. I’m also partial to the French Exit, where you just sneak away from the pack and jump in a Lyft so you can be home in bed watching SNL before anyone knows you’re gone.

To hide is to avoid risk, criticism, uncomfortable feelings.

But hiding also puts you at risk: You could miss opportunities, and connection, and growth. Even fun.

For a culture that prizes visibility above all else, we do a lot of hiding. Even on stage.

(I talked about it recently with Seth Godin on his FB Live, if you want to check it out.)

Here are three ways you’re hiding on stage and how to stand out instead:

1 | You’re hiding behind jargon.

No one likes jargon. It’s useful, sure, because it gives you shortcuts, often for processes or you do all the time. Jargon is a big green dumpster, the catchall for worn-out ideas. Boo. Boring.

2 | You’re hiding behind knowledge and information.

Data in a talk gives context. But your knowledge about a topic is not the talk itself. Your authority on stage comes from your unique idea, delivered with an artful and decisive blend of story and information that serve the communication of that idea.

3 | You’re hiding behind your bio.

Do you know how many people begin their time on stage by essentially reciting their LinkedIn profile? ALMOST ALL OF THEM. And how many people in the audience care where you got your degree? ALMOST NONE OF THEM.

When you’re on that stage, your job is to connect with your audience. And you do that by giving them content that matters to them first. Trust me, if you’re good, they’ll want to find out who you are.

It’s time to step out. Stop hiding. And the best way to do it? With good company. Great teachers. And a safe place to try.

No more hiding.

I happen to know a great place to stop hiding — my two-day, transformational event Tapped to Speak LIVE, April 4&5 in Boston. Here you get to learn and practice the craft of writing and delivering a stand-out talk, based on an idea that’s uniquely yours.

Seth Godin’s blog the other day was simply this:

“Of course it’s easy to shoot fish in a barrel. The difficult part, the part no one talks about, is getting the fish into the barrel in the first place.”

The man is a walking mic drop.

Think about that though, for reals. How you THINK about how to get fish into that barrel says a lot about your attitude and beliefs.

Some believe you have to trick the fish into jumping in.

Some want to catch them somewhere else and transport them to said barrel, whether they want to go there or not.

Some think it’s enough to have a barrel, and that the fish should simply WANT to be there.

Somewhere along the line we started to believe that it’s our job simply to manipulate, coax, and cajole people to do what WE want.

We don’t always ask what the fish want.

Oh sure, there are marketing surveys and polls, psychographics, demographics, metrics measured within an inch of their lives. But I’ve found, surprisingly, that despite all this work, when I ask someone who’s been tasked with getting fish in the barrel what is the real reason the fish would want to be there, they come up empty-handed. (Or they tell themselves a story about how cool their barrel is).

What if we lost the barrel altogether? Great messaging, to my mind, is never to get anything into a container so we can shoot it.

I’ve always thought that the idea was to get in the water, find out where they are and why, and turn the tide in the direction where they most want to go.

That’s a relationship. A live fish, not a dead one. Which one becomes the customer for life?



Watch the FB Live I did with Seth right here. ⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️ And if you want to learn how to speak from the stage in a way that connects with your audience, inspires and motivates them, join me at #TappedtoSpeakLIVE, Boston, April 4&5:


Top Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

It’s true. Ok. To be fair, I have a severe gluten INTOLERANCE, not an allergy.

But I have developed a pretty bad allergy to cliché. Symptoms include: involuntary eye rolling, a mild but persistent headache, and a creeping sense of boredom and despair.

In the brand messaging biz, it’s a workplace hazard. And as much as I hate them, fact is, clichés serve a purpose:

They show you where you gave up. Where you’re settling.

They’re the police tape that marks the spot where someone committed the crime of not trying hard enough.

They’re the well-worn path that everyone takes because it’s easy. Comfy, but common. Clichés are the Ugg boots of messaging. (I have a pair myself, by the way, so no judgment.)

The problem isn’t that clichés exist or that we slouch around in them from time to time, but that far too many people stop right there, at the level of cliché—in their messaging on their website, their posts, their talks, (their cocktail party banter, oy). They unfold a lawn chair right on it and kick back with a daiquiri.

Please don’t.

You want fresh, compelling, exciting ideas? You want to take the world by storm? Then cliché is the X-marks-the-spot where we start DIGGING. Where we go below, deep down to the roots of what you’re REALLY trying to say, and when you unearth that—everything changes.

And guess what? Those spots are often where you’ll dig up the freshest, most unexpected parts of your ideas. That where your ideas become uniquely yours. And without that, you got nothing.

Okay, but digging deeper and getting real for a brand message or TEDx or keynote or book ain’t easy. Trust me, I’ve worked with hundreds of people to get at their most powerful messaging. Everyone balks. It’s scary.

They take two digs at it with a shovel, and then stop and worry they have nothing original to say. NOT TRUE. They just haven’t dug deep enough.

You can’t get to this key messaging for your talk without good company, the right tools, and conditions that allow for safe, creative exploration, focused thinking, and an air of playfulness.

This is the magic of Tapped to Speak LIVE, happening April 4 & 5 in Boston.

I was at a party for authors recently, and a woman said, “Aren’t TEDx talks played out?” She was worried that TEDx talks were a cliche. Wrong. Not any more than books or blogs are a cliche. It’s the ideas that matter. (Watch this short video to find out what I said to that lady. ?)

I would love, love, love to see you in Boston and be part of the extraordinary team guiding you and cheering you on as you dig into your TED-worthy talk.

⇒ HOLD YOUR SPOT at Tapped to Speak LIVE! I can’t wait to see you.



P.S. Here’s what Kate White, bestselling author and former Editor in Chief of Cosmo, had to say about last year’s event:

“Tapped to Speak LIVE was a breakthrough experience. Even as a seasoned speaker I took so much away. Plus, Terri’s just got such a fabulous style. My cheeks hurt from laughing so hard!”

(Watch what others had to say in this short video.)



Photo by David Paschke on Unsplash

I was on a client call recently, a team of folks from the financial services industry (whom I’ve been spending more and more time with lately), and we were talking over a concept that mattered to them and that they wanted to communicate.

“Can’t you do some clever marketing thing to, you know, message this?”, one advisor said.  

Hold up.

I had to remind her (gently, gently) that what we weren’t doing, ever, was trying to be clever. That marketing wasn’t, isn’t, a magic trick, and if you play it that way, you end up with gimmick, not substance.

And that the whole point of doing any messaging work is actually trying to find the heart of the message, the true, real, substantial thing—and that to find it, you had to dress everything down, not dress it all up.

But her misconception is common. Really, really common. We think that branding, marketing, messaging, whatever you want to call it, is about finding a fabulous hat to put on top.

In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s finding the very soul of the brand, the meaning of the work you do, underneath all the layers upon layers of stuff that you think you need (but usually don’t).

Marketing is either real, or it’s worthless.

As Seth Godin says in his latest book, This Is Marketing (and I recommend it strongly, especially if you THINK you hate marketing or are bad at it):

“Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread. Marketers offer solutions, opportunities for humans to solve their problems and move forward.”

I talked about this, and my own process for capturing a powerful message, recently with my friend and colleague Julia Bruck, creator of the free How to Create Your Million Dollar Message summit—a collection of conversations with top industry leaders covering everything about business media.

In our conversation for the summit (which you can get here), I walk you through my steps for how to come at your brand messaging, which is what people tell me they struggle the most with—how to “wrap their brains” around it, how to get perspective, since they’re often just so close to it they can’t see it at all.

I told her, and I stand by this, that being good at what you do is table stakes. There’s nothing more important, above and beyond being able to execute on your trade, than being able to compel someone as to why they should care.

Without it, you just sit there and hope that someone comes knocking with their wallet out. And, yeah, that doesn’t work (trust me I’ve tried).

And the opposite holds true: There’s no point in having a great message if you can’t actually get behind it. Otherwise, you just get real good at lying (and you won’t be good at it for long).

Julia didn’t just interview me, of course—she interviewed a host of other experts and pros on messaging, including the Million Dollar Machine” coach Michael Burt, top internet marketer Heather Havenwood, Marketing Mentor founder Ilise Benun, Paleof(x) founder Michelle Norris, and Mr. Personal Power Mastery Douglas Vermeeren. You can catch ’em all here.

Make this the year you land your million dollar message. There are few things as critical. And of course, let me know if you need help!

Once I worked with a professional comic, helping with ideas for a TEDx talk about comedy she’d like to give.

She shared with me a terrifying account of the night, decades ago, when her abusive husband threatened her with a blunt object in his fist. And how, in that moment, a joke saved her life.

But when she wrote up her idea for the TEDx application, about joke and saving lives, specifically her, she made only a vague and veiled reference to an incident of domestic violence, without any of the vivid detail she shared with me.

Now, this was absolutely her call, and I get it. I work all the time with people who want nothing more than to connect with and compel an audience. And yet they are afraid of bringing their most vulnerable moments, their fallings and failures, into focus.

Instead, they smear vaseline over the lens. They don’t want to look bad. They don’t want to dwell on the times that felt ugly and embarrassing and shameful. It’s the last version of ourselves we want to show. We want to help people, not bum them out.

So when we tell our stories, we skim over the lousy parts to get to the good stuff—the thrilling, inspiring climax. As Brené Brown writes in Rising Strong:

“We much prefer stories about falling and rising to be inspirational and sanitized. In a thirty-minute speech, there’s normally thirty seconds dedicated to, ‘And I fought my way back…’. We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get the sweeping redemptive ending.”

I have news for you. Glossing over the hard stuff doesn’t help anyone.

Lessons that are not hard-earned feel too easy and lightweight. And guess how they can feel earned? By showing us how you earned them.

I know you want to move people. But you can’t fast forward through the hard stuff and get to the climactic happy ending, cue the musical swell. No one will believe it.

In order to create and deliver a talk of meaning and value, and to forge connections, you must let us experience the truth, let us see you and what happened. You must let the details of it speak. The power is in the details, the scene, not the “telling” of a bad thing that happened that we won’t go into.

Show us how you fell. How it hurt. Show us the complexity of how you rose.

Brown writes,

“To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important — toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.”


When you’re writing a talk (or an article or a book or About page), resist that urge to gild your failures and falling, as Brown says. Let us see them, bloody and rough and terrifying and lonely.

Don’t talk to us from a mountaintop; let us rise with you.

If you’re scared or unsure how to tell gritty stories, or even moderately stubbly ones, join us at Tapped to Speak LIVE in Boston, April 4&5. This powerful, intimate event will get you fired up and focused on your stand-out signature talk.  Learn more and reserve your spot at


If there’s one thing about me that you’d never guess in a million years, it’s that I play in a co-ed touch football league, and have for years.

I can’t believe it myself.

I’ve never been much of an organized sports person, and the memories I have of playing in my youth consist of long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

But a few years ago, friends invited (read: pressured, threatened, cajoled) me to join their team because they were down a girl and why wasn’t I playing, anyway?

I really, truly have no idea how, I said.

So I learned. And I love it.

Yes. I learned how to play football and actually started playing over the age of 40.

And I learned something about myself too: I’m a damn good receiver. Defense? Not so great (which is weird, considering how defensive I get as a rule). But turns out, I’m all offense on the field.

But another thing: I’m only as good as the passes I’m thrown.

I happen to have a fantastic QB who throws a laser-sharp pitch and most of the time I feel like I was just in the right place at the right time. His skill determines my success.

My point: One of the most important skills you can learn is to pass an idea with power and precision to someone who’s ready to catch it.

(You’re the quarterback in this scenario, of course.)

Pitch, pass, same thing. We call them pitches, so be it—but what I mean is your ability to get your idea into the hands of someone ready to receive it, someone who, by virtue of positioning, intent, and sometimes pure luck, is wide open.

The members of the media (editors, producer, bookers, bloggers, writers, podcasters) want to grab a great idea and run with it. But if the throw is off or not directly aimed at them, it ain’t happening.

You can learn to throw better.

My business partner, Paula Rizzo, and I developed “How to Be a Media Magnet,” an entire course to help you learn to crack the media code. And pitch better. And perform on camera better.

Plus you learn how to:

  • Tap your expertise to go from professional to on-air expert
  • Search your brand for ideas, inspiration, and content
  • Connect with key influencers in the media
  • Face off with your fear of self-promotion
  • Make a producer or editor’s job easy and be their favorite go-to guest

The only way to get media is to give it what it wants. Come find out — and start snapping your pass.

One of the things you likely dread (loathe, hate) about the holidays is not so much seeing the family, but fielding any number of triggering questions that set you on your heels, flare your defenses, and bring your blood to the boiling point.

And that’s because sitting down across from relatives who haven’t seen you in a while means facing up to their often innocent (though sometimes not) questions, but also, to who you are, where you are, and whether you’ve progressed from, well, the last time you sat down from them.

Questions like,

So, are you still with what’s-his-name?”  (Read: Have you dumped him yet?)

Aw, where’s what’s-his-name?” (Read: We liked him more than the others.)

That’s too bad it didn’t work out. Seemed you two got along.” (Read: I know nothing about your relationship but it seemed good to me.)

“You still at that job?”

“Have you found a job yet?”

“You still single?”

“Have you set a date yet?

“When are you going to have kids?”

“When are you having another kid?”

I won’t even get INTO any of the ribbing, barbs, or flat-out aggression that revolves around sports, religion, or politics.

Here’s the point: Every great conversation begins with a good question. The problem is, we so often lead with lousy ones.

Sometimes it’s because people wield questions with an agenda (to incite, to offend, to ruffle). But, to be fair, often that’s not their intention—or yours! Because sometimes it’s you asking the same-old questions, not because you’re a jerk, but because the questions themselves are knee-jerk; you ask them because you always have.

It’s time to change it up.

Let’s stop poking at the same old sore topics, triggering each other’s defenses or boring each other to death.

Newer, better, more complex questions can bring out the best, most interesting stuff in the people you already know. Most of our questions are about status updates, and to some extent that’s fine. But when’s the last time you learned something totally and utterly NEW about the people you’ve known for decades, maybe your whole life?

I believe good questions aren’t just key to better dinners, or dates, (which they are, by the way), but the only way to get at the best, most interesting part of you, no matter what you’re trying to do.

Whether that’s “get along with my mother-in-law”—or give a talk, or explain to someone why they should work with you. Literally, any of those things.

And so to that end, I want to give you some good questions to use during this very social season, and you should feel free to use them liberally—at cocktail parties, at dinners, on first dates, in prepping for client meetings, the talk you’re giving at that upcoming event or conference.

I curated 25 good questions (get that collection here) but for now, let’s start with three good ones:

  • What common bit of wisdom do you hear a lot but that you completely disagree with?
  • When in the past year have you done a total 180 on a thing, and why?
  • What’s one thing you always thought you hated or would hate, and you now love?

Like these? Get the curated collection I created, 25 Questions to your TED-worthy idea, right here.

A few weeks ago, I took a small group of brilliant professionals away from their homes and families and deep into the Pennsylvania woods for three days.

They asked to go, of course. Why?

So they could go off their grid, and plug into a different grid altogether: The one that powers their creativity and genius. It was the maiden voyage of Tapped to Speak INTENSIVE—a Gateless retreat designed to help access their best stories and ideas and craft them into the talk they’re dying to give.

Now, some of the people there identify as writers, but most of them didn’t. In fact, half the group had never even been on a retreat like this, which was very much a writing retreat, very content focused.

I’ll tell you why:  Because giving a killer talk doesn’t start with delivery; it starts with content.

This is a step many speakers skip. In fact, they get into speaking because they think it means they don’t have to write anything at all.

In fact, whether you identify as a writer or not, the act of writing is what helps you access the ideas, the scenes, the rich detail, the sparkling moments of discovery, that light up a talk, make it real and relatable, moving and memorable.

Problem is, many people and instructors use the traditional academic “essay” model, where you start with a “big idea” box and then start putting stuff in it. It feels very top-down and linear and like work. I hate it. 

Instead, we did not start with any kind of “big idea” box. We started with scenes.

Vivid details. Moments. Turning points.

You might say, “But I’m not trying to write a novel.” Doesn’t matter. This is the practice that makes your talk stand out. Hell, it makes the world stand out to you in a whole new way. 

One woman had never written a personal piece of anything in her life. She felt shy about doing it, about sharing it. But since that’s what we do in Gateless (write on the spot and share it right away), she did it—and man, we were blown away! She shared moving scenes and demonstrated a high level of craft by shifting from one scene to another, and revealing some very powerful truths about her life. We were watching a TEDx talk take shape before our eyes.

The scenes will tell you SO much. Starting with a scene takes you away from cliche, from platitude. It starts you in what’s real, what happened, and what matters. Even the smallest scenes can form the foundation of a powerful talk.

Bottom line: You’re probably not giving yourself enough credit for your own creative and writing abilities. I guarantee it. It was schooled out of you, it was graded out of you. Scared out of you. Imagine if you gave it half a chance.

Try it: I’m about to give you a prompt to write to.

You’ll have 20 minutes, and these are the only rules:

  • Take us to the scene.
  • Show us a specific place in time—that means use at least 3 of the 5 senses (if not more) to illustrate where we are, what’s happening, what you’re experiencing, and why.
  • You can flash back to past or future if you like, too—the key is to show us, not just tell us. Paint the picture for us so we’re there, too.

OK, here’s your prompt:

“Think of a specific moment in time when you seriously questioned a decision.”

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Go!

(Tell me: what happened?)

P.S.: The next INTENSIVE will be in late spring…but in the meantime, hold the dates for Tapped to Speak LIVE – April 4 & 5, 2019! We’re still figuring out details, but tickets go on sale very soon!