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I hosted my first ever large live event June 7 and 8th in New York City, called Tapped to Speak LIVE. The goal: Give people the insight, tools, and conditions to discover their TED-worthy talk.

And since it was my first time, I did what anyone with big dreams for their first event does—namely, get ambitious with the scheduling and hit everyone with a firehose.

Though it was a fantastic firehose at that, and the program was teeming with speaker talent and tools and there were firecrackers of inspiration going off so much it was like the Fourth of July in there.

And so while I can’t replicate that event here for you, I can give you three takeaways that could be useful as you think about your own work, your own speaking…and reason to join us next year!

1 | Know the real reason you’re on stage 

Attendee John Hagen’s a-ha moment!

And it’s not just because someone asked you to be. It’s also not just because you’re getting paid or you want to look smart or have a bigger career. All those things play into it, fine—but what became abundantly clear over the course of the two days, and speaker after speaker hit the same point:

You are there to serve. Period.

Public speaking is a service, not just a platform. And the speakers who approach the podium that way make a far bigger impact and have better speaking careers than those who don’t.

(P.S. Never use a podium. Seriously. Why would you take your place on stage in full view of everyone, only to crouch behind a box with just your head sticking out?)

2 | You can’t tell a story that still owns you

Sarah Montana on wielding your story responsibly.

You might have a story to tell, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to tell it.

In her session on how to wield your personal story responsibly, TEDx speaker Sarah Montana taught us that the stage is not the place to get to the bottom of your story.

That means while you may have a story, it doesn’t mean you’re ready to share it. Ask yourself, do you feel compelled to share it so that you can get it out and figure it out? Or do you feel ready to share it from a position of having found peace with it? (Guess what the right answer is.)

Serving your audience means NOT dumping unsorted emotional baggage onto them and hoping that in the telling it’ll get resolved (it won’t). You can only tell a story when you own it and it no longer owns you.

(If you haven’t watched Sarah’s TEDx talk, “The real risk of forgiveness and why it’s worth it,” it’s a must. There’s no story so personal and hard that you can’t tell, IF—and it’s a big if—you’ve come to terms with it.)

3 | Public speaking is an exchange of energy, not just information. 

Comic Cam Hebb brings the laughs.

I know. This sounds a little woo-woo. But it couldn’t be more true. When we think about creating “a talk” it’s easy to get hyper focused on “what will I say”—in other words, what information can I impart?

But while content is critical, and has to be good, it’s not just ‘content first, delivery second.’ You must bear in mind what you want that audience to feel, think, and do from the start—and all of that inspires the talk itself.

Think about the last time you were totally turned off, bored, angered, or annoyed by a speaker. It’s how they made you feel, based on how they couched and communicated information, and what assumptions that speaker made about you.

To think you’re just teaching or giving info to your audience is to undermine your value as a speaker. You’re not there to dispense words. You’re there to change the way they feel about a topic, an industry, an issue, themselves. If you haven’t done that, you haven’t done your job.

Are you ready to craft your powerful signature talk?

Of course, we’re doing this again! It was amazing. 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!

There are lots of great reasons to do a TEDx talk: It’s instant cred, a powerful thought leadership platform, a public speaker’s calling card, a way to reach and inspire millions. All great reasons.

But what really comes about as a result? There is no direct TEDx-to-sales conversion, nor is that the reason to do one (actually, that’s the worst reason). And yet, if you’re going to invest your effort into doing something, you should know if it’s worth it.

Fact is, if it’s an idea worth spreading and a talk worth sharing (and it must be both those things), pretty amazing things can transpire as a result.

Here’s what happened to me since giving my first TEDx talk in 2015. It didn’t happen magically, of course, and not overnight. But it 100 percent has changed my life.

#1 | I started commanding a 5-figure speaking fee.

I mean, let’s get down to brass tacks, right? No one gets paid to do TEDx…but the right talk can put you in high demand. I used to charge between $2500 and $5000. Not anymore. And it’s not just the speaker’s fee, either. In the past three years I’ve upleveled my business in a big way. High-level clients pay a premium to work with me. That is a serious game changer.

#2 |  I’ve gained recognition as a top-notch speaker.

I was named rated the #1 speaker by attendees my first year at How Design Live (and have been invited back every year), and at the Barron’s Top Independent Women Advisors Summit, and then was invited to present a keynote at their flagship event for the nation’s Top Advisors.

Could I have done those talks without having done a TEDx talk? Sure. Maybe. But that talk put me on the map. It’s what made it an easier decision to hire me. Speaking begets more speaking. The more you do, the more you get to do. I went from 1-3 events a year to dozens.

#3 | I had lunch with Seth Godin. (This should probably be #1.)

Now, to be fair, Seth had not seen my TEDx talk before we met. Here’s what happened: After my TEDx talk, I was invited to speak on a panel at a corporate event. Seth Godin was backstage, too, about to give his keynote. I fumbled through a hello, feeling like an ass in front of this famous man. Then I went out to do my panel.

Afterwards, he approached me and said—and I will never forget it—“You are a rockstar. Would you like to keep in touch? I’d really like to know what you’re up to.” Mic. Drop. A month later, I kid you not, Seth Godin made me gluten-free samosas in his kitchen, and it might very well be one of the best days of my life.

#4 | I was invited to do a second TEDx talk.

When TEDxStLouisWomen saw my original TEDx talk from TEDxKansasCity, they said, “Hey, come speak at our event.” So I did! I spoke about what I wish all women knew: That just because a relationship ends and you happen to be single does not mean something is wrong with you. (Watch that TEDx talk here.)

#5 | I was approached to write a book.

A publisher from the UK saw my bio in a program for an event, looked up the TEDx talk on passion, and seems to think the talk would make a great book. I happen to agree. Stay tuned.

#6 | Hubspot named me one of the “Top 15 Female Motivational Speakers Who Are Killing It.”  

It’s true. I came in #2…and Oprah is #8. I’ll take it.

#7 | I was cited as one of the world’s leading creatives by Creative Boom magazine. 

This list includes Elizabeth Gilbert and David Kelley of IDEO. I don’t even know what to say to that, except…thanks TEDx! The piece is called “The Secrets to Success: Incredible Career Advice from Some of the World’s Leading Creatives.”

#8 | I was published on Business Insider.

I contributed a piece on the biggest public speaking mistakes.

#9 | I was featured as an expert on Inc.com.

Alison Davis interviewed me for Inc.com column for a piece called “Best Presentation Ever: How to Elevate Any Talk to Make it Motivating, Meaningful, and Memorable.” Having TEDx cred means getting cited and interviewed in media, too, and there have been lots of these kinds of opportunities—including podcasts, tons of them.

#10 | I do this for a living now.

To be very clear, I am not employed by the TED organization. But because so many people have TEDx, and speaking in general, on their bucket list, I have made it a big part of my consulting business, and the demand tells me this was a good decision. Fact is, a TEDx, or any, talk, is a critical part of your brand platform, and so it works really well with what I already do.

was hired as the TEDx coach for TEDxStLouisWomen.

I was asked to emcee TEDxLincolnSquare in Manhattan.

I was asked to coach and emcee the Aha Women’s Speaker Series.

And now I work privately with high-profile entrepreneurs, executives, and experts of all stripes on their talks for industry events, national conferences, and have helped many of them land their own TEDx talks. And the TEDx organizers I know — they ask me for speaker recommendations. And they’ve booked many of the people I sent along.

In 2017, I launched an online course called Tapped to Speak to help people craft their stand-out signature talks, and this year I’m running my in-person workshop event, Tapped to Speak LIVE, this time in Boston, April 4 & 5, 2019. So excited.

So did a TEDx talk change my life? You bet. And it can change yours, too.

Join me for this live workshop! 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.

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 Boston, Tapped to Speak LIVE, April 4&5, 2019! 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 Stewart Omnimedia. 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, April 4&5, 2019 in Boston! 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.

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.

Inspiring people isn’t 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. 

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.

 

(Psst. There are still seats available for my transformational, two-day, in-person workshop event, Tapped to Speak LIVE, April 4&5, 2019 in Boston. Click here to learn more and snag your seat.)

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.

And who better to learn the power of personal story than from Sarah herself?? Fact is, Sarah will be a presenter at Tapped to Speak LIVE, the live in-person workshop I’m hosting in Boston April 4 & 5.

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.)

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 learn about Tapped to Speak LIVE, the two-day event that helps you 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, where you’ll learn to develop your TED-worthy talk. Space is limited! Learn more here.

 

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.

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? Click here to join me in Boston April 4 & 5 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!)

There’s nothing like getting tapped to speak at an event or conference—it’s not only nice to be asked, but it speaks volumes about what people think of you: That you have something of value to share with their community, and they want it.

That said, there are three questions I ask myself before I accept, let alone begin to prepare, for a talk. And it isn’t, “When, where, and what should I wear?”

Nope. They’re questions that most people don’t ask before they dive in, and I believe you should to set yourself up for success. I like to ask the organizer these questions so I get a handle on who I’m speaking with, but also, I use it to generate my own questions and shape my content and approach accordingly.

(This is part of a live webinar I did recently called “5 Steps to a TED-worthy Talk” and I’m happy to share it with you because attendees found it so useful.)

1. Why are they there? 

There are lots of reasons people take a seat at an event. And they’re worth considering:

They paid to be there. If they paid their own money to attend an event, they want something in return, and expect something, right? What investment are they making—are you speaking at a business seminar or an event that’s more lifestyle focused? Are they there to rally together and change the world? Or is this meeting or community more focused on trying to maintain the status quo?

They paid a lot to be there. Then there’s the next level up—I’m talking not $50, or even $500 to be there, but like $5,000 or maybe more. We’re talking fundraisers, high-profile events. Now, if someone is donating that much money to be part of an event, it’s not because they expect, say $10,000 worth of content.

As Seth Godin says, when people pay to be somewhere like that, they’re saying to themselves and each other, “people like us do things like this.” Think about how what you’re about to tell them affects or touches their vision of the world, and their role in it. Especially if they’re there for a big cause, a pioneering effort, or perhaps something less grand but no less expensive.

They have to be there or else. Perhaps the group of people you’ll address have to be there because it’s their job, their managers mandating it, or it’s part of their own training and required.

I won’t purport to know what every group of required attendees thinks when they walk in a room, but that’s why it’s worth asking. Is this an event that’s highly anticipated, or deeply dreaded? Do they have high expectations or the lowest of low? This is how to gauge your own approach. Often I’ve found people who file in with zero expectations are sometimes the easiest to delight.

2. Why did they pick you?

The people who hired you or invited you to speak have their own goals and objectives, and they’re not necessarily the same thing. Do you know why that is? (And it’s not just cuz you’re awesome, even though you are.) I once spoke at an event of full-time employees in the HR business, and I was told, “We want you to motivate them enough to love their jobs, but not to leave.” Good to know.

Ok, so, do they want you to inspire the people there to be empowered and to create positive change? Or do they want you to inspire…compliance? There is no good or bad here, by the way.

We operate under the assumption that they want what’s best for the attendees and the organization. But what that is something they take the lead on, not you. So ask, and listen closely. Maybe they want you to wake them up—or perhaps, calm them down in the wake of organizational or industry unrest. Good to know.

3. Why are you there? 

I mean, aside from because they asked. Maybe they’re paying you good money to be there, and that’s great. But no matter what you speak about, chances are, you don’t do it for the money; you’re there because you want to exert some kind of positive influence, some change or fresh perspective or compelling information that can change the way they think and live.

So it’s important to be clear on your own intentions. Maybe it is a good gig and you do it every year, end of story. You have some contacts there and you like to keep them up.

But maybe this speaking event presents another, larger or longer-tail opportunity, in which you make inroads to do more work with them or to get a foot in the door in their industry.

Perhaps it’s an event in your own industry, and speaking there gives you a bit more clout and attention, and that’s a real plus. All great reasons! Just be clear when you’re going in. Because the way you approach a talk to people whose business you know is quite different from when you’re an outsider. Both have great advantages, if you know how to use them.

Bottom line, be honest with yourself about what is expected of you here, and also what YOU want to get out of it. The purpose and mission that drive your talk may not change, but the way in which you deliver it does, group to group. And the more mindful of that you are, the more powerful and effective you will be—and the more opportunities will come your way.

Want to learn how to create a stand out signature talk that gets you booked, again and again? Join me for Tapped to Speak LIVE, my two-day, transformational, live event happening April 4&5 in Boston. Click here to learn more!

Of all the people you’ve seen get up in front of a room to speak, how many do you really remember?

Very few. And chances are the ones who made an impact probably made you laugh, too.

Solid content gets a nod.

But funny gets rave reviews.

Funny gets asked to speak again. And again.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to be a standup comic to get laughs. Or a joke writer. Or a ham.

Quite frankly, you don’t even have to think of yourself as funny.

Some people may are particularly gifted, sure. But other, I’d say most, great speakers get laughs because they work at it; they learn to use humor as a tool. And when you see it that way, you can learn to use it like anything else.

I interviewed evolutionary psychologist and humor researcher Gil Greengross, PhD, for a piece I wrote for Women’s Health magazine. And he explained that humor is not usually something made up by one person and consumed by another; it’s how humans relate. It’s something we participate in together.

“Humor is a fundamentally social phenomenon,” says Greengross. When you share laughter and humor with other people, you build up trust and camaradie with others.

He told me about this study, led by neuroscientist Robert Provine and published in the International Journal of Behavioural Biology, which found that in 99 percent of the cases observed, laughter functioned more as punctuation at the end of statements, in response to mundane statements, and nothing that would be deemed funny outside that context.

Aha!

That means humor isn’t always mass produced by pros—it’s made by hand, in the moment. If you’ve ever tried and failed to explain to someone why something was funny, after the fact, then you know this is true. “Guess you had to be there,” you say. Indeed.

This is great— because it means that you, too, can get great, real laughs in your talk, too.

Think your subject matter is too serious for laughs? Think again. A speaker who deftly handles a difficult or serious topic can actually earn big laughs—because in so doing, he gives the audience the much-needed chance to relieve tension.

So how can you get more laughs on stage? Here are some techniques I’ve used, observed, and put into practice for myself and others I’ve coached.

 

1| Don’t try to be funny. (Be honest instead.)  

You know who gets the most pained pity laughs ever? The person who is trying too hard. Please promise me you won’t do this. Instead, try being just blatantly honest. I know it works because I do it all the time.

I happen to think that people who are tagged as “so funny” are often just more honest than the next person. They say things other people would filter out. Fact is, I am a speaker who also happens to perform stand-up comedy—but doing stand-up didn’t teach me to be funny; it gave me a forum and format for what I already knew got laughs: Say things other people wouldn’t. I’ve been doing that forever.

This, by the way, is why a little self-deprecation goes a long way to winning over an audience.

When you make a comment or joke at your own expense, you’re showing the audience that you don’t take yourself too seriously; that you’re no different from them.

Because you’re going to appear high status on a stage, taking yourself down a peg or two makes you more relatable as a person. As opposed to an insufferable blowhard.

For instance: I joke in my TEDx talk (“Stop Searching for Your Passion”) about how I was so down at one point early in my career that I spent every night sitting around in my underwear watching Seinfeld reruns. That got a laugh. Because the fact is, we have all done this. I still do it.


2| Go for specific over general, every time.
Note that in the above example, I didn’t say I sat around and watched TV. That would not have gotten a laugh. The laugh comes from the details: you can picture the person slumped there, staring blankly at the TV while Kramer comes crashing into Jerry’s apartment. It works because you can see it.


If you say in your talk that you were in such a bad mood and binged on junk food, that’s not going to get the laugh. But you know what will? When you admit that you started hurling unflattering epithets at the Verizon customer service agent while knee deep in a bag of Ding Dongs.

The funny is in the granular. Always. We laugh because that’s where we see ourselves most clearly. Don’t just say a thing: Fill in the rest of the picture and include the details that give the scene weight, color, and dimension.

 

3| Use pop culture references—carefully.
What makes pop culture references work is because, again, it lends specificity. It puts us in a place in time—a specific time, one we all shared and remember and perhaps are nostalgic for. It can get a laugh because it allows us to remember it and we feel included by it.


My rule is this: Know what purpose that reference serves. Is it a cutting commentary on something happening in our culture? Is it a great comparison to show how far we’ve come or how far we’ve stayed the same perhaps?

If you’re doing a talk that will be recorded and shared (say, a TEDx talk), you don’t want to make a reference to something or be too dependent on an example that’s exclusive or fleeting because then the talk has a more limited shelf life.

To make a pop culture reference that isn’t lost on half the crowd or meaningless six months from now, use one that has stood the test of time, meaning, is old enough that people will remember. The more mainstream the better, usually.

This is why a reference to Duran Duran is going to get more laughs from an adult audience than Drake. (Then again, it depends).  People love to be reminded of where they came from, their shared history, things they can laugh at now. Making just the right cultural reference, be it to older songs or movies, foods or fashions, or something we all used to be into but are embarrassed about now? That’ll get a laugh. Again, consider the crowd and what purpose that reference serves.

 

4| Take a hard left turn.

I said you don’t have to be a comic to be funny, but it does help to take a tip from the pros. I had the chance to study under comic Jim David, a very successful standup who has performed for decades. And he says that comedy isn’t a talent or a gift. He said joke writing is a mathematical equation, and anyone can learn it.

Jokes are, he said, simply a series of hard left turns. You make the audience think you’re going one way and then you make a hard left; it throws them off, and quite often, will make them laugh.

You see this technique lots of places, by anyone trying to entertain and engage someone else—so you see it in comedy sure but also compelling narratives and great advertising, novels, horror movies, you name it. It requires that you know what someone anticipates or assumes, and then–surprise!–go in a different direction.

Think about what your audience anticipates, and then, hang a left when they least expect it. When done right, your audience will be surprised and delighted to be along with you for the ride, and they’ll remember you long afterward, too.

 

Want to learn how to crush it on stage? Join me at Tapped to Speak LIVE, my transformational, live, two-day event, April 4&5 in Boston. Click here to learn more.