How to Get Invited to Speak at TEDx (and get 40,147 views in 5 days)

Written by Scott December 5, 2012

How to get invited to give a TEDx talk

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

- Thomas Jefferson

I have the quote above engraved on a silver cup that my parents gave me for Christmas ten years ago. It’s been on my desk ever since.

Last month you all made a dream of mine come true.

I was invited to stand on the TEDx stage in San Francisco and give a talk on our core message and purpose at Live Your Legend: How to Find & Do Work You Love.

Five days ago that video was published on YouTube.

As of this morning it had 40,147 views, 447 comments, 1,010 likes, and 15 dislikes. ;) [Update – August 2014: nearly 1,700,000 views!]

One of the members of the TEDx community wrote to me yesterday and said our talk was the #1 trending TEDx talk on YouTube.

On top of that, 1,801 people joined our community here – Welcome to the adventure!

I am still pinching myself as I write this…

So I thought it’d be a worthwhile exercise (both for me and for all of you) to recap exactly how this dream came true and maybe sort out what was blind luck and what might have been luck that was a little more in our control – because with any dream becoming reality, there’s a lot of both.

Because more often than not, when things like this happen to people, the world tends to like to dismiss it as, “Oh, he just got lucky,” or, “Of course they got to speak and their talk got a ton of traction. Look at the size of his following!” and on and on.

But we must be very careful not to confuse the type of luck we can control with the type that’s plain dumb…

How to Get Invited to Speak at TEDx (and get over 40,000 views in 5 days):

Here is the order of how things happened…

3 years ago: I discovered the TED organization and quickly fell in love. I proceeded to watch nearly a TED talk a day on my iPad on the bus ride to work.

I also wrote down a 10-year/lifetime goal and dream: To give a TED talk.

2 years ago: I started to investigate how I might attend or even speak at an event one day.

1.5 years ago: My friend Rob sent me an email with a link to the application to become a member of the TEDx San Francisco group. I immediately applied.

A week later: I attended a Founder’s Circle dinner put on by a good friend of mine. Across from me at the table was a woman by the name of Taylor.

We enjoyed our chat, so a week later we set up a tea date at Samovar. During our discussion I learned her obsession with getting like-minded passionate people together. In fact, tonight I’m going to one of her LoveSpring dinner parties where Tim Ferriss will be cooking for us and teaching us about The 4-Hour Chef . These ladies know how to provide an experience!.

I also learned that she and her friend Christine were the founders of TEDxSanFrancisco. I had to smile at the coincidence.

She told me about their two upcoming events on Rethinking Higher Education and How to Start a Revolution. I immediately bought two tickets for each.

After attending the events, I was so inspired that I wrote blog posts on each. Our community at Live Your Legend absolutely had to hear about this stuff. The articles were: The Birth of Self-Guided Education and How to Lead a Revolution.

1 year ago: I put on my list to “mention to the Live Your Legend community that I want to speak at a TED-related event to see if any of our Living Legends (That’s you!) might be able to help out.” A few months later I decided this wasn’t the best year to try for that, so I never ended up writing about it.

Then the dots started to connect…

11 months ago: I was asked to speak at Taylor and Christine’s LoveSpring dinner party (the same one Tim’s speaking at tonight). I was honored and terrified. I also saw it as my first best chance to show some passionate folks how much I cared about our message here.

10 months ago: I practiced for 7.5 hrs straight and then ‘naturally’ gave my talk at LoveSpring on How to Make the Impossible Your New Normal. ;) It went pretty well, and I met some fun new friends, including Kunal, a top-ranked coach and health professional who happened to be cooking the delicious vegetarian Indian meal that night. He also turned out to be one of the TEDxSF curators.

5 months ago: I entered a contest to be chosen to speak at the World Domination Summit in Portland on How to Connect with Anyone and Do Work You Love. I was chosen and gave my most proud talk to date.

4 months ago: I hosted our first ever Live Your Legend LIVE event at Samovar Tea Lounge, where I spoke on Doing Work that Mattered, and got the chance to spend the evening with over one hundred of you. As a result, we created a private Facebook Group for everyone to continue the conversation and stay accountable.

3 months ago: I spoke at a UC Davis MBA Value Investing class about The Passionate Work Framework and how to do work that embodied who you are.

Some things happen by chance. Others happened because you decided to take the chance.

2.5 months ago: One of the members of our Facebook group, Stephen Yeh, posted a comment asking if anyone was going to the San Francisco TEDx event on The Pursuit of Passion. My first thought was,”How in the hell did I not know about this in my own town?!” And my second thought was, “Damn, I would have loved to speak at this.” I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a bit disappointed at missing what surely seemed like my best shot at speaking at one of these things.

That same day: I wrote my friends at TEDxSF and asked if they were putting on the event. They said no, but that they knew who was and would be happy to introduce me. Kunal (whom I met when I spoke at LoveSpring in February – and was the mastermind behind the TEDxSF UCSF Global Health event I attended last month) kindly gave me an email introduction to Darius John Mirshahzadeh (sounds official I know!). Kunal also recommended me as a speaker, despite having their lineup picked like six or nine months prior.

That same week: Professors Rush and Taylor at the UC Davis MBA program happened to email Darius as well, after seeing his TEDx event online, and suggested me as a speaker. They included a link to my 1-hour talk to their MBA class on The Passionate Work Framework – thankfully they had it on video!

The next week: Darius responded with a warm message saying how great it was to meet me and that he was watching my Davis talk as he wrote. He said he wish we would have met earlier as he would have wanted me to speak at his event – and that he’d still love for me to attend as a spectator.

Another twinge of disappointment hit me. Then I went and bought my ticket.

2 months ago: I get an email from Darius and his partner Summer letting me know that one of the speakers had to cancel and that while they already had an alternate, they’d like me to be their second alternate just in case there was another cancelation. I saw the odds as about 1% that there would be another cancelation within three weeks of the event.

After a lot of thought, I had planned to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” because we were launching How to Connect With Anyone two days before the TEDx event, and I know how crazy launches can go. Preparing to give a TEDx talk when there was a 90% chance I wouldn’t actually be needed was not a proposition I was up for – especially given our launch timing. They said I might not even know until the day before! I didn’t think my body could take that.

A week later: Summer called me to say another speaker had to cancel and that they were 95% sure they’d need me, if I’d be willing to do it on such short notice. I started to get nervous.

The Wednesday before the event: I get a call that they absolutely need me if I’m up for it. The event is in 6 days. I say yes.

The Perfect Storm Begins.

And I proceed to panic.

Then I got my sh*t together and realized that if I could absolutely nail this message and this talk, we could legitimatly have a shot at changing the world in a way I’ve always dreamed. 

I saw this as the most 80/20 opportunity of my year, if not my life. A few painful days of continuous whiteboard sessions and prep could result in literally years of impact.

tedx whiteboard timer seshion

The whiteboard session to go from 60 minutes to 18. I started to hate this timer!

Five days before: I get a 2-hour speaking training from Summer, which turned out to be incredibly helpful. First formal speaking coaching I’ve had, other than Toastmasters and totally dissecting the book Resonate by Nancy Duarte (thanks for that one Corbett!).

For the next 3 days: I studied and watched my top ten most inspiring TED talks on repeat, including Simon Sinek, Jonathan Fields, Tony Robbins, Brené Brown, Jamie Oliver, Steve Jobs and Elizabeth Gilbert. I also studied the most viewed talks on TED, many of which were given by these people.

2 days before: I bought a badass speaking shirt from a European shop in Union Square (huge confidence booster!).

The two days leading up to the talk: I pounded my head against the table trying to take my usual 1-hour talk and “trim” it down to 18 minutes. After going through it over 23 times, I was still at 20 minutes.

The night before: I gave the talk to my wife Chelsea. I came in at 21 minutes. Not good.

She gave me a few (very good) ideas on what to pull out. Then she went to bed. I went back to work.

The morning of the talk: I show up at the de Young Museum and meet one of the speakers, Larry Jacobson, in the parking lot, who excitedly tells me that ever since he quit his corporate job to spend seven years sailing around the globe, he’s been a professional speaker. I’m immediately intimidated, but his friendly energy still managed to calm my nerves.

Two hours before the talk: I walk in the front of the museum with Larry and I notice him saying hi and hugging ten or so different people. I innocently ask who they all are. He tells me they’re the other speakers (I hadn’t had time to review all the bios on such short notice).

I then smile and say, “Oh, cool. So how do you guys all know each other?”

Larry smiles and says “Oh, we all met a few months ago at the intensive two-day speaking workshop we all attended, courtesy of TEDx, to prep for our talks.”

Six days ago I found out I was giving this talk. Then I’m told I’m the first speaker in the lineup. I’m going on stage in less than two hours. And I’m just told the rest of these guys have been working with speaking coaches for months.

Are you kidding me?!

If I wasn’t nervous before, now looked like a pretty good time to start panicking.

20 minutes before the talk: I walk around the park outside the museum, jumping up and down, taking deep breaths and listening to my “Inspire Me” playlist including songs from MC Yogi, Taylor Swift, Slumdog Millionaire, Orishas, the musicals Wicked & RENT, Pitbull and the World Cup 2010 theme song. Don’t ask about the music selection – it just works for me. :)

After that session in the park, I felt invincible.

Then I stood on stage, the nerves were replaced with passion, and a dream unfolded in front of my eyes…all 17 minutes and 53 seconds of it…

(Can’t see the video or are reading this in email? Click here to watch.)

The rest of the day: I felt on top of the world. I also drank a couple more beers at the after party than planned.

TEDx talk is done

The “green room” a few minutes after leaving the stage.

The next three days: I celebrated

TEDx Live Your Legend support crew mom and dad

The two who have always made the impossible possible: Mom and Dad

Time to Control What We Can

For the two weeks after that: Now it was time to get to work. I saw this as probably the best chance in the history of my life to get our message out to the world. I planned to do everything in my power to make that happen.

I emailed everyone I knew who might be able to give me guidance on how to get the word out on a YouTube video. I emailed at least 50 people and had over a dozen different conversations. I mentioned it on LYL and asked you all to get ready to support our message when the time came.

I also specifically studied which TEDx speakers managed to get featured on TED. I tried to see if there were any consistencies.

Fortunately, Simon Sinek, who’s become a friend over the years, happens to have one of the top 5 most popular TED talks of all time. And it was given at a tiny TEDx event in Puget Sound.

Thankfully, despite being deep in a wormhole finishing up his next book, he was able to shoot me a quick email.

His advice was my favorite. I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing it since it’s empowering for anyone looking to get their message heard…

“Keep talking about it. Over and over and over to everyone you meet. Don’t worry about if it gets picked up by TED or not. If the talk is good, then people will share it. The more you are out there banging the drum, the more people will look for you and your work and will find it and share it. These things spread not because of what we do, but because of the things others do. My talk only spread because people emailed it to their friends and colleagues. Certainly not because of my Rolodex  – that was exhausted in about 10 min.
Remember, I spoke at a TEDx and have never even been invited to speak on the main TED stage…and probably won’t ever be invited. Be the champion for your message and preach, preach, preach.”

After reading that, I decided I was going to bang the drum as loud and as often as possible.

I also spent another combined eight man hours (at least) between my dad, a few trusted friends and me, to figure out the best title and summary for the talk. You would not believe how many titles we went through. Easily over 50. Funny to see we came back to the most basic and clear message of all: How to Find & Do Work You Love. Huge thanks to Jonathan Fields for helping shed light on what you’d think would be the obvious!

Five days ago: The talk went live.

I nervously watched and felt an insane pride fill my body as the video finished and I realized I had delivered the talk almost exactly as I had dreamed (other than saying “shit” in the first few minutes and my mic flying off my head halfway through…).

I then began to beat the drum as often and as loud as I could. I actually have a little handmade djembe drum I picked up in Morocco that I’ve been beating a little bit too, just for fun.

I sent a post out to all 19,500 of you the next morning at about 7am PST – because emails are much more likely to be read first thing in the morning than late at night, when my talk actually went live.

Last Saturday morning (1.5 days after talk went live): It had around 3,400 views

Sunday morning: 7,400 views

Sunday night: Over 14,000 views

Monday morning: 28,000 views

Monday morning (5 minutes after seeing the last number): I refresh my screen a dozen times making sure it’s right…

Then people started to come out of the woodwork to support the message.

In the last few days, articles have been written and messages sent by Jonathan Fields, ThinkTraffic, ZenHabits, Passive Panda, Tiny Buddha, The Possibility of Today, Keith Ferrazzi, Brian Johnson, Lewis Howes, David Siteman Garland, Jason Gracia, Scott Fox, Natalie Sisson, Jim Cathcart and Chip Conley, just to name a few – and it looks like more will be published later this week and next.

I was blown away by their support. Most of these people had almost zero notice about when the talk would go live (because I didn’t either), yet they scrambled to write blog posts and newsletters within days. Jonathan even wrote and published his within hours of me emailing him!

And yes, these people are all my friends, and I’m grateful for their friendship and support.

But I don’t think they would have done what they did just because I was their friend and I asked nicely. 

I specifically only asked that they help share the message if they genuinely believe it’s a message that will help people and if it’s something they’d be excited to share even if they didn’t know me. That was my goal in giving the talk. To create something that people felt they had to tell others about – not for me, but for themselves and their desire to help others.

They did it because they believed in the message.

Because in one way or another, we all share the same belief about how we want to help the world. Our “whys” are aligned.

And there are plenty more people I haven’t heard back from (yet): Warren Buffett, Tony Robbins, Taylor Swift, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and lots more…

If you are buddies with any of these folks, please pass the talk along to them!

Also, as a result of the past few days, a few fun things have happened. One came in the form of a phone call yesterday where I was asked to be in a T.V. show where entrepreneurs compete with each other for different prizes.

That was definitely a first! :)

Tuesday morning: 34,000 views

Wednesday morning (the day I first published this post): 41,147 views

[update] Thursday morning (today): 58,450 views

Holy. Shit.

Our message is really starting to get heard…

[update] Monday night, December 17, 2012: 100,464 views

TEDx Golden Gate Park

The Power of Doing the Work – and reaching over 40,000 hearts in 5 days.

In the last few days a lot of people have asked me, “How the hell did you get so many views in such a short amount of time?”

I tell them I’m not really sure how it happened. And to be honest, I could have never expected or planned on this. I mean, just last week my long shot goal was 15,000.

So who knows what crazy things came together to make this reality.

But I wonder if spending 30 hours sending emails to friends in the past 4 days had anything to do with it?

Perhaps. And perhaps not.

It’s quite possible that no one in TEDx history has spent as much time planning, strategizing and pounding the pavement trying to get their passionate message out to the world. Who knows? And I’m almost certain no one spent that much time figuring out a damn name for their talk!

“Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

– Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech, June 12, 2005

It is our responsibility to put ourselves in a situation where luck is more likely to happen.

I tell you this full story with the hopes of showing you how serendipity plays its part.

On one hand, it seems like blind luck to get offered to speak at the perfect event on the perfect topic just days before the event. On the other hand, I’ve been acting in a way that’s congruent with that dream for quite some time.

On one hand, it’s easy to dismiss things that happen to others as them being “fortunate” or “privileged” and figure out some excuse to dismiss you from thinking it’s possible for you to work your face off and do the same.

But instead, you could make an altogether different decision.

You could see someone’s luck and let it serve as inspiration and motivation for you to figure out what might be in your control to allow you a shot at experiencing the same.

Then when you see possibility, work your ass off to control everything in your power to make it real. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But at least you did all you could. That is the most powerful habit of them all (and we actually talked about it in last week’s post: Controlling What You Can Control).

I can’t control whether the head TED guys decide the video is worth featuring on the main TED site, but we can do everything in our power to make the talk incredibly tough for them to ignore.

That is something you, me and so many folks we’ve never heard of, did together these past five days. I am forever grateful for your support. You make the impossible possible.

No matter what happens from today forward, this experience has been a tremendous victory.

A message has been heard.

We’ve helped a lot of people.

A dream has come true.

And as a result, many more likely will too.

One thing’s for sure. I won’t look back in a few years and say, “Damn! I wish I would have done more with that TEDx opportunity I had.”

Thank you, guys.

And to all of you new to our community – welcome to the family! Please say hello and tell us about yourself in the comments. I think you’ll feel at home here.

For now, I’m off to go send a few more emails…

-Scott

P.S. And if you haven’t watched the video yet, I think you’ll enjoy it. If it moves you, we’d be grateful if you shared it with those who need it most. Whether that’s through Facebook, Twitter, email or writing your own blog post to your own community with an embed of the video (which could save you from having to think up new content for a post this week :), it’s up to you. Anything you decide to do to help the cause, means the world to me and everyone else here.

Here’s the link to OUR talk at TEDx on How to Find & Do Work You Love.

I love seeing what we can do as a team!

Update: I recently did an interview on Bryan Kelly’s web show What The Speak, about my TEDx experience. He did a great job interviewing. Here it is:

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