One of the key differentiating factors between a standard, boring webinar, and a more engaging, polished virtual presentation is the use of Picture-in-Picture (PiP).

This is the industry term for what you see above, where you can see both the speaker and their slides clearly at the same time. Too often, dry webinars consist of a tiny talking head reading a full screen of slides to you. Picture-in-picture helps to solve this problem (note: it doesn’t automatically make people less boring, unfortunately).

There is no easy setting for enabling a picture-in-picture view in Zoom for all of your attendees but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are five ways to create picture-in-picture slides in Zoom. (Note: some links below may be affiliate links.)

1. Teach people to swap shared screen with video.

The easiest, and no-cost, way to get picture-in-picture view is to simply teach your audience how to change the Zoom view for themselves.

PRO: This costs no money and takes advantage of the built-in capability of Zoom.
CON: Each attendee has to do this personally, there’s no way for you to change it for them. Also it involves a couple of different steps to make it look good.


  1. Start sharing your screen in Zoom.
  2. Tell participants to put Zoom into Full Screen mode (if not done automatically).
  3. Tell participants to “Swap shared screen with video.”
  4. Tell participants to drag the corner of the shared screen to make it larger so the slides are visible.
  5. Start presenting.

Note: There is a much quicker setting called “Side-by-side Mode” that is much better than the default view, but it’s still not PiP.

2. Use Prezi Video.

The second easiest way to create a picture-in-picture virtual experience is to take advantage of Prezi’s recently launched Prezi Video.

PRO: Prezi takes away a lot of the guess work and you can quickly import slides from PowerPoint or Keynote.
CON: Prezi costs $7-20 / month and the process can be resource intensive. Also you have to switch back and forth between Prezi and Zoom.


  1. Sign up for Prezi.
  2. Download the Prezi Video desktop app.
  3. Import your slides.
  4. Choose a default theme.
  5. Connect Prezi Video to Zoom.
  6. Start presenting.

Note: There are a lot of great themes in Prezi Video to choose from and you aren’t restricted to using just the default rectangular shape.

3. Use Ecamm Live.

The third way to spruce up your virtual presentation with picture-in-picture is to use Ecamm Live, a software tool for Mac that allows you to create scenes, graphic overlays, and more.

PRO: Ecamm Live has some great advanced features to go along with picture-in-picture, has a robust community offering tips, and is relatively user-friendly.
CON: Ecamm Live is only on Mac and requires the $20 / month professional version to use with Zoom. It also requires you to switch between Ecamm Live, PowerPoint, and Zoom, or use an Elgato Stream Deck to control.


  1. Sign up for Ecamm Live.
  2. Download the Ecamm Live application to your Mac.
  3. Create 3 scenes: one of just your video, one of just your slides, one that is picture-in-picture of slides and video.
  4. Open Zoom and select your camera as Ecamm Live.
  5. Start presenting.

Note: virtual webcams only work Zoom version 5.0.4 or later. For easier use, you can connect your slides via a second computer using an HDMI capture card.

4. Use a software switcher.

The fourth way to add picture-in-picture to your virtual meeting is to use a software switcher, such as OBS or Wirecast.

PRO: OBS and Wirecast are both advanced tools that give you a lot of control over exactly what you share in Zoom. Both give you capability that can mirror what you see in content produced for TV. OBS is free.
CON: OBS and Wirecast are both advanced tools which means they can take some time to learn and are resource intensive on your computer. Wirecast is expensive.


  1. Sign up for OBS or purchase Wirecast.
  2. Download the software to your computer.
  3. Add the Virtual Cam plug-in (if necessary).
  4. Create 3 scenes: one of just your video, one of just your slides, one that is picture-in-picture of slides and video.
  5. Open Zoom and select your camera as the Virtual Cam from the software switcher.
  6. Start presenting.

Note: virtual webcams only work Zoom version 5.0.4 or later. For easier use, you can connect your slides via a second computer using an HDMI capture card.

5. Use a hardware switcher.

The final way to build in picture-in-picture for a virtual keynote or workshop is to use a hardware switcher, such as the ATEM Mini Pro.

PRO: A hardware switcher is the most professional of the setups. It removes any extra processing power from your computer so Zoom tends to run more smoothly. You can also add extra camera angles, chroma key, and transitions, and it can all be controlled at the press of button, making switching between everything a lot smoother and faster.
CON: The ATEM Mini Pro costs $595 (the regular mini is $295). It requires HDMI cameras to work (so built-in and USB webcams don’t help) AND a second computer for your slides. It can take some time to setup.


  1. Purchase a hardware switcher.
  2. Download the software to your computer.
  3. Connect all of the HDMI cameras you want to use, as well as a second computer for slides, to the hardware switcher.
  4. Adjust hardware switcher settings as needed.
  5. Connect hardware switcher to primary computer.
  6. Open Zoom and select your camera as the hardware switcher.
  7. Start presenting.

Note: This is what I use to deliver my virtual keynote.

Summary of How to Create Picture-in-Picture in Zoom

There you have it, 5 ways to create a picture-in-picture view when presenting in Zoom. Each way has its own pros and cons, and no way is perfect for every person, but with a little research and the right tools, you can be creating more compelling and engaging virtual presentations, every time.

If you’d like to learn how to deliver compelling virtual experience, check out our virtual workshops on Humor That Works. Have a question? Let me know!

Updated February 2021 with my current setup at the bottom.

With each week that passes under COVID-19, more and more groups are looking towards virtual programs as a way to provide content, value, and connection to their employees, members, and users. Last week, I shared tips on transitioning an event into a virtual experience.

This week, I want to talk more about the different levels of virtual programs. As you can probably imagine, not all virtual events are created equal. While most people know and lament about the “standard webinar,” there is so much more that can be done.

Think of it this way: if the only stand-up comedy you ever experienced was people trying stand-up for the first time at an open mic, you would think it was a terrible artform. But you’ve seen the professionally produced Netflix comedy specials and know it could be so much more.

Virtual programs are not webinars only. Webinars are your open mics, so let’s look at some of the more elevated tiers of what can be done:

Levels of Virtual Programs

The primary differentiators for virtual programs are: video, audio, lighting, and delivery. Notice that content is not included in this list. Yes, you do need someone who has great content, but that’s true regardless of level or format.

For each tier, I’ve share some examples of what gear could be used with (some affiliate) links to where you can get them.

NOTE: A lot of these pieces are in high demand and may be sold out or have long delivery times. If you can’t find it on Amazon, consider searching other online retailers such as Best Buy or B&H Photo Video, or a local electronics store. Or, do a search for “alternatives to [sold out equipment name].”

Tier 1 Virtual Program – Standard

The first level of virtual programs is what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar. The focus is on delivering content as quick, easy, and cheap as possible.

Pros: Takes advantage of what most content creators already have. Can be up and running very quickly. Requires very little rehearsal as content can be read.
Cons: The end product is usually not all that engaging. Experience, interaction, and efficacy is low. Isn’t differentiated from products that have negative connotations.

  • Video: Single camera angle, often at the default height of the desk / chair, with little attention paid to framing.
    • Equipment: built-in camera in laptop or smartphone.
  • Audio: Basic audio setup, often with existing background noise of the environment.
    • Equipment: built-in microphone in laptop or smartphone.
  • Lighting: Basic lighting, often with overhead lighting or bright windows in background.
    • Equipment: whatever standard room-lighting exists.
  • Delivery: One view, audio over slides, possibly with a video of presenter in the corner, with little to no interaction.

Example: Just about any introductory webinar that you’ve experienced.

Tier 2 Virtual Program – Elevated

The second level of virtual programs is an elevated version of what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar. The focus is on building a more engaging presentation while balancing a need to create content quickly and easily.

Pros: Builds on what most content creators already have. Doesn’t require extensive setup time. Follows a framework that people already expect but in an elevated way.
Cons: Requires more planning and setup than Tier 1, but isn’t dramatically differentiated at first glance. Involves some additional investment and resources. Doesn’t create immediate WOW factor.

Example: Some of the initial virtual workshops offered by Humor That Works. (Coming Soon)

Tier 3 – Professional

The third level of virtual programs moves beyond what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar and begins to transition into virtual workshops and virtual keynotes. The focus is on creating a compelling learning experience that keeps attendees engaged and entertained without breaking the bank.

Pros: Creates a new delivery that is differentiated from the standard webinar presentation. Doesn’t try to replicate in-person experiences but rather takes advantage of remote attendees. Doesn’t require a dedicated studio space or additional producer.
Cons: Involves higher costs for equipment. Requires more setup and rehearsal time to get tech working smoothly. Can be a lot for one person to manage.

  • Video: Two camera angles, one elevated to eye-level of speaker, framed to show head and shoulders without too much extra space, another for an additional view (such as whiteboard, flipchart, or action shot).
  • Audio: Advanced audio setup with external microphone, unobtrusive headphones, zero background noise, and possible music or sound effects.
  • Lighting: Advanced lighting, with multi-point lighting system in front of the speaker and strategic backlighting.
  • Delivery: Three to four views: 1) “talking head” shot, 2) secondary camera angle, 3) view of just slides, 4) picture-in-picture of talking head and slides. Advanced use of interactive tools such as Q&A, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboards.

Example: Many of our virtual keynote offerings and the work Brian Fanzo is up to.

Tier 4 – Production

The fourth level of virtual programs blurs the line between virtual program and TV-level production. The focus is on crafting an experience where production and content are closely linked together. Cost is not an obstacle.

Pros: Delivers in a way that wows people not only in content but in production. Leverages decades of techniques and equipment from TV and Film. Creates an experience that would not be possible at an in-person event.
Cons: Involves high costs for equipment and dedicated studio space. Requires advanced expertise in video, audio, and computer technology. Requires extensive rehearsal and possible additional person as producer (in person or virtual).

  • Video: Multiple camera angles, one elevated to eye-level of speaker, framed to show head and shoulders without too much extra space, others for additional views (such as whiteboard, flipchart, close up, green screen, or action shot).
  • Audio: Professional audio setup with external microphone, unobtrusive headphones, zero background noise, and possible music or sound effects.
  • Lighting: Professional lighting, with multi-point lighting system in front of speaker with strategic backlighting.
  • Delivery: Four to six views: 1) “talking head” shot, 2) secondary camera angle, 3) third camera angle, 4) view of just slides, 5) picture-in-picture of talking head and slides, 6) custom pre-recorded video seamlessly integrated into program. Advanced use of interactive tools such as Q&A, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboards, as well as webpages for custom-made experience.

Example: The incredible programs Vinh Giang and Drew Davis are putting together.

Choosing the Right Virtual Setup + My Current Setup

A higher tier of production doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll create a virtual experience. You’ll note that none of these levels cover the content that is covered. If you combine Tier 4 production with Bill Lumbergh level delivery, it’s still going to be a terrible program.

For context, my virtual keynotes are typically Tier 3 setup with the following equipment (Updated February 2021):

The virtual workshops we offer at Humor That Works are between Tier 2 to Tier 3 using the following (Updated February 2021):

At a minimum, strive Tier 2 as a way to elevate your programs beyond the dreaded webinar.

Questions? Feel free to reach out.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the events industry, more and more organizations are having to make the tough decision between postponing an event, taking it virtual, or cancelling it all together. While it’s easy to dismiss creating a virtual experience in lieu of the other two, there are a few things worth considering:

  1. People need inspiration, engagement, and training now more than ever. As people wrestle with this (hopefully) temporary new normal, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty are higher than ever. Not every topic that was originally scheduled will still be top of mind, but it’s highly likely that some of your planned sessions are still of great value to your audience.
  2. A virtual experience won’t replace the in-person event, but it can bridge the gap. No virtual event can stack-up to the on-the-ground experience you get from attending an event in-person. Nor should it attempt to. What you create for the virtual experience may look very different than what would have happened in-person, and that’s okay. What’s more important is providing value to your members in a time they need it most (see #1).
  3. There are distinct advantages to virtual events. Many people consider virtual events “less than” an in-person one. And while there are certainly things a virtual experience can’t provide (see #2), there are things you can do virtually that you can’t do in-person. The biggest mistake many groups make is trying to replicate the in-person experience as much as possible, rather than leveraging the strengths of what a live, virtual environment can provide.

No, it won’t make sense for every event to move to a virtual experience. But for those who serve their attendees through a new medium, it might just be exactly what they need. Besides, people had this time marked off on their calendar anyway, you might as well help them fill their schedule!

If you are considering transforming your in-person event into a virtual experience, there are a few myths about virtual experiences that are worth dispelling:

  1. Myth #1Webinars are the only way to create a virtual event. There are a variety of virtual experiences you can create, a “traditional webinar” is only one of them. Depending on your circumstances, a virtual keynote, extended classroom, lightboard lecture, or interactive workshop might be better suited. And don’t forget you can also have a virtual emcee that bridges the gap between the different sessions.
  2. Myth #2No one pays attention during a virtual event. Yes, if a webinar is boring, people will quickly move on to something else. But that’s true of all content. As Jerry Seinfeld said, “There’s no such thing as a short attention span, only boring content.” Need proof that people will pay attention in a virtual environment? Just look at the considerable hours people spend on TV, movies, video games, and binge watching YouTube videos. With the right content and the right presenter, a virtual experience can be just as engaging as an in-person one.
  3. Myth #3An in-person event is always better than a virtual one. Yes, you absolutely miss out on some key parts of a live event when you attend virtually. There are no random hallway conversations, no “caught up in the moment” experiences of attending live, and no lines for the buffet style food. But there are some advantages, such as the fact that everyone who is attending is sitting at a computer which can provide an unparalleled level of interaction. Plus there are no travel costs for attendees which means those with tighter schedules (or budgets) are still able to attend.

There is no way to capture the magic of an in-person event, but that doesn’t mean that a virtual experience can’t be magical in it’s own right. All it takes is the right people, the right technology, and the right plan.

If you’ve decided to move forward with a virtual experience, here are a few tips that may help you with the process:

  1. Pick the right technology. There’s no one technology that is perfect for all events. If you have a massive audience (1,000+) and interaction isn’t a focus, a Facebook or YouTube live stream is probably your best bet. If your audience is smaller, and you’re looking for more interactive components, Zoom is currently the top choice among most organizations.
  2. Pick the right presenters. Suffice to say that fantastic in-person speakers don’t necessarily make fantastic virtual speakers (though many do). Make sure the speakers you select have experience presenting virtually, are familiar with the technology, and know how to engage a remote audience (via compelling stories, interesting visuals, interactive chat, breakout rooms, and more).
  3. Create the right presentation environment. Don’t just rely on a presenter sitting down in front of their laptop webcam at their kitchen table and expect the presentation to be compelling. Make sure the presenter has a high quality camera, professional level audio, good lighting, and high-speed ethernet access. Nothing ruins a virtual presentation worse than bad audio or audio that is so out of sync with the video that you feel like you’re watching an old school martial arts film. Ideally, the presenter would also have an on-site or virtual producer to manage video feeds, and a virtual emcee to manage questions and maintain interaction in the chat.
  4. Use a variety of presentation formats. A person speaking to a camera and talking over slides is only one style of a virtual presentation. Consider which option will work best for your topic, audience, and technical setup. If you have multiple presenters throughout the day, consider using a variety of styles to keep the content fresh.
  5. Leverage interaction as much as possible. If people just wanted pre-recorded content, they would watch TED talks, Netflix, or the recording of the event at a later date. But people want a community experience, so create one. Every attendee is sitting in front of their computer (or smartphone), which means they can easily ask questions without disrupting the speaker, fill in polls that give you valuable insight, provide instantaneous feedback, connect with others in breakout rooms, post directly to social media, and engage as an entire community at once. Find ways to make the virtual event a community event.

We are currently experiencing an unprecedented challenge in the events industry that is not only impacting the individual events that were scheduled, but also the lives and livelihood of everyone involved, from the meeting planners and event organizers, to the speakers and emcees, to the members and attendees we all willingly serve.

Virtual events will never replace what makes our in-person events so great, but they can help bridge the gap in this time of need. If you have questions about whether or not a virtual experience is right for your event, feel free to reach out.

Getting and delivering a TEDx Talk (or any type of fantastic video content) is only the beginning of the journey for that video. What comes next is how you get more people to watch the incredible thing you’ve created.

Other content creators will often ask what I did to get my TEDx talk on the skill of humor to over 5 million views. I wish I could tell you that I had a specific process with exacting results, but the truth is I tried a bunch of things and also just got lucky. I delivered a talk I was proud of that seems to resonate with people and has steadily grown in popularity over time.

With that said, I think there are some strategies you can use to get the video in front of more people.

Ideas for Promoting Your TEDx Video

  1. Watch the talk! Yes, you should watch your own talk so you remind yourself of how you did AND how the video came across (plus every view helps, especially early on). While watching, be on the lookout for short snippets you can use for promotional posts (see #3).
  2. Share the video with your friends, family, and fans. Think of your dearest fans and share it with them. They’ll be excited to see you in action and won’t care if your talk only has a few hundred or thousand views. Encourage them to like and comment on the video so that the video shows engagement early on.
  3. Share the video on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn). Your first couple of posts can be, “Check out my talk!” Pin one of those posts so that it’s the top social media post on each profile. Then schedule out a series of posts that include snippets of your content (see #1). This could be in the form of a picture quote, a short clip from the talk, or positive/funny comments on the video. I also included a picture from my TEDx talk on my online dating profiles at the time and know it led to at least a couple of additional views because of it.
  4. Publish a post or a newsletter about your video. Share the release of the talk with your followers. However, instead of just saying “here it is,” add some value. Either include the story about the experience, give the transcript, or share key takeaways from the talk.
  5. Suggest the video to sites that align with your talk. Submit it to the appropriate subreddit (such as the one for TED Talks), email it to editors of sites like Upworthy, and share it with bloggers who write on the topic you speak about.
  6. Add the link to your email signature. After your name and whatever other signature details you want to include, add a link along the lines of “Check out my TEDx talk on TOPIC.”
  7. Post the video to your website. If it makes sense, add the video as the first thing people see when they visit your site. Don’t make the video autoplay because nobody likes that, but create a compelling image / call-to-action so that people want to click play to hear the talk. Note: One exception to autoplay is if you use the video (muted) as the background on one of those fancy parallax sites, then definitely have it autoplay.
  8. Send the video to previous clients. If you run a business (such as speaking or coaching) related to your talk, reach out to former clients to let them know you’ve given a TEDx talk on the topic. Mention that you wanted to share the talk as it could serve as a refresher for their attendees (and may be a good reminder for that client to book you again).
  9. Send the video to potential clients. When you start interacting with potential clients, send them your video so that they can “see you in action.” This works for incoming inquiries or people you’ve met at a networking event (assuming they express interest in learning more about what you do).
  10. Post about the “aftermath” of the video coming out. Share with people what’s happened since the talk. It could be an analysis of the impact the talk has had or you reacting to the comments on the video. You can also post when the video hits certain milestones. This will remind people that they can check it out and starts to give social proof that other people like the video. Milestones to consider: 1,000 views, 10,000 views, 100,000 views, 250,000 views, 500,000 views, and/or 1,000,000+ views. No, a single new view or comment is not a milestone.

You’ve done the hard work of creating a compelling piece of content, don’t let it go to waste by not doing the hard work of sharing it with more people. Have your own idea of how to promote your video? Share it in the comments!


Two years ago today, my TEDx talk on the skill of humor was uploaded to the TEDx YouTube Channel. To say it has changed my life is both an exaggeration and an understatement. It’s an exaggeration because regardless of how it was received, I would have continued on my mission to make the world funnier so that it may be effective-r. And it’s an understatement because I could not have predicted what would happen once the video went live.

To celebrate the two year anniversary, I decided to take a look at why humor is an idea worth spreading through the lens of what’s happened with the video. I already believed humor had the ability to create change, that’s why I gave the talk and what we’ve been working on for the last ten years at Humor That Works, but I wanted to look at the impact the TEDx talk has had, not on me, but on other people around the world. (To see a personal look at the experience, you can see last year’s post on The Process of Giving a TEDx Talk.)

The YouTube Video

The easiest place to start is with the YouTube video itself. After all, that’s where the viewing happens (unless you’re big into pirating already free TEDx videos). As of the writing of these words (June 12, 2019), the video has 4,702,914 views, 89,637 likes, 2,351 dislikes, and 2,256 comments.

For a little context, 136,389 talks have been uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel, with the skill of humor currently being the 76th most viewed talk (top 0.6%). But that comes with an important caveat: some TEDx talks are also elevated to the TED brand.

For example, Thomas Suarez’s talk on app development has 3 million views on the TEDx YouTube Channel, good for #134. But his talk is also on the TED YouTube Channel with 6.8 million views and the TED website with another 9 million, so the TEDx channel ranking comes with a grain of salt. Still, 4.7 million views suggests that perhaps there’s something to the idea of humor.

I also think it’s fair to say that the talk has been well-received. The percentage of likes (89,637) to dislikes (2,351) is at 97.44%, comparable to the top five talks on TEDx. The percentage of likes compared to the overall number of views is also the highest (1.91%) among the most viewed.

Top TEDx Videos

That same table shows that the engagement on the skill of humor–in this case the number of comments compared to the number of views–is also pretty solid and is on-par with the top five as well (0.05%). If we believe these other talks to be worth sharing, numerically the skill of humor belongs there as well.

Of course, if an idea is worth spreading, it should actually be spread to others. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the YouTube analytics for the talk so I can’t give exact numbers, but some Google searching shows that the video has indeed been shared. It has been embedded on a number of websites (including the World Economic Forum), discussed on podcasts, included in lists of TEDx talks to watch, and posted on most forms of social media, including nearly 5,000 shares on Facebook:

number of facebook shares

This suggests the idea has spread, though I am still waiting for it to get popular on MySpace and Google+ to confirm its legitimacy.

The YouTube Comments

While views are a great metric to follow (and fantastic for the ego), they don’t tell the whole story. Another interesting place to explore is the YouTube comments. People are often wary of exploring the depths of YouTube comments as they can be a harrowing place, but I’ve found most of the comments on the talk encouraging, enlightening, and/or hilarious.

The comments range from positive compliments about the talk to utter disbelief that so many people could possibly enjoy this “unfunny, waste of time.” There’s also a subset of comments dedicated to additional celebrities I’m similar to (including Neil Patrick Harris, Chandler Bing, and SpongeBob SquarePants).

Of the 2,256 comments, the most popular one (by likes) is:

The mark of something funny on the internet

A true compliment in the days of internet to be sure. The most popular comment (by replies) is:

Isosceles Triangle pickup line

Not to be outdone, a number of the replies are additional math pickup lines, including this great combo of math puns:

Math replies

Of the positive comments, there are people praising the talk and sharing how it’s helped them broaden their perspective:

Phenomenal speech

There are those who said it spoke to them:

Straight up love this

Side note: I’m not sure even my mom would watch the talk five times on repeat, so I appreciate the support Raul.

And there were others who were very enthusiastic (i.e. ALL CAPS) in their praise:

Video is genius

The neutral comments consists of quotes from the talk:

Human Error Messages Quote

Lots of love for my grandma (and rightfully so):

Grandmother is savage

And some pretty hilarious digs at me:

You can hear the nerd in his voice
Forehead is so big it has its own sense of humor

And my personal favorite:

I would pay to hear how this guy sounds on helium.

The negative comments are mostly about how unfunny I am:

Staged and Forced

Though luckily I do have some supporters defending me:

I thought he was pretty okay

Thank you for the backup, Jack ;).

In fact, you can see a parallel between some of the positive comments and some of the negative:

Positive and Negative Comments

Going through the comments helped me realize something important: my ego wants to be liked by everyone, to be heralded as a hilarious person by all humans, get elevated to, and maybe even have a Netflix humor special someday. While the last two desires are tangible goals that may one day come true, the first two are impossible.

By looking at the comments on what, by many metrics, is a “successful” talk, I realized my goal is not to please everyone because I can’t. If you have an idea worth spreading, some people are going to be against it, or going to be against your way of doing it, no matter what you say or do.

Instead, my goal is to provide value to the people who resonate with my message. Every ounce of energy I devote to the haters is an ounce of energy I could have been using to serve the believers (even the ones that think I’m just pretty okay).

The Direct Messages

All of the stats above speak to a quantified look at why the skill of humor is an idea worth spreading, or rather, how it has spread. But the biggest indicator that humor is worth spreading comes from the messages I’ve received since the talk came out–the emails, DMs, and in-person conversations I’ve had with folks who felt compelled to reach out because of a 19-minute video on the internet.

That people would take the time to seek me out, write a message, and hit send, is incredibly humbling to me. I’ve never watched a video on YouTube and then taken the time to contact the person who created it (though I am going to start). The willingness to reach out speaks to their willingness to express gratitude, the impact of the talk, or more likely, a combination of the two.

Over the last two years, I’ve received 256 messages via email and social media that directly quote the TEDx talk as their reason for reaching out. That’s just 0.005% of the number of views the talk has received, but it is an average of more than one message every three days.

And the messages have come from all range of services:

Messages from all forms of media.

I’ve yet to receive a shout out via messenger pigeon or smoke signal, but I am holding out hope.

And they’ve come from all over the world, representing 44 countries, 28 states, and six continents (what’s going on Antarctica?!?):

Messages from all over the world

The fact that messages have come from around the globe speaks to the fact that humor is a universal value, something that isn’t specific to one region or type of person, but rather is a fundamental human experience. And that we live in a cool time where the world is more connected.

A majority (58%) of the 200+ messages were just quick shout outs and thank yous to say how they enjoyed the talk:

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

How they needed some good humor:

You put a smile on my face for 19 minutes straight

Or how it’s prompted more humor:

Some of the messages were words of encouragement for my self-proclaimed nerdery:

Go on wichyo nerdy self

And offers to partake in nerdy activities:

Are you interested in joining our D&D session?

The answer is yes, I’m always down for D&D (unless it’s Season 8 of Game of Thrones).

The Events

There were two other types of messages that further suggest there is value in spreading the idea of humor. The first were inquiries about my work, including one from a surprising source:

Your TEDx talk was fantastic and I feel FBI employees could really benefit from hearing from you.

39 of the 256 messages I received were like the one above, asking me to come speak to an organization. Another 12 were to be on a podcast. I really enjoy seeing these types of messages because I’m passionate about what I do and love any opportunity to talk about the value of humor in our work and lives.

But moreso (or maybe equally so), requesting a talk or interview is direct evidence that the idea is worth spreading because it’s literally asking me to spread the message. It means that event organizers and podcast hosts saw the talk and thought, “I want my audience to hear this message.”

Those 39 inquiries have led to 18 events in three countries, plus four more coming up within the next year and four more that are still being discussed. It’s resulted in me sharing the message of humor in front of ~5,000 people live.

It’s also generated 12 appearances on podcasts ranging in topic from sales to training to work-life balance. If you add in an estimated number of listens from podcasts I was a guest on, along with the views from videos that were posted from the aforementioned events, my best guess for total people impacted from extensions of the TEDx talk is ~50,000. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 4.7 million views on the talk itself, but evidence that the idea is spreading.

But there is one last type of message I want to explore further, one that truly speaks to what has happened since the video went live.

The Impact

Everything written above has been fun to explore. Doing a deep dive into the statistics of the YouTube video, exploring the comments, analyzing the messages, and thinking about the additional events the talk has led to all touch on the value of humor (and is perhaps a tiny bit vain).

But the greatest indicator that the skill of humor is an idea worth spreading comes from one last category of messages I’ve received.

I was watching your TED talk and I have never been more inspired about comedy than today. I went to your website as soon as I finished watching the video. Thank you for inspiring the uninspired.

They are the messages from people talking about how they’ve been inspired by the talk. Or how they’re going to make a change:

I've just watched your TED video by chance and I had to tell you that it made my day. I've been taken life too seriously lately and your speech is going to make a difference starting tomorrow. You have no idea how much you helped me

I’ve received notes about how it’s provided them encouragement:

just watched your skill of humor video on youtube and just wanted to tell you how genuinely enlightening it was.

And that it’s given them inspiration:

Deeply resonated and inspired by your Ted talk.

Or motivation:

Anyway I just wanted to say your TedTalk set it off for me this year. And it’s the reason I bought your audiobook. It is very inspiring and I have added your tips to a passion project I am working on to make a Behavior Design game.

For others, they felt a sense of validation:

Andrew - I watched your TedX talk and really enjoyed it - found it really validating, in fact. Just thought you might like to connect with an INFP... or a socially-anxious clown, if you will ;)

Or that it helped them in some way:

Hey, I know you're probably pretty busy so sorry if I'm bothering you, but I just wanted to say thank you.

Side Note: It is never a bother to hear from someone who reaches out; I respond to every single one of these messages.

To hear from people how you have positively impacted them is one of the greatest gifts you can receive. It puts into perspective why you do what you do and justifies the (metaphorical) blood, (figurative) sweat, and (occasionally literal) tears that go into it. But people don’t send these messages because of me, they send them because of the idea, the value and power of humor that is so desperately needed, and too often forgotten, in today’s world.

Perhaps the best articulation of this comes from an email I received from a former coaching client after the talk came out:

After watching your Ted Talk I realized a large part of why I am enjoying myself and my work so much is because my team and I laugh almost literally all day long. We are a small team that gets along so well and we love to laugh! My plan is never to leave :)

So many people assume that work has to feel like “work.” That it’s something you have to do just to survive. But what if, by using the skill of humor, we could enjoy not just our work but all parts of our lives a little bit more. What if we could better connect with the humans around us and better manage the ups and downs of daily life? What if we could all be a little funnier and have a lot more fun? To me, and quite a few others, that is an idea worth spreading.

If you haven’t watched the talk yet, you can do that here: the skill of humor. If you want to learn more about humor, check our site at Humor That Works or pick up the Humor That Works Book.

On December 9, 2016 at 18:31, an email hit my inbox that was both exciting and intimidating. It was an invite from TEDxTAMU asking if I was interested in applying to speak at their TEDx event in April 2017.

I was excited because doing a TEDx talk is a thrilling experience and it has the potential to lead to bigger things; I was intimidated because it’s a lot of work… and it has the potential to lead to bigger things.

Technically, a TEDx talk is just another engagement but, if it goes well (and you get a good video (and you say something that resonates (and it gets shared))), it can amplify your message far beyond most other platforms.

For example, I’ve done over 500 engagements as a speaker, reaching over 35,000 people live. 10 of those events have shared my talks online, the highest viewcount of any of those videos is 4,883 (a talk on the humor process). The collective viewcount is 19,964 views.

My first TEDx talk on humor at work has 211,375 views as of this writing. That’s 13x more people that I’ve possibly been able to help with my message, from one talk. That says nothing of the additional boost in credibility I got from having done a TEDx talk, the quality video I could share to demonstrate my speaking ability, and the joy of knowing 200,000+ people have seen my terrible MS Paint drawings.

I was excited, but intimidated.

The Difference between TED and TEDx

I should note that a TEDx talk is different than a TED talk, and one of my biggest pet peeves is people who claim they are TED speakers when all they’ve done is a TEDx event.

The TED Conference is the big one, it only happens once a year, and there’s a pretty intense process just to be able to attend (not to mention tickets cost $5,000). To speak there, you have to be invited by the curators and it’s usually reserved for people doing massively huge things (think Elon Musk and Brene Brown, not “some guy” named Drew).

A TEDx event is an independently run event with TED style talks, meaning they’re six to eighteen minutes long. Just about any group can run a TEDx event, assuming they apply and go through the TEDx process.

That’s not to say that TEDx events can’t be incredible; the one’s I’ve been a part of have been. But they’re not the same as TED. A speaker claiming to be a TED speaker when they’ve done TEDx is like saying you’re a NFL player because you play football in an intramural league.

That said, the process for doing a TEDx talk is similar to a TED event and TEDx events are all roughly the same in setup and format.

The Process of Giving a TEDx Talk

It starts first with getting an invitation to speak. This might be because someone saw you speak elsewhere and recommended you as a speaker (what happened to me for TEDxTAMU), or you applied online. Most events book 3-5 months before the event date and you can find a list of all upcoming TEDx events on the TED website.

Sometimes, as part of this process, you will already know the topic you’re going to speak on. Other times, you’ll build it after you’ve been selected (in a “You’re so awesome we know we want you to be part of the event no matter what you talk about” kind of way). From there, you have a series of check-ins with someone from the event team where you’ll go over your talk leading up to event and make sure you don’t just try to wing it like 90% of the other things you do in your life.

Here’s the timeline for my TEDxTAMU talk:

tedx timeline

The day before the event you’ll do a rehearsal of your talk, getting last minute notes from event staff or sometimes a presentation coach, as well as get used to the stage, clicker, etc. The day of the event, you’ll do the talk as part of a line-up of other awesome speakers, and maybe do some networking as well.

After the event is over, usually one to three months, the video will go onto the TEDx YouTube channel to be shared with the world. A very select few TEDx videos are then upgraded to the TED website (like Shawn Achor).

How these upgraded videos are selected, I do not know. I’ve been told that a member of the TED curation team watches every TEDx talk and so it’s possible that they decide, or they sometimes add a talk if it’s been viewed millions of times on YouTube. Either way, I’m told it’s not something you should expect to happen, like winning the lottery or successfully solving one of those peg board games on the first try.

After that, you are a TEDx speaker and can share the video with anyone willing to watch.

Choosing a Topic for a TEDx Talk

For me, after getting over the excitement of doing another TEDx talk, and telling the group I would happily apply, I had to come up with a topic to speak on. There are a number of ideas rattling around in my brain that I think are worth spreading. After a quick brainstorm, I had ten that I was interested in exploring:

  1. How to take risks with no fear.
  2. Fate versus choice.
  3. We are all more alike than we are different.
  4. The perils of unleadership.
  5. Imposter syndrome.
  6. Three steps to small talk.
  7. We are not our personality assessments.
  8. The quantification of life.
  9. Do we need emotion?
  10. The skill of humor.

After hashing out the theme and rough outline for each of these ideas, I narrowed it down to the three “The’s”:

  1. The Perils of Unleadership. A talk exploring the difference between intention and action, and the things we unknowingly do that demotivate the people around us.
  2. The Quantification of Life. A talk focused on the pros and cons of quantifying everything we do, complete with examples of things I’ve tracked and analyzed over the years, including: tracking every hour of my day for an entire year, using data analytics to determine my favorite song, and my stand-up on attempting to quantify love.
  3. The Skill of Humor. A talk on the idea that humor is a skill, which means it can be learned. I saw this as an extension of my first TEDx talk on humor in the workplace with more of a focus on how to be funny instead of why to be funny.

With these ideas in hand, I talked to a number of friends and colleagues over the pros and cons of each one. The most helpful criteria I heard with regard to choosing a TEDx topic included:

  • What do you have the most expertise in? TEDx isn’t just about sharing an idea you think about, it’s about sharing something you are truly a subject matter expert in and can bring new perspective to. They want to hear about the challenges of the modern school system from experts like Ken Robinson, not your Aunt Karen.
  • What can you execute really really well? Because of the potential a TEDx video has, it’s important to do something you can knock out of the park. Trying something out for the very first time is great for an improv stage, not the TEDx stage.
  • What do you want to speak on going forward? Assuming the talk goes well and you get great video as a result, you’ll start to get inquiries about speaking on the topic of your TEDx talk. Unlike stand-up, where a video of your material usually indicates that material is nearing the end of its lifecycle, a TEDx video can be the start of you talking about that topic for years to come.

Based on this criteria, I applied to TEDxTAMU to speak on The Skill of Humor and was accepted.

NOTE: If you’re organizing a TEDx event and think any of the other ideas sound interesting, I’d be happy to share it at your event. I’d also add talking about the lessons from my new book, The United States of Laughter, to the mix. Have your people email my people.

Preparing for a TEDx Talk

As mentioned, there’s a typical process that all TEDx speakers go through for an event, and one of the most helpful parts of the process is having a deadline. Unlike Tim Urban, I don’t procrastinate; I just believe in Just-In-Time Productivity. So the deadlines served as great motivators to actually work on my talk.

However, that wasn’t enough. So I did what I do whenever I’m preparing for a new talk: I booked myself on stand-up shows.

I do this for three reasons:

  1. All of my talks include a lot of humor (even if I’m talking leadership or decision-making) and no matter the venue, I am always corporate clean. My material is Rated Mom (as in I always want my mom to be comfortable watching my work). Therefore, if material I do works in a stand-up comedy club, I know it’ll work with a speaking audience because the bar for laughter is lower.
  2. It’s easier to book stand-up shows than speaking events and my responsibility on those shows is lower than at my events. If I’m working on material at a stand-up show and it’s not Grade A, that’s okay. If I’m at a speaking event and I bomb, that’s a whole different story. Time is something we speakers take very seriously. As Carrie Wilkerson says, “if I’m booked to speak for an hour to 500 people, I’m now responsible for 500 human hours.”
  3. It gives me deadlines. If I book five shows in a week, that’s five times I’ll be thinking about, writing, performing, and reviewing the material I’m working on. Sure, I could theoretically still do that if I didn’t have any stand-up shows, or I could also just catch up on Doctor Who instead.

In the four months leading up to the TEDx event, I did 17 comedy shows to work on material that could be used in the talk.

As it got closer to the event, however, I knew I couldn’t just do stand-up as I needed to work on transitions and do full run-throughs. So I started finding ways to work on the complete 18 minute version of the talk in front of more traditional speaking audiences.

First, I re-arranged my humor keynote so that I could do The Skill of Humor as the middle section of my talk. Second, I reached out to a few previous clients, as well as a couple of meetup groups, and offered to give my talk for free. To them, they got a good talk for no cost, for me I got a deadline on my calendar to practice the talk and get feedback.

In total, I was able to practice my full TEDx talk 13 times in front of an actual audience before the event.

A Last Minute Change

Going into the final week before the event, I felt pretty good about the talk. I knew the jokes were funny because I worked on them in stand-up; I knew the TEDxTAMU team was happy with the talk because of our check-ins; and I knew that the overall flow worked as a speech because I had tried it in front of real audiences.

And then, three days before the event, I presented a modified version of the talk to my brother’s class at Texas A&M. My brother, David Tarvin, is a communications lecturer and has a PhD in rhetoric. He teaches public speaking, leadership and conflict resolution, and intercultural communication; needless to say, he knows a thing or two about speeches (but only a thing or two, I refuse to give him too much credit).

Side Note: People often wonder what it is about our upbringing that led me to being a professional speaker and my brother being a teacher of public speaking. The truth is that it’s mostly coincidence. I got into being an engineer and doing stand-up and improv; David got into it because he loves teaching and likes to talk.

After presenting it to his class, with positive feedback all around, I asked David for feedback. His response was, “It’s good.” (Long Pause) “But…” and then he basically outlined how, in an 18-minute talk, I had two primary themes when any good talk, particularly one so short, should have only one.

We parsed through the speech and I realized he was right. I definitely had elements of The Skill of Humor as a theme. However, I also had a theme for why to use humor at work, the topic of my first TEDx talk. As it currently stood, this TEDx talk was almost like an updated version of my first TEDx talk with different jokes. And that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted this talk to complement the first one. The entire goal of the first talk was to convince people why humor is so important. The goal of the second talk was supposed to be how to actually use humor, no matter how funny you think you are.

So, with my brother’s help, and with less than 72 hours until I’d be presenting, we set about re-organizing the talk:

tedx outline before after

As you can see from the two outlines above, I am a nerd when it comes to creating talk outlines. But, more importantly, you can see that I kept a lot of the content the same. However, I re-organized the structure of the talking points and streamlined the sections that felt more like the “why to use humor” in order to focus more on the sections that talked about “how to use humor.”

I shared my changes with David on Thursday night, he approved, and then I presented it to another one of his classes on Friday. The feedback was even better than the previous deliveries and I knew the new structure was definitely stronger.

Friday night, I did the dress rehearsal and got positive feedback from the TEDxTAMU team. Then I had dinner with family (my mom had come down for the event), and went to bed, dreaming of a successful event (and milkshakes).

The Day of the TEDx Talk

Having done over 500 speaking events in my career, I don’t often get nervous before events. Usually I just get excited. Saturday, April 22nd was different. I felt the nervous energy that is a mix of fear and excitement, the same nervousness I felt when I first started doing improv 10+ years prior or whenever I get onto an empty subway car in NYC (is it just my lucky day or is the car empty because of some horrid smell?).

I woke up at 8:50 and did a run-through of my talk. My only real concern at that point was time. Whenever I practiced the new version on my own, I came in at around 22 minutes. Not good for a 18-minute talk.

My last run through of the morning came in at 20 minutes and I figured that was close enough, given that I typically talk faster in the moment and I wouldn’t have the luxury of pausing to collect my thoughts.

I showered and had breakfast before David, my mom, and David’s roommate, Andrea, dropped me off at the event. I went backstage and met some of the other fellow speakers while my family found their seats (front and center).

I was the last speaker in the second block of the day. That meant I got to sit with my nerves a little while longer while my fellow speakers went out and did their thing. I remember they had a great mix of compelling ideas and fun delivery but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they talked about. I was too focused on my own fate.

And then it was my turn. I hit the stage at approximately 11:35 CT and, as I walked to center stage, my nerves dissipated. Before I knew it, I was excitedly sharing the first story about my grandmother texting me. And after 19 minutes and 16 seconds, I walked off to applause.

Afterwards, I took some pictures with the TEDxTAMU sign, with my mom, some of the team, and a few new fans I had gained during the talk.

tedx with mom

Then we headed to lunch as a family and I finally breathed a sigh of relief.

Waiting for the TEDx Video

Giving a TEDx talk is only part of the journey. After that, you wait for the video.

And, as Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. You’re left wondering, “Was I as good (or as bad) as I thought I was?” “Will the energy in the room translate to video?” “Did the camera get my good side?”

The video is edited by whatever group the TEDx event has contracted, and then uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel for the world to see. For me, there was an intermediate step that was supposed to happen, didn’t, but then eventually did.

From my first TEDx talk, I realized how important the edit of the video is, particularly with a talk on humor. With TEDxOSU, I saw an early draft of the video and had a few notes to share (73 of them, actually).

They included things like, “When I compare myself to ‘skinny Hugh Jackman,’ cut to a close up of my face so that you can see that I do, in fact, look like a ‘skinny Hugh Jackman.'” Things that helped the comedy flow and punchlines work in a video setting.

So, when I agreed to do TEDxTAMU, I confirmed that I would have the ability to give notes on the edit before it went live. This got lost somewhere in the process, so when I sent a follow-up email to see when I’d get to look at the rough-cut, I was informed the video was already online (with 800+ views).

Unfortunately there were a few key problems with the initial edit, so we had to pull the video and do a re-edit.

To get a sense of the small changes that can have a big impact, here’s part of the email I sent to the editor:

tedxtamu video edits

After a couple of iterations, I was happy with the video and they re-uploaded it to YouTube and everything was great. Almost. The default thumbnail for the video was one of my slides and didn’t really represent what my talk was about.

I sent an email to the TEDx YouTube channel (with the support of TEDxTAMU), and they changed the thumbnail to something more engaging. And then everything was great.

What Happens After You Give a TEDx Talk

My talk has now been online just over a year, and as of this writing, has been viewed nearly one million times. But the success of this talk (views-wise) is relatively recent.

As of January 2018, the talk was at just over 3,000 views. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I do have some from periodically checking and here’s the growth over time:

tedx views over time

I don’t know what happened from January to March but the talk became more popular and views started skyrocketing. Maybe it took time for people to think, “WTF?”

Views haven’t been the only positive from the experience. In addition to the fun of having a lot of hits, I can also point to the TEDx talk as a direct source of income.

I’ve had nine inquiries come in that have specifically said they first saw my talk; four of those inquiries have led to bookings. In other cases, I’ve used the talk as proof of credibility and as a speaker demo when people have asked about my services. I’ve also gotten a few podcast invites and one inquiry to see if I was single.

But the most powerful outcome has been the comments I’ve received from people about how it has impacted their life. People from all over the world have reached out on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to share what the talk has meant to them.

But you can’t please everyone. As of this writing, the video has 19,000+ likes and 465 dislikes on YouTube. And some of the comments are less than positive (including one YouTuber who claims I am “Formulaic, dispassionate and utterly predictable”).

Still, it seems to have made a good number of people laugh, and hopefully learn, and that’s all I can ask for.

A Review of My TEDx Experience

Overall, giving a TEDx talk was an incredible experience. From a very early draft of this article (when the talk was at less than 5,000 views), I wrote:

“Even if the talk never goes viral, I’m still very happy with the result. Speaking on The Skill of Humor helped me to dramatically improve my humor keynote and the video has been a great marketing tool to share with clients on what I can do.”

Note: We’ll ignore that it’s taken me six months to actually publish this post.

For the talk itself, I’m happy with my performance in the video. There were a few spots where I stumbled but none of them are catastrophic and I don’t think they detract from the performance.

I was happy with the response for the various jokes and most of the laughs went about as expected. I was happy to see the SPF joke went over well because it was a last minute addition that I had never tested on stage, and you can distinctly hear my mom’s laugh with the horse joke. The stories of my grandmother were the clear winners from the talk, with a lot of people telling me, “WTF!”

A big shout out to the TEDxTAMU team for having me at the their event. And to other TEDx organizers, seriously, email me! I’d love to do another talk (maybe even a talk on a giving a talk?).

To see it all in action, watch the talk below: