Posts

Seven years ago, I woke up, sent some emails, and went bowling for a friend’s birthday. And I did it all as a full-time entrepreneur. As of July 1, 2012 I was no longer a Procter & Gamble employee, I had officially started working on Humor That Works full-time. And 2,556 days later, I’m still at it.

Over the past seven years, I have: delivered 536 programs, performed 574 comedy shows, published three books, delivered two TEDx talks, spoke in front of 40,000+ people, launched a coaching program, online course, and awards program, visited all 50 states, 27 countries and 6 continents, and, most importantly, have built a sustainable business spreading the word about the power of humor.

But not everything I’ve done has gone according to plan. Below is a look at some of those “accomplishments” in a little more detail, along with the takeaways I’ve gained from each.

I wanted to share this recap not to brag about what I’ve done (you can see many aren’t brag-worthy), but to share the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, content creator, and idea haver. Not everything you do is going to work, not every project will be profitable, and not every video will be impactful. But if you never put anything out there, you’ll never create the thing that can change the world (or at least one person’s day, year, or life).

21 Lessons from 7 Years as an Entrepreneur

JULY 24, 2012: I did my first paid gig for Humor That Works after making it my full-time job.

The event was a 3-hour workshop for Santander in Dallas, TX that paid me $1,000 plus travel. Going into the event, the organizer acted liked there would be the opportunity to do a lot of different trainings for the group. After the event, I never heard from her again. That may have been because I didn’t deliver on what they were expecting, it was just hopeful optimism on both of our parts, or it was a way to get me to lower my price (like getting paid in “exposure”).

Takeaway #1: There’s never a guarantee for additional work unless it’s in the contract.

NOVEMBER 13, 2012: I uploaded a video called Zombie Tag to YouTube.

The video was a simple demonstration of one of my favorite applied improv exercises. I had little expectation of how many people would see it, I just wanted to share a fun activity. It slowly became a popular team-building video, now with more than 500,000 views. I foolishly used the song O Fortuna to make the video seem epic which means any ad revenue from the video goes to the music owner, not me.

Takeaway #2: You never know what’s going to resonate with people. As a result, create as though the entire world will see it, but only do the things you’d do even if no one saw it.

NOVEMBER 14, 2012: My first “real” book launched.

501 ways to use humor book

I say “real” because I had previously published a collection of quotations, but they were more curation than creation. I self-published 501 Ways to Use Humor, Beat Stress, and Increase Productivity in both print and on Kindle with the goal of providing a resource for people who wanted to use humor but didn’t know how to get started. The book has so far sold 6,123 copies, netting a 3.8 rating on Amazon off of 18 reviews.

Takeaway #3: You can’t have a third book if you never created a first one. Even if it doesn’t go gang-busters, the first attempt helps you learn for the next several.

MARCH 14, 2013: I officially launched my humor coaching program.

The goal was to provide one-on-one coaching for people who were looking to make a change in their life. After the first six months I all but abandoned the idea after discovering I didn’t really love coaching. I had a grand total of 12 clients, three of which were paid.

Takeaway #4: Just because a successful person does something a certain way, it doesn’t mean you have to. Find the things you like to do and focus on those, rather than doing something because you think you’re “supposed” to.

APRIL 3, 2013: I announced the first ever Corporate Humor Awards.

The awards were created to celebrate individuals and organizations that use humor in the workplace. They recognized five individuals and five companies that effectively used humor in creating a better work environment for the humans that worked there. I repeated the awards in 2014, completely ignored them for three years, and then brought them back in 2018 and (soon) 2019. Yes, I wish I had continued the Corporate Humor Awards every year, but I don’t want the inconsistency to stop me from bringing back the awards whenever I have capacity for them.

Takeaway #5: More important than being consistent is being persistent.

FEBRUARY 4, 2014: I had an enlightening lunch with a fellow engineer.

The lunch was with two PhD students at Carnegie Melon University. I had reached out to them because they were also engineers  who were interested in improv. Towards the end of the lunch, one of the guys asked me who managed my website. I proudly claimed I did and asked why. His response was, “When I talk with you now, I get that you’re an engineer and that you focus on humor because it works, and it sounds fascinating. But when I read the site, it seems fluffy and touchy-feely, and doesn’t seem like something I’d be interested in.” I was appreciative of the feedback and it made me wonder how many other people never reached out or considered booking me because they were turned off by the language on the site.

Takeaway #6: You hardly hear the “nos.” No feedback is, in fact, feedback. If something you try isn’t getting a response, it means something needs to change.

FEBRUARY 8, 2014: I delivered my very first TEDx talk at TEDxOSU.

humor at work tedx

Though the talk never went “viral,” it has racked up more 200,000 views and has led to 13 speaking engagements and over $30,000 in revenue. Looking back at the talk now, I still believe in the content but cringe at the delivery knowing that I’m so much stronger as a speaker now. Part of me wishes I had delivered a stronger talk, but that was a great delivery for my skill level at the time. Plus, I’d much rather look back five years and think I’m a better speaker now than look back five years and realize I haven’t grown at all.

Takeaway #7: If you don’t look back at the past five years and at least cringe a little bit, you probably aren’t taking big enough chances or continually improving.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014: I had my first five-figure event day.

For the first time in company (and my personal) history, I earned over $10,000 in a day. To do so, I delivered a keynote, breakout, and two workshops over the course of one day for a group of project managers at Nationwide in Columbus, OH. It would be two years before my next five-figure day.

Takeaway #8: One success doesn’t guarantee another success, just as one failure doesn’t guarantee another failure. But a peak at one time can give you a glimpse of what the future could hold.

JANUARY 21, 2015: I launched an online course on humor at work.

After three months of planning, shooting, and editing, my first (and currently only) online course went live on Udemy. I hoped that it might lead to a nice stream of passive income and generate leads for in-person workshops… thus far it has netted $1,682 from 1,198 students and zero leads. Despite my insistence that it is not a course on being funnier, it sits at a 4.15 rating (on 45 reviews) with more than a few negative comments about how it doesn’t make people funnier. More than anything, it did force me to put together a cohesive workshop-style program that I used for in-person deliveries.

Takeaway #9: Passive income is very misunderstood; very often it’s delayed income from work you put in a long time ago, and it’s not guaranteed.

AUGUST 7, 2015: My second app, the Perfect Day (now called 5 Daily Habits), launched.

While I hoped others might benefit from the app, the primary purpose was to provide an easy way for me to follow my five daily habits program. My first app, 501 Ways to Use Humor, came out in November 2013 as an add-on to my first book and has made -$723 dollars off of roughly 200 downloads (revenue of $902 minus $1,625 cost to build). 5 Daily Habits has netted -$3,960 (the app is free but app development is not) with over 6,000 downloads, but it has more than paid for itself in keeping me accountable to my short- and long-term goals… that is until I stopped tracking my habits sometime in 2018.

Takeaway #10: Return-on-investment doesn’t always come in the form of money back, sometimes it’s a new skill, accountability, or additional credibility. Also apps are hard.

JULY 17, 2015: I did a talk for sales new hires at P&G.

Since leaving P&G, I’ve returned to the organization for a number of the events, including one for new employees in sales. In the audience for the talk was Adam, a new hire and the son of the president of the National Speakers Bureau, Brian. Adam enjoyed my presentation so much, he called his dad about it and two days later I talked with Brian about being part of his speaker line-up. That meeting resulted in them listing me as one of their speakers and I’ve done five talks with them for more than $25,000. I’m also friends with Adam and Brian.

Takeaway #11: You never know who is sitting in your audience and what opportunities may come when you deliver a good product or program.

FEBRUARY 11, 2016: I completed my 1,000th performance in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday.

performances by year running

The storytelling show in Hawaii was one of the defining moments of my career up to that point as it was the culmination and celebration of months of travels, years of performances, and decades of existence. I never would have guessed that this introverted teacher’s pet would go on to perform in more than 1,000 shows, let alone do it in all 50 states.

Takeaway #12: What starts as a hobby today could become your passion/career/purpose  tomorrow (where “tomorrow” is a metaphor for the future, 24 hours from hobby to career seems unlikely).

APRIL 22, 2017: I gave my second TEDx talk, this time on the skill of humor at TEDxTAMU.

I dedicated nearly four months to prepping for the talk, doing stand-up and speaking engagements to iterate on the message. I felt great about the performance and the end result. On January 2, 2018, six months after the talk came out, it only had 3,000 views. It hit one million views on July 2, 2018, currently has over four million views, and has been an idea worth spreading.

Takeaway #13: Success is rarely instant. Yes, some people “go viral” “overnight,” but often it’s the result of years of hard work before it happens. And yes, luck plays a huge role in success, but the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2017: My second book, The United States of Laughter, came out.

When I started my  nomadic journey on March 1, 2015, I had no idea what it would lead to or why I was even doing it. By the end of trip, I had traveled 159,023 miles, gone to all 50 states, and visited 14 countries over the course of 18 months. I also had such incredible experiences that I felt compelled to write about them. Like 501 Ways, The United States of Laughter was self-published but in a much more professional manner. It’s currently sold 2,220 copies and has a 4.7 rating on 54 reviews. It has led to 22 media appearances and, perhaps most importantly, gave me the opportunity to do a literal book launch.

Takeaway #14: There’s a cliche that asks, “If anyone wrote a book about your life, would anyone care to read it?” Why not do something worth writing a book about, and then write the book.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2017: I uploaded The Cliched Meaning of Life video.

The video is a stand-up bit that involves 100 cliches in 4 minutes exploring the meaning of life. I had spent years perfecting the performance but kept putting off uploading the video as I thought it had the chance to go viral (and maybe even get me on Ellen), and I was scared to find out if it would. The video currently sits at ~7,000 views and I have not appeared on Ellen.

Takeaway #15: Sometimes we hold off on sharing something with the world because the dream that it might work feels better than the confirmation that it won’t. But you can’t watch a video that’s never been uploaded, and holding on to a fantasy prevents you from building a new reality.

FEBRUARY 18, 2018: I delivered a talk at NSA Winter Conference on the Future of Content Creation.

The talk explores what the world of speaking may look like in the future and was well received. In addition to a standing ovation and a few speakers jokingly “bowing” to me, people afterwards told me they could see that talk being given at nearly every tech conference out there… I’ve only delivered the talk one more time, at another speaker event. However, it has prompted me to work on creating the creative assistant I imagine we’ll have in the future, which might be a product or service in the future.

Takeaway #16: Don’t let compliments or insults sway you too far one way or another. They can be helpful pieces of feedback, but they don’t guarantee success or failure. Only your attitude and commitment do.

JUNE 13, 2018: I streamlined my websites into two brands: Drew Tarvin and Humor That Works.

Drew Tarvin became a combination of Drew Tarvin (comedy / blogging), Andrew Tarvin (speaking, authoring), Slash Entrepreneur (entrepreneurship), and Create / Consume (time tracking). Humor That Works (humor at work training) absorbed Humor Engineer (humor work), Humor’s Office (funny office humor), Humor Awards (corporate humor awards), and Understanding Comedy (how to be funny). For those keeping score, that’s two successful sites out of nine that I started. Though none of the other sites really took off, I wouldn’t call them failures either because they helped me explored ideas and many of the posts still exists under the new brands.

Takeaway #17: You will fail more often than you succeed, but often you will only succeed because you’ve failed.

OCTOBER 25, 2018: I stepped down as co-owner of CSz New York.

CSz New York was the first group I did improv with when I moved to New York City. 10 years and over 350 shows later, I was co-owner of the organization and working to build its presence in the city. Eventually, Humor That Works grew big enough that I wasn’t able to commit time to running the organization or performing as frequently as I once did. The group remains one of the most supportive, hilarious, and joyous groups I’ve ever been a part of was one of the biggest things I had “give up” in order to build the business I wanted to.

Takeaway #18: Owning a business is not without sacrifice. Sometimes you have to stop doing the things you really like to do for the things you love to do.

FEBRUARY 1, 2019: The first Humor That Works workshop not delivered by me took place.

The facilitator-led workshop was a version of a communications workshop I had delivered 80 times for the Flatiron School over six years. But workshop #81 was delivered by Vandad, someone who I trained up to do the program. Since then, 22 Humor That Works programs, including one keynote, have been presented by people not named Drew Tarvin, allowing the message of humor to be spread even when I’m not available or already booked.

Takeaway #19: There’s only so much you can do alone. If you want to multiply your efforts, you’ll have to engage or partner with other people. As the adage goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

MARCH 8, 2019: I gave a presentation on my fifth continent in two months (and my sixth continent total).

After a few years of various conversations with IBM, I got booked with them to do three week-long events in three different countries (US, Spain, and Singapore) for the largest contract amount I had ever recorded (more than twice the amount of money I made my entire first year as a full-time speaker). Rather than just do those events and be done with it, I decided to seek out additional speaking opportunities in neighboring countries, adding a talk in Morocco and a workshop in Australia, giving me five continents in 47 days.

Takeaway #20: When you achieve success, find ways you can build on that momentum rather than rest on your laurels.

APRIL 1, 2019: My third book, Humor That Works, was published by hybrid-publisher Page Two.

humor that works books

The book was a culmination of everything I learned over 10 years regarding the what, why, and how of humor in the workplace. The book launched as a #1 new release and was featured in FastCompany, Thrive Global, and Monster.com. It was named a top gift for Father’s Day by Forbes and one of the best 49 business books for Empowered Professionals. In the first 3 months, it sold 941 copies, garnered a 4.8 rating on 29 reviews, and led to literal book launch version 2. To get all of that, all it took was over $30,000 in publishing and PR services… but it has led to increased credibility, workshop add-ons, and helped confirm a few booked engagements.

Takeaway #21: To get to the next level, you have to be willing to invest in yourself and your business. The payoff may not always be immediate, but it will come eventually (hopefully).

SUMMARY

That brings us to today, July 1, 2019, when I wrote this post capturing some of my successes and failures over seven years of working for myself. Reviewing the past septet of years has served as a helpful reminder of the importance of continuing to create. Honestly, I hadn’t remembered all the things that I tried that didn’t go according to plan. By always having things I was working on, I could focus on what worked instead of dwelling on what didn’t.

A sincere thank you to all who have supported me these past seven years, and for the haters who have helped me grow and get stronger. Here’s to another seven (and hopefully more) years full of successes, failures, and everything in between.

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:

2017 built on the good and bad of 2016. Political discussion got more divided, the weather got harsher, and my personal year was great.

So, ignoring the macro and focusing on the DrewCo, here’s my review of 2017.

Best Achievement – Publishing The United States of Laughter

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to actually write a book about my experiences as a nomad. When I began, I wasn’t entirely sure I would publish it, maybe just keep it as a more in-depth journal of my journey. But after the first few drafts, and getting inspired by Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, I decided to unleash it upon the world. I’m very glad I did. As a result, I hit top new release in both Travel Writing and Humor Essays, I launched the book out of a catapult, I talked about it on a few different news stations, and 50+ people gave it a 5-star review on Amazon.

Runner-Up: My second public TEDx Talk.

Best Personal Development – Less Than 100 Grams of Sugar

As many of you know, I love sugar. It’s my biggest vice, far greater than any alcohol or Grand Theft Auto video games. For 2017, I made it a goal to consume less than 100g of sugar each day which meant dropping my usual breakfast (Pop Tarts), no longer pretending drinking juice was particularly healthy, and limiting myself to only one dessert a day. Yes, this was actually a challenge but definitely needed considering 100 grams is double the old recommended amount by the World Health Organization and four times the updated recommendation of sugar for an adult (25g or less than one soda).

Runner-Up: Read a book a month.

Best Business Decision – Attending NSA Influence 2017

There are a few conferences I try to attend every year and the National Speaker’s Association annual summer conference is one of them. Though I’ve attended in the past, this year helped me establish additional credibility as a humorist and helped me further build my network with some of the most talented, and giving, speakers I’ve ever met. Subsequent meetings and events that sprang from those relationships have already started to transform my business.

Runner-Up: Publishing The United States of Laughter

Best Personal Decision – Brother’s Bachelor Party in Texas

My brothers and I don’t always get a chance to hang out considering we live in three different states, but it’s always a great time when we do. This year, for Adam’s Bachelor Party, we surprised him with a trip to Texas for a couple of baseball games, great food, and general brotherly fun.

Runner-Up: Notre Dame visit

Best Speaking Engagement – TEDxTAMU

It was another busy year of speaking but nothing can top the 18 minute talk I did for TEDxTAMU. I got a chance to talk about my favorite subject (humor), one of my brothers and my mom were in attendance, and it went very well. The fact that I have a great video as a result of it is an added bonus.

Runner-Up: Women’s Foodservice Forum

Best Performance – The Armando Diaz Experience

Nate was the reason I got into comedy in the first place but we don’t often get a chance to perform together considering we live on opposite coasts. So, when presented with the chance to be the monologist for his Armando show, it was a no-brainer.

Runner-Up: CSz Cincinnati

Best Travel – Acadia

My trip to Acadia National Park could not have been more perfect considering the views, hiking, and the company.

Runner-Up: Brother Road Trip

Best New Restaurant – Di Fara Pizza

It’s hard to still be impressed by pizza, but Di Fara’s in Brooklyn manages to do it. All of the pies are still made by the original owner and they are exquisite.

Runner-Up: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Best Movie (I Saw) – Get Out

I’m not usually a horror film fan, but Jordan Peele’s movie does everything so well it’s hard not to like. It feels like there isn’t a wasted scene or line in the entire thing.

Runner-Up: Moonlight

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Stranger Things

I was late to the game with Stranger Things but it was thoroughly enjoyable and well-executed.

Runner-Up: Doctor Who

Best Book (I Read) – A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson’s book completely changed what I thought was possible with a memoir. It’s engaging, it’s entertaining, and it makes you laugh out loud. After reading it, I completely revamped by own book and was inspired to aim higher with what I wanted to write.

Runner-Up: Exactly What to Say

Best Tweet – 10 Marks the Spot

I’ve selected 20 of my best tweets of 2017 but my favorite favorite is this one:

The meme du jour of 2016 was how awful of a year it was for the world. Brexit happened, Trump was elected, and Carrie Fisher died. Of course, some people were in favor of those things (not the last one, who would want that?).

At a macro level, 2016 was bad, particularly for climate change and women’s rights in some states. But at a Drew level, 2016 was a pretty good year. Here, as usual, is the best of the year.

Best Achievement – Completing All 50 States

On my 32 birthday this year, I finished my goal of speaking or performing in all 50 states. Hawaii was the perfect state to end the journey, filled with beautiful scenery, fun adventures, welcoming cousins who showed me around, and a storytelling show. 10/10 would do the whole thing again.

Runner-Up: Reaching 1,000 Performances.

Best Personal Development – Doing Weekly Planning

The farther removed I am from my project management days at P&G, the less I leverage that expertise in my day-to-day life. In 2016, one thing I brought back was more deliberate planning, this time at a weekly level. Each Sunday (approximately), I would think about what I wanted to accomplish that coming week and plan one key task for each day. I didn’t always complete those tasks and sometimes the planning happened on a Monday (or Thursday), but it did make me more aware of how I was spending my time.

Runner-Up: Checking my phone less frequently.

Best Business Decision – Moving Back to NYC

Since moving back to NYC, I’ve established great new business contacts, delivered some great events, re-engaged with some awesome people, and have had the best bagels in the country. NYC has always been a great place for building my skills as a speaker and comedian, it’s now also turning into a great place to deliver those skills.

Runner-Up: Starting a Mastermind group.

Best Personal Decision – Stopping my Nomadism

Don’t get me wrong, being a nomad for 18 months was an incredible experience (and was heralded as 2015’s best personal decision), but this year was also the right time to end it. Since moving back to NYC in September, I’ve been able to focus more on my work and have a lot more time to relax; I didn’t realize how much time I was spending planning my next trip or figuring out where I was going to sleep.

Runner-Up: Reconnecting with Old Friends

Best Speaking Engagement – Women’s Foodservice Forum

I surpassed 100 engagements for the second year in a row and spoke for some incredible groups. From my first single facilitator delivery of a two-day training at Microsoft, to presenting to my largest audience (1,000 people!) in Columbus, I was apart of some great events. But the top for me was the Women’s Foodservice Forum where I spoke to 400 aspiring leaders who were gracious, eager to learn, and seemed to really enjoy my sense of humor. It’s also where I got witness the butt sketch artist first-hand.

Runner-Up: PMI Central Ohio Chapter

Best Performance – The Story of My Year as a Nomad

While I certainly gave better performances in 2016, the most meaningful was my 1,000th performance on my 32nd birthday in my 50th state: the story of my year as a nomad.

Runner-Up: Featuring at Go Bananas Comedy Club

Best Travel – Hawaii

I sound like a broken record but how can you beat the Islands of Aloha?

Runner-Up: Zion National Forest

Best New Restaurant – Eleven Madison Park

It’s hard not to go with the World’s #3 ranked restaurant but for me the reason it’s on the top of the list is that they somehow made brussels sprouts AND scallops that I could not only stomach, but I actually liked. I guess my new rule is that I don’t like sprouts unless they’re served at a Michelin three star restaurant.

Runner-Up: Chick N Cone

Best Movie (I Saw) – Doctor Strange

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the Marvel movies. No, I don’t care that there are a million of them now and yes, I’m excited for yet another reboot of the Spider Man series. I enjoyed Doctor Strange because it introduced me to a character I knew nothing about and explored a world that was new to me.

Runners-Up: All of the Best Picture nominees, The Nice Guys

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Rick and Morty

 

The show is very weird and it takes a few episodes to get into, but by golly is it funny.

Runner-Up: Luke Cage

Best Book (I Read) – Smarter, Faster, Better

Charles Duhigg’s book is a great read for learning more about motivation and effectiveness, and it’s given me a phrase I used in most of my trainings: psychological safety. I find myself recommending this book to people over and over again.

Runners-Up: Bossypants, Modern Romance, Sprint

Best Tweet – Ghosts

I’ve selected 20 of my best tweets of 2016 but my favorite favorite is this one:

Over the course of 18 months, I went to 142 cities in 50 states, 14 countries, and 3 continents. Here’s the master list of all the places I went.

Bold = when the story takes place for that state with the (#) denoting the order.
Italics = international countries that are outside the scope of the book.

March ’15:

New York, Ohio (1), New York, Switzerland, Italy, France, New York, Virginia (2), Maryland (3), DC, New York

April ’15:

New York, Ohio, New York, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, New York

May ’15:

Ohio, New York, Massachusetts (4), Vermont (5), Maine (6), Rhode Island (7), New York, Ohio, Tennessee (8), Alabama (9), Mississippi (10), Arkansas (11), Louisiana (12), Alabama, Florida (13), South Carolina (14), Pennsylvania (15), Ohio

June ’15:

Ohio, Illinois, California, Illinois, Iowa (16), Nebraska (17), Kansas (18), Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma (19), New Mexico (20), Colorado (21), Wyoming, Utah, Idaho (22), Montana (23), Wyoming (24), South Dakota (25), North Dakota (26), Minnesota (27), Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio

July ’15:

Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, DC, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Michigan

August ’15: 

Michigan (28), Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, New York, Georgia (29), Texas (30), Arizona (31), Utah, Arizona, California

September ’15:

California, Alaska (32), Canada, Illinois (33)

October ’15:

Illinois, Oregon (34), Washington (35), Ohio, Indiana (36), Ohio, New York, Connecticut (37), New York, New Jersey (38), New York, Ohio, Kentucky (39), Ohio, Canada, New York

November ’15: 

New York (40), California, Nevada, Illinois, Wisconsin (41), Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware (42), New York, Ohio, Alabama, Louisiana

December ’15:

Texas, Ohio, New York, Ohio, Missouri (43), Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Utah (44), Nevada (45)

January ’16:

Nevada, California (46), Georgia, West Virginia (47), North Carolina (48), Georgia, New York

February ’16: 

Maryland (49), New York, Alaska, Hawaii (50)

Note: After I finished all 50 states, I continued to live as nomad until September 1, 2016, going to: California, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Spain, Portugal, Singapore, Malaysia, Arizona, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Texas, England, Scotland, and Florida.

Nomad City List

Amarillo, TX. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Anaheim, CA. Anchorage, AK. Ann Arbor, MI. Athens, OH. Atlanta, GA. Bakersfield, CA. Baltimore, MD. Bandalier, NM. Barre, VT. Baton Rouge, LA. Berlin, CT. Bessemer, AL. Big Sur, CA. Bismarck, ND. Boston, MA. Bozeman, MT. Brooklyn, NY. Brussels, Belgium. Buffalo, WY. Burlington, CO. Cameron, AZ. Cheyenne, WY. Chicago, IL. College Station, TX. Colorado Springs, CO. Columbia, SC. Columbus, OH. Craters of the Moon, ID. Dallas, TX. Denver, CO. Des Moines, IA. Detroit, MI. Dijon, France. Dillon, SC. Dubois, PA. Durham, NC. Fargo, ND. Flagstaff, AZ. Geneva, Switzerland. Goodland, KS. Grand Canyon North Rim, AZ. Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ. Gulf Shores, AL. Helena, MT. Highland Heights, KY. Hoboken, NJ. Hollywood, FL. Honolulu, HI. Houston, TX. Huntington, WV. Huntsville, AL. Hutchinson, KS. Indianapolis, IN. Jackson, MS. Juneau, AK. Kanab, UT. Kansas City, KS. Kasha Katuew, NM. Kent, OH. Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Labelle, Canada. Lancaster, PA. Las Vegas, NV. Lincoln, NE. Lisbon, Portugal. Little Rock, AR. London, England. Long Island, NY. Los Angeles, CA. Louisville, KY. Madison, WI. Madrid, Spain. Manchester, NH. Manhattan, KS. Mason, OH. Milan, Italy. Mill Valley, CA. Milwaukee, WI. Minneapolis, MN. Moab, UT. Montreal, Canada. Mt Kisco, NY. Mt Rushmore, SD. Nashville, TN. New Orleans, LA. New York, NY. Newport, RI. Ogden, UT. Oklahoma City, OK. Omaha, NE. Oslo, Norway. Oxford, England. Page, AZ. Palo Alto, CA. Philadelphia, PA. Phoenix, AZ. Pierre, SD. Pikes Peak, CO. Pine Falls, AR. Pocatello, ID. Pomona, CA. Portland, ME. Poughkeepsie, NY. Pringle, SD. Provo, UT. Quad Cities, IL. Queens, NY. Rawlins, WY. Richmond, VA. Rock Springs, WY. Sacramento, CA. Salina, KS. Salt Lake City, UT. San Francisco, CA. Santa Fe, NM. Savannah, GA. Scottsdale, AZ. Seattle, WA. Sedona, AZ. Singapore, Singapore. Somerset, PA. St Louis, MO. Stavanger, Norway. Stevensville, MI. Stuart, IA. Sturbridge, MA. Tarrytown, NY. Topeka, KS. Toronto, Canada. Turin, Italy. Venice, Italy. Washington, DC. Wheaton, MD. White Plains, NY. Williams, AZ. Winnemucca, NV. Yellowstone, WY. Yorklyn, DE. Zion, UT.

Note to future self: I need to visit cities that start with E, U, and X.

I do a lot in a year. I eat a lot of food, drink a lot of milkshakes, and generally find enjoyable ways to spend my  525,600 minutes. Here are the best of those moments. (See previous bestofs here.)

Best Achievement – Visiting 47 States

OK, technically this achievement was not on the goals list at the beginning of the year… but I think the fact that I visited (and spoke or performed in) 47 states is quite impressive. And when you add West Virginia, North Carolina, and Hawaii which I’ll get to by February 11, I’ll have hit all 50 states in a 12 month time period.

Runner-Up: 107 speaking / coaching / training engagements

Best Personal Development – Writing More Stories

A by-product of my nomadic travels (see below) has been that I’ve been more conscious of the stories happening in my life. By searching for “story worthy” moments, it’s helped me better appreciate the experiences I’ve had, whether they be the not-at-all kidnapping of Italy or a Walmart Parking Lot in Maine.

Runner-Up: Allowing myself to relax

Best Business Decision – Going to the National Speakers Association Conference

The NSA Conference in 2015 was a great event for me. Not only did I present to fellow speakers and find success, I also met with a bureau (thanks to an event I did at P&G) that has started to represent me. I also met some pretty awesome people.

Runner-Up: Going Nomadic

Best Personal Decision – Going Nomadic

Since March 1, 2015, I’ve been a corporate nomad. I’ve lived out of two bags and have traveled to 47 states and 7 countries. While I’ve certainly missed having a homebase, the experiences of traveling have far outweighed any challenges of being on the road. Having an awesome friends in so many places doesn’t hurt either.

Runner-Up: Staying in Touch

Best Speaking Engagement – AIN 2015

I spoke at a lot of events in 2015 and enjoyed every single one of them. However none were as enjoyable as presenting to my fellow applied improviser in the beautiful setting of the AIN Conference 2015. I did two sessions, and based on the feedback, they both went very well. You can also now see my talk in improvising conversations online.

Runners-Up: Procter & Gamble, OSU Young Alumni, General Assembly

Best Personal Performance – Throckmorton

Thanks to a great connection, I was able to perform in the 200+ seat Throckmorton Theater in the Bay Area. It was a great lineup of performers and I got to do a mix of stand-up and a cliche bit I’ve been working for over a year on. Based on the audience reaction, during and after, it was well received.

Runner-Up: ComedySportz in New York, San Antonio, Seattle, Richmond, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Quad Cities, Provo, Twin Cities, Detroit, Los Angeles, Portland, Indianapolis, Sacramento, and Houston.

Best Travel – 17 State Road Trip 

A year of being a Nomad is likely to lead to some incredible journeys. From my awesome adventures in Norway to great moments in Ohio, I had a phenomenal year of travel. But my favorite part of the journey was the 17 State Road Trip I went on with my brother. It started with my ComedySportz family in Illinois and ended with my real family in Ohio, and I visited 17 states along the way.

Runners-Up: Norway, Grand Canyon, Multiple New York Trips

Best New Restaurant – Sandy’s Donuts

According to Foursquare, I checked into 830 places in 2015, a majority of them restaurants. I’ve had some interesting concoctions in some interesting locations, but the one I keep telling people about is the Smores donut I had from Sandy’s Donuts in Fargo, North Dakota.

Runner-Up: Dognvill Burger, Plan Check

Best New Food – Chicken Alfredo Burrito

Some might see Chicken Alfredo pasta wrapped in a burrito with added cheese and think “Why?” The folks at La Parilla think, “Why not?” So I tried it. And no it wasn’t the most amazing thing that I ate the entire year, it was definitely the most indulgent from an American standpoint. And it was delicious.

Runner-Up: Bunny Bites

Best Live Show – ComedySportz World Championship 2015

Can the best live show I saw be one that I was in? Well it is. The ComedySportz World Championship 2015 versus Quad Cities was such an incredibly fun match to play in, and it went down to the wire for the winning team (Quad Cities). It was great to participate in but even better to watch.

Runner-Up: Honey at SF Improv Festival

Best Movie (I Saw) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Were there things that could be improved? Yes. Did it have some similarities to A New Hope? Yes. Was it the movie I was most excited to see and thoroughly entertained in the entire time? Yes.

Runner-Up: Straight Outta Compton

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Daredevil 

Since I didn’t really read much last year, I decided to add a type of media I did consume a lot: TV. And not in the traditional sense, but more in the Netflix and binge variety. For me, my favorite show of the year was Daredevil. It’s superhero meets grungy detective show which is a great combo for me.

Runner-Up: Archer

Best Tweet – Efficiency

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2015, here’s my favorite of the year:

Efficiency should be a one syllable word.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2015. See you next year!

I spent the past week in Washington, DC at Influence 2015, the annual convention for the National Speakers Association.

It was a great opportunity to connect with other speakers, share my thoughts on the value of what we do, and, of course, learn a ton of great things.

Here are 10 Insights I gained from Influence 2015:

#1 Model Your Content [Neen James]

In a session on Commercializing Thought Leadership, Neen James suggested creating a model for your content. There are a number of benefits to this, including enhancing personal branding and building credibility, but the most important benefit is that it can clarify thinking.

Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how informational this single graphic is (now with WiFi!).

wifi hierarchy of needs

#2 The Power of Analogy [Roger Courville]

Roger was part of Jeffrey Hayzlett’s morning session that included Q&A. What impressed me about Roger was his ability to answer questions through analogies.

Roger spoke of the value of Virtual Presentations and, when addressing concerns about their typically one-sided, impersonal nature, he reminded us that we’ve experienced that for years with TV and Radio.

That simple connection clicked in my head to help shift my perspective on doing things virtually.

#3 A Story is the Most Engaging Thing of All [Immaculee Ilibagiza]

immaculee

Immaculee delivered a talk during the opening general session of the conference.

It started with a short video, then she came out, took her spot on stage, and began to speak. And for the duration of her talk (I’m not entirely sure how long it was as it flew by, but at least 30 minutes), she didn’t move anything except her mouth as she told her story.

There were no slides, no big gestures, and no audience participation. And yet we all listened. Because her story was engaging, powerful, and moving.

She told the story of surviving genocide by hiding in a bathroom for 91 days and what it was like coming out of it all as a different person.

Compelling slides, big movements, and audience activities can certainly make for an engaging talk, but there’s nothing quite like an incredible story told by an incredibly storyteller.

#4 Being Good is the Best Marketing [Laurie Guest]

Laurie led an incredibly useful breakout session on a deep-dive into sweetspot pricing.

She covered a number of tactical things to do, but my biggest takeaway was more strategic. Laurie said her goal is 2-to-1 speaking; at every event she does she wants to get 2 more engagements out of it.

Translation: be so good that you get future bookings from people in the audience. There’s still strategy that goes along with this (such as giving out Tent Cards that have a spot for people to check “I want to hire you”), but it all starts with being great on stage.

#5 Can’t Knock the Hustle [Chef Jeff]

The opening night started out with a bang with a great presentation from Chef Jeff, a former drug dealer and prison inmate who’s now a successful chef, entrepreneur, speaker, TV personality, and more.

He told the tale of how he ended up in prison and ultimately became a hustlepreneur, turning Federal Penitentiary into Federal University.

The number one ingredient to success: hard work. Where you’ve been is certainly a part of your story, but what happens next is entirely up to you to write, and you write it through hard work, focus, and dedication.

#6 Use Principle-Driven Decision-Making [Bruce Weinstein]

Bruce, a fellow NSA-NYC chapter member, is known as the Ethics Guy. So it’s no surprise that he led a session on Ethics.

With the help of Gerard Braud, Bruce created a Family-Feud style game to teach the value ethical leadership. They would get a group of people up and ask them an ethical question (such as “Would you get on a flight and do an event if you knew you had the flu?”). The participants would guess, there’d be discussion, and then Bruce would give his perspective.

When giving the reasoning behind what decision to make, Bruce returned to 5 Principles. Every. Single. Time. The 5 Principles?

  1. Do No Harm
  2. Make Things Better
  3. Respect Others
  4. Be Fair
  5. Care

Having a set of principles can make the decision making process easier—you return to each time and use that to determine the course of action. Not “do whatever is easier” or “whatever makes more money” but do what should be done based on your principles.

#7 Be Grateful to the Audience [Mark Scharenbroich]

Mark’s closing keynote of the conference is one of the Top 5 speeches I’ve ever seen live. It was absolutely brilliant in terms of message, pacing, humor, and poignancy.

2 hours after delivering a keynote to 1700 people in a packed room, Mark took part in a breakout session for less than 100 people where he deconstructed how he prepared for the talk.

In both sessions, Mark started off with saying thank you to the audience, showing gratitude for them just being there.

A man who has delivered over 1,000 talks, is a CSP and CPAE, and had just given an incredible keynote, was still thankful to a room full of strangers. It didn’t matter the size, nor the context, of the group, Mark was appreciative that they were willing to listen.

#8 The Value is In the Hallways [Damian Mason]

Damian delivered a masterful impersonation of Bill Clinton at one of the evening events, as well as value-packed breakout session on re-invention.

20150718_194354

He was also one of the funniest, most authentic people I met at the conference. He shared his honest thoughts and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s also been around for awhile.

He profoundly told me that the greatest value of a conference such as this isn’t in the general sessions or in the breakouts, it’s in the hallway (and the restaurant and bar).

Basically it’s where you connect with people, build relationships, and learn from each other. He was right.

It was in those places that I met people who gave me great insight on my own business, connected me with potential clients, and more than a few who became friends, which is helpful in a business such as this one.

#9 Embrace Your Strengths [Me]

Yes it’s a little weird and a lot narcissistic to gain an insight from yourself, but here we are.

I delivered a session on the ROI of what we do, quantifying the value speakers provide to organizations. It was a presentation chock full of numbers, something I’m passionate about.

After delivering the talk, I had a number of people tell me how much they enjoyed it. In a VOE recording session, the sound guy said he’d never hear anyone talk about what I was talking about in his 21 years of experience.

One woman stopped me later in the hallway to tell me it was the most valuable session she attended the whole conference. She didn’t say funniest or best, she said “most valuable.” As an engineer, that’s the best compliment I could ever receive.

It all came from sharing something that is my passion and my strength: thinking about numbers and how we can use them demonstrate our value. What came more naturally to me was brand new for others.

#10 We’re All Human [Everyone]

Perhaps the biggest insight was a reminder that we’re all human.

From a Hall of Fame Speaker who has made over a million dollars from speaking to someone who started their business last week, we’re all human beings.

And at a conference like this, you get to meet those people as human beings.

I talked with Mark about stand-up comedy, with Immaculee about NYC neighborhoods, and with Laurie about interesting audience questions.

I saw mainstage speakers working out in the gym, big name speakers waiting at the end of the line for food, and speakers of all experience levels rocking it on the dance floor.

No matter their skill level, topic, years of experience, or dollars earned, they were accessible, open, giving, and sometimes a little drunk.

We sometimes get enamored with those we perceive as experts, professionals, or celebrities. And while those who work hard and develop mastery in their craft should be celebrated, they shouldn’t be put up on an unapproachable pedestal.

Because at the end of the day (and end of the conference), we’re all human.

On to Influence 2016

Needless to say, Influence 2015 was tremendously valuable for me as a speaker and as a person. If you’re interested in getting in on the action, be sure to sign up for Influence 2016 in Phoenix, AZ next year.

On March 1, 2015, I started a nomadic journey, leaving my place in New York to reside pretty much anywhere in the world. This is my travel log as a corporate nomad.

With approximately 8700 hours in a year to do things, I like checking back on how I spent some of those hours. Here are some of my favorites from 2014. You can also check out past years’ bestofs.

Best Achievement – 100 87 Speaking Engagements

For the second year, one of my primary goals for the year was to do 100 engagements for Humor That Works. I only hit 87, but I’m still happy with the results considering the engagements included some awesome events (see more below).

Runner-Up: 2 million pageviews.

Best Personal Development – Start Being More Mindful

One of my 5 daily habits this year was 5 minutes of “meditation” or just counting my breaths. I started noticing that, in an environment where you can always have external simulation of some sort (namely from a cellphone), I had lost the ability to just do nothing but think / take in the surroundings. While I’m still pretty bad at the habit, just trying it was a great start.

Runner-Up: Getting more honest in my tracking.

Best Business Decision – Apply to Facilitator Role

I received an email via LinkedIn about a group looking for an experienced facilitator. I decided to apply for the role since it was a limited time commitment and I ended up getting it, which ultimately led to me working with a great organization doing events in Seattle and Madrid.

Runner-Up: Perform 30 times in August.

Best Personal Decision – Go to the Philippines 

While technically I headed to Manila for a speaking engagement, it was very much a personal decision as well, particularly to stay for a week+ and with a friend. It was a great overall experience and my first time visiting Asia which led to a lot of learnings, fun, and only slightly embarrassing attempts at learning some of the language.

Runner-Up: Visit LA for Nate’s Birthday

Best Speaking Engagement – TEDxOhioStateUniversity 

There were a number of great events this past year, including some with ChangeLabs, a full day with Nationwide, PMI, and FunnyBizz. But the most important event for me was the TEDx talk I gave on humor at work. It was a blast to do, was well-received, and has now racked up 25,000+ views online.

Runners-Up: ChangeLabs, Nationwide, PMI, FunnyBizz

Best Personal Performance – Comedians Coming Home 

My very last show of the year was my favorite for a few different reasons: 1) It was in Cincinnati in front of some friends and family, 2) The material was well received, and 3) It ended with an interview with Rajiv that included a number of puns.

Runner-Up: The 30+ Shows in August

Best Travel – Madrid 

I took 36 trips in 2014, with 115 days on the road and 94 nights away from NYC. I saw: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Vincennes, Columbus, LA, Boston, Milwaukee, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Providence, DC, Spain, Philippines, Scotland, England, Copenhagen. I enjoyed all of these trips but Madrid was probably my favorite given the event I did, the food I ate, and the best Gin & Tonic I’ve ever had.

Runners-Up: LA, Manila, Copenhagen

Best New Restaurant – Good Stuff Eatery 

I enjoyed a number of great restaurants throughout the year but my favorite was Good Stuff Eatery in DC as it included my favorite combo of foods: burgers + fries + shakes.

Runner-Up: Mandy & Joe’s Delicatessen, Gray’s Ice Cream

Best New Food – Spanish G&T 

It’s not technically a food and it’s rather bizarre that I’d choose an alcoholic drink, but the Gin & Tonic I had in Madrid was the best I’ve ever had and led me to do a lot of research on the history of G&Ts.

Runner-Up: Cabinet (aka Milkshake)

Best Live Show – No Man’s Land 

I enjoyed watching my buddy Rajiv in his one man show about love / relationships. It made me laugh, smile, and want to do a one man show of my own…

Runner-Up: Violet

Best Movie (I Saw) – Guardians of the Galaxy 

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the Marvel movies. They have action, great lines, and superheroes. Guardians of the Galaxy with Chris Pratt was the most entertaining movie I saw all year with good performances, humorous writing, and a nice soundtrack.

Runner-Up: Dr. Strangelove

Best Book (I Read) – Fun Home 

An incredibly well done autobiography done in the style of a graphic novel. It was very honest and revealing, more so than any book I’ve read in recent years.

Runner-Up: Catch-22

Best Tweet – Math Perspective 

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2014, here’s my top pick:

Life is about perspective. They aren’t math problems, they are math opportunities.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2014. See you next year!

365 days is a lot of time to do a lot of things. Here are some of my favorites from 2013.

Best Achievement – 100 73 Speaking Engagements

One of my biggest goals for the year was to do 100 engagements for Humor That Works. While I only hit 73, I still think it was my biggest accomplishment. More than 2500 people got to hear the things I train on and even if just a small percent of those people are better because of it, it was a good year.

Runner-Up: Publish an App.

Best Personal Development – OKRs

Although this is more recent, one of the best videos I watched on productivity this year was how Google sets goals. The idea of creating stretch goals and still being satisfied with .7 or .8 has helped me frame my thinking for both goal setting and success.

Runner-Up: Broccoli isn’t that disgusting.

Best Business Decision – Go to Norway

Early on in 2013 I had a chance to go to Norway for a speaking engagement plus some stand-up. Not only did I learn that what I teach about humor in the workplace is relevant in other countries, I learned that I can make people laugh even if English isn’t their first language.

Runners-Up: Publish an App, Present at GA.

Best Personal Decision – Go to Norway

The trip to Norway was both a professional and personal decision. Personally it reminded me of the wonders of international travel and how limited I am when I can’t use English. I also tried reindeer burger.

Runner-Up: Convince Pat to make Banana Pudding.

Best Speaking Engagement – CSz Talk

There were way too many engagements this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. It I had to pick one (and I do because I’m making me), I would choose my CSz Talk on Efficiency vs Effectiveness. It was my first TED-style talk and balanced humor and message.

Runners-Up: LSU, GA, OSU, WSJ, WNO, P&G, TGP

Best Personal Performance – Gilda Club Event

This was one of the hardest “bests” to choose as I had so much fun in the 100+ shows I did this past year. But the Gilda Club event takes the cake for a few reasons: 1) It was for a good cause. 2) It was in front of 1,200 people. 3) I performed with Rachel Dratch.

Runners-Up: Stand Up Bergen, Mint Condition Last Show

Best Travel – Norway

I was traveling for more than 100 days in 2013, with trips to: Baton Rouge, Norway, Cincinnati (x6), Napa, San Francisco, Columbus (x2), Tyrone (x3), Yulan, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Westhampton, Boston (x4), Norwalk (x2), and Epsom. But it should be no surprise (based on the Best Business and Best Personal Decisions) that my favorite was Norway. A very very close second was Westhampton, followed by all the other great places.

Runner-Up: All the other great trips.

Best New Restaurant – Amy Ruths

It was a good year for fried chicken as I tried both Amy Ruth’s and Pies N Thighs this year. Though both were amazing, it has to go to Amy Ruth’s because their chicken and waffles is incredible.

Runners-Up: Pies N Thighs, Gott’s Roadside, What’s Up Dog?

Best New Food – Pancake Snack

One of the best things about Norway was their midday snack of a fresh pancake and jam. I don’t know what they call it but I call it delicious.

Runner-Up: Banana Pudding, Max Brenner Hot Chocolate.

Best Live Show – Eddie Izzard Workshop

I didn’t see as many live shows this year as I did last year, but I hit quite a variety. While Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike was funny, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark was interesting, and Punderdome is exclusively puns, my favorite was seeing Eddie Izzard workshop material for his new tour.

Runners-Up: Punderdome, Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike, Big Dumb Music Festival.

Best Movie (I Saw) – The World’s End

Sadly I missed the Best Picture Movie Marathon so I was limited on what I saw, but I’d say The Worlds End was my favorite. Also a special shot out to Last of Us; it’s a videogame but the story is so good that if it were a movie, it would easily be the best I saw this year.

Runners-Up: Star Trek Into Darkness, Last of Us.

Best TV Series (I Saw)  Breaking Bad

I’ve watched some great series this year, including Sherlock and Archer (but they aren’t eligible for Best Series because they aren’t complete yet). I really enjoyed Luther but I think the last season of Breaking Bad makes it a great watch all the way through.

Runner-Up: Luther.

Best Book (I Read) – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I’m nowhere close to an avid reader, having only read Count of Monte CristoThe Sport of BusinessThe Challenger SaleLead with a StoryThe Sea-Gull, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Of all of those, Hitchhikers was my favorite because of it made me laugh out loud multiple times.

Runner-Up: Count of Monte Cristo.

Best Tweet – Good at PowerPoint?

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2013, here’s my top pick:

I thought I could sit on a bench. Some guy told me I couldn’t. I stood, corrected.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2013. See you next year!