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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!

 

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:

Do you think you can be anything you want to be, as long as you set your mind to it? I didn’t used to think so. I mean, people are limited by education, environment, and circumstance.

And then I saw something, or rather someone, who changed my mind.

The Butt Sketch Artist

I was sitting at the closing event of the Women’s Foodservice Forum in Dallas, TX. Earlier that day I had delivered two breakout sessions to 400 aspiring women leaders on the topic of humor in the workplace and was now celebrating the end of the incredible conference.

To my left was a VP of Coca-Cola. She was telling us the story of those “Japanese coke machines” that allow you to pick any flavor you want that in no way started in Japan. To my right, was a VP of Starbucks. She had recently helped improve the food selection that sits in those glass cases along with the delicious marble loaf.

In the middle was a very distracted me. Despite our interesting conversation and the fact that these were two very powerful women to know with regards to business, I couldn’t help but focus on what was happening directly across from our table:

A man stood drawing on a white easel. One woman posed off to the left. A line of ten women stood off to the right, awaiting their turn. The man was not a caricaturist, nor was he a painter, but he was an artist, specifically of drawing women’s backsides.

For each volunteer, the Bob Ross of Butts would give a warm greeting, turn them around, and then help them pose in a fashion to accentuate the lines of their tookus. He would then sketch their butt, sign his name, and and give the drawing to his butt subject. The process took one to two minutes and then the next volunteer would step up.

I was fascinated. A butt sketch artist. I had never heard of such a thing. Immediately I wondered: how did this all come to be?

I’ve dwelled on this a lot since then and have come up with three theories:

1) Failed caricaturist.

My first thought was that he was a failed caricature artist. I imagined he went through art school and was decently talented but he could never draw faces. Like he’d get the frame right but then butcher the nose or draw the eyes lopsided. Eventually he said screw it and drew what he was good at: curves.

2) Artistic integrity.

My second theory was that he was actually incredible at drawing faces, so good, that he would include the blemishes and flaws of his clients to the point of insulting them with his accuracy. The only way he could get around making his clients happy while not offending his integrity as an artist was to turn them around.

3) Passion to profit.

My third, and what I considered the most likely theory, was that he had recently attended a motivational seminar. In it, the speaker asked, “What are you most passionate about? Find a way to make money doing it.” The guy thought to himself, “I like looking at butts. How can I profit from that?”

Like most businesses, I’m sure he started with a few ideas that wouldn’t work. Create Yelp for butts? Too offensive. Become a casting director for Victoria Secret? Too hard to get into. Do caricatures but instead of drawing faces, draw butts? Perfect.

Part of me wishes I had gone up to the man and asked him how he started his business. Part of me thinks the speculation is way more fun. All of me wishes I had gotten in line to get my own butt drawn.

A talk I gave at the AIN Conference 2015 on how I use improv to converse with other humans.

3 years ago today I left my corporate job at Procter & Gamble to focus on Humor That Works full-time. In those 1,095 days, I’ve had some incredible adventures and met some amazing people.

In honor of my anniversary, I thought I’d answer some of the most frequent questions I get about leaving the safety and security of gainful employment at a company.

How did you know what you wanted to do?

I wish I had a “sexy” answer where I said it all happened in one single moment of hilarious clarity… but that’s not how it went down. It was a gradual progression of events and experiences that led me to teaching people about the value of humor.

When I moved to NYC with P&G in 2008, I had a strong suspicion that I wasn’t a lifer–that at some point I would decide to leave. But I wasn’t 100% sure of what I would do. I was performing a lot of stand-up and improv comedy at the time and thought I might want to do something in entertainment.

csz rachel dratch

In my experience, the only way I can know if I want to do something is to actually try it, so I experimented with a bunch of things part-time while still at P&G:*

  • I toured for a bit as a stand-up comedian. I didn’t like being in a different hotel every weekend with people I didn’t know where the most common form of passing the time was drinking in bars.
  • I wrote for a sketch TV show on Dish Network. I didn’t like giving over creative control of an idea I had and seeing it poorly executed.
  • I co-wrote and edited a short-film. I had a lot of fun on the project but realized I didn’t want to spend every day behind a computer meticulously shaving off milliseconds to get a shot to look right.
  • I acted in a few sketches and took an auditioning class. I didn’t like the process of auditioning and realized I wasn’t very good at “acting” (making memorized lines look spontaneous was hard).
  • I taught people about the value of humor and used improv exercises in some of my trainings. I loved this. It was like performing stand-up and improv comedy but with the added benefit of getting to tell people what to do.

Ultimately it was the humor work that I enjoyed the most, so I pursued it further.

How did you get started in talking about humor?

Again, no sexy story, just a lot of work and some reflective thinking.

The short answer looks like: Engineer -> Improv -> Project Manager -> Effective with People -> Stand-Up -> Blog -> Corporate Humorist -> Humor That Works.

This timeline covers the span of 3 to 28 years depending on how you look at it:

  • Engineer: I’ve always been an engineer and have been obsessed with efficiency. I went to The Ohio State University to get a degree in Computer Science & Engineering.
  • Improv: In college, my best friend wanted to start an improv comedy group and needed people, so he forced me to join.
  • Project Manager: After graduating, I started working as a Project Manager at Procter & Gamble, first in Cincinnati and then in New York.
  • Effective with People: While at P&G, I realized that you can’t be efficient with people, but instead you have to be effective. While that wasn’t covered in my CSE degree, I did learn the skills from improvisation.
  • Stand-Up: At the same time, I was performing stand-up comedy in Cincinnati and inviting P&Gers to my show. I was mostly talking about nerdy things like math.
  • Blog: My first year at P&G, I started writing an internal blog called Life of a New Hire, where I wrote about my experiences of a being a new employee at a big company. After a year, I figured I was technically no longer a New Hire, so I decided to start a new blog.
  • Corporate Humorist: Because of the stand-up I had been doing, a few different P&Gers had been asking me about humor. I decided my new blog would be about humor and proclaimed myself the Corporate Humorist of P&G. I also started offering up humor “services” to organizations within P&G, e.g. giving presentations on humor, leading teambuilding activities, and hosting events.
  • Humor That Works: From the internal blog I found I really enjoyed talking about humor and people were interested in what I had to say. I figured if people at P&G enjoyed it, the rest of the world might as well. So I started Humor That Works as a public version of what I was doing at P&G.

Why did you decide to leave?

I loved my job at P&G. I was working on challenging projects, worked with incredible people, and was consistently adding bad puns to the ends of my email.

But the more I worked on humor, the more I fell in love with it. The joy from P&G stayed the same while joy from humor increased, leading to a much larger delta between the two, as illustrated by this graph:

p&g to humor joy graph

Was it scary leaving your corporate job?

Honestly? No. Dishonestly? Scarier than 1,000 spiders.

No, it wasn’t that scary for me. I’m a Project Manager and pretty risk-adverse, so I did a lot of preparation before making the jump. I started blogging as the Corporate Humorist in 2007 but didn’t leave P&G until 2012.

In that time I tried a bunch of things out: I did speaking events in my free time, I took vacation days to see if I could actually motivate myself to work, I talked to people who were doing what I wanted to do. Basically I tried before I buy-ed.

In the days leading up to the decision, I asked myself two questions that I now use anytime I’m faced with a potentially life-changing choice:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen? Humans are driven more by punishment-avoidance than they are reward-attainment, so I tried to think about what the “punishment” would be in making a choice and see if I’m OK with that result.
  2. 30 years from now, which decision will I regret not doing? Very few of my regrets come from having decided to do something, most of them come from not having done something (asking that girl out, trying that food, or riding in that helicopter). So which option would I regret having not done?

Thinking about those two things made it easy. Even if I failed miserably at running my own business, I felt confident I could get another job. With P&G on the resume, improv and humor as a skillset, a network of incredibly smart, talented, and kind people, and a degree in the exploding field of computer science, that seemed a reasonable assessment.

And had I stayed, 30 years from now, I would have always wondered “What could I have I accomplished if I had left?”

So I left not feeling scared but excited.

How did you know it was time to leave?

Right or wrong, I spend much of life quantifying what it is that I do. I tracked my time, 24 hours a day, for an entire year. I know the number of times I’ve performed and the rough estimate of how people have seen me. I can tell you how many times I worked out last year (305).

As a result, numbers motivate me. So I created a list of goals to hit before I’d be comfortable leaving:

  • Speak in front of 50+ audiences.
  • Make at least $10,000 in a year from speaking engagements.
  • Reach 1 million visitors on my website.
  • Have at least 10 rock-solid testimonials.
  • Spend at least 7 straight days working on just Humor That Works.

Once I had achieved those, I felt ready to go. Then it was a matter of finding the right time for the business.

What did your mom think?

My mom, one of the greatest people in the entire world, was very supportive. She was a bit worried, of course, but she encouraged me to do what would make me happy.

I also told her the sooner I left to start my own business, the sooner I’d build it to the point it could support a family, the sooner I’d settle down, and the sooner she’d have grandchildren. That seemed to help.

What do you miss most about the corporate world?

Ask anyone who has ever left P&G what they miss the most and they’ll say the people. I thought it was such a cliche answer until I left and realize it’s 100% true. P&G hires some incredibly talented people and then helps develop them to become more awesome (you have to at a promote-from-within company).

I miss having great managers who guided me through difficult decisions. I have mentors that certainly help, but now that I run the show of my own company, there’s no one as invested as I am that can give guidance on what to do next.

Also, when employed by someone else, you know that a paycheck is coming unless something drastic happens. In self-employment, no paycheck is coming unless something drastic happens.

Are you happy you left?

Absolutely.

I wake up everyday working on something that I’m passionate about that I believe improves the lives of the people I work with. I work with great organizations from all over the world and have traveled to places I didn’t even know existed. My bio says that I’m obsessed with chocolate and event organizers often gift me with a box as a thank you.

box of chocolates

I’m definitely happy.

11 March 2015. Geneva, Switzerland

I looked out over the empty row of seats. The lights were down, and the title of my presentation displayed on the screen in big, bold, blue letters, “The Humor Mindset.”

I had just finished a technical run through for a talk I was giving tomorrow, as part of an internal TEDx event at Procter & Gamble in Geneva.

Meeting the Speakers (Round 1)

I started to walk off stage, and handed the clicker to Kevin, the next presenter doing their walk-through.

Kevin and I chatted as the tech people swapped out presentations and had a couple of laughs. He found out that I did stand up and improv comedy, and said, “Oh, I could never do that. It’s so nerve wracking.”

“It’s something you get used to once you do it a lot,” I responded and didn’t think anything of it. We finished our conversation, and I headed towards the back of the room as Kevin started to click through his slides, getting used to the microphone.

On my way back, I ran into Luvuyo, another speaker on the event the next day. We chatted about our excitement for the talks and how we were happy to have arrived traveling in from far distances.

I headed to the back of the room, where I chatted with Derek, another speaker, one who I had shared the car ride over from the hotel. I remember when we had gotten to the office, we had to go down one floor and could either take a flight of stairs or an elevator.

Derek had a small carry on with him, so I had joked that with him and his suitcase, we’d better take the elevator rather than the stairs.

All normal conversation among speakers before a big event.

Meeting the Speakers (Round 2)

Later that evening I returned to my hotel room. I wanted to run through my presentation a few more times before heading off to dreamland. But before the rehearsing I decided to do a quick check on emails from the day.

The email sitting atop my inbox was from Gaby, one of the organizers of the event. It included the list of speakers and their bios. As I read through each one, I thought back to my encounters that day.

Kevin Richardson

Kevin, who I had talked to after my tech rehearsal, was Kevin Richardson, also known as the Lion Whisperer. If you’ve ever seen the video of the man getting hugged by the lion, that’s Kevin Richardson. He helps raise lions starting while they’re young and they treat him as one of the pride.

I thought back to our conversation, about how he said stand up and improv comedy was scary. I thought to myself, “This is coming from a guy who lives with lions.”

Luvoyo Mandela

Luvuyo, who I had talked to on my way back, was Luvuyo Mandela, of the Mandela family, the great grandson of Nelson Mandela.

He’s working to develop responsible, manageable and sustainable interventions to enhance corporate social responsibility solutions (among many other incredible things) in South Africa.

The man who I had joked with about traveling a far distance had come nearly twice as far as me and was a Mandela (South Africa’s version of the Kennedys).

Derek Redmond

Derek, the one who I had ridden over with and had joked probably needed to take the elevator because he had a bag, was Derek Redmond, former Olympic athlete.

Specifically he’s the Olympian who pulled his hamstring in the 1992 Olympics in the middle of a race. And, if you’ve seen the video, you know that he gets up to finish the race on one good leg and his dad comes down to help him across the finish line.

He’s since gone on to play for the international basketball team for Great Britain, win Celebrity Gladiators, and more.

Meeting Them As Humans

I sat in my hotel room, surprised and humbled. Here I was, just a guy from Ohio, talking about humor, sharing the stage with the Lion Whisperer, political royalty, and an Olympic athlete.

First, I thought, “Wow. I’m really happy that I met them first, before reading about who they were, because I had a chance to treat them like actual people, like they actually are. We joked, I wasn’t in my head about what I was going to say, and we connected as humans.”

My second thought was, “I wonder how much of an idiot they think that I am. I had ‘re-assured’ Kevin that stand-up isn’t that scary. I had talked with Luvuyo about having a long flight. And I had joked with Derek about not being physically able to take a flight of stairs.”

The next day we had a phenomenal event. All of the speakers (not just those listed here) had incredible stories to share. I mentioned at dinner how I was happy that I met everyone before I saw their bios, so I could meet them as people and not as their resumes, and they agreed. We shared recaps of our day and what we had learned. Then we all ate fondue.

speaker dinner

I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxOhioStateUniversity in February of this year. The video is finally available online:

TEDxEast. by Keith Bendis

I attended the 2012 TEDxEast event last week and I was blown away–the variety and quality of the speakers was incredible. Here are my notes from the awesome event. You can also check out some pictures on the Humor That Works Facebook Page.

SESSION 1 – THE LEFT BRAIN

The Other Side of Separation (Keith Yamashita)

Keith Yamashita, a business innovator and consultant, talked about surviving separation after a loss and what it means for how we live now.

  • On the other side of separation is connection.
  • Life is what we choose. Fear or love.

Titan: A World of Both Strange and Familiar (Oded Ahronson)

Planetary Scientist Oded Ahronson shared the story of the Cassini mission to Titan.

  • Titan–a moon around Saturn.
  • Create a test to find out if there is water underneath Titan’s ice surface by reapplying spinning egg test of soft or hard boiled egg.
  • Life in the Universe? The Drake Equation

The Golden Ratio (Matthew Cross)

Business Consultant Matthew Cross introduced the idea of the Golden Ratio.

  • Also known as Phi and the Divine Proportion.
  • The ratio: ~1.618:1.
  • Camera Awesome App — uses golden ratio to frame picture.

Unlikely Targets of Modern Day Vaccines (Dr. Kim Janda)

Dr. Kim Janda presented his work on using vaccinations for more than the “typical” diseases.

  • First lab vaccine came from Pasteur, came about by chance because of an extended vacation.
  • Addiction isn’t a moral failure of the individual but a brain problem.
  • Trying to find vaccines for drug addiction. The vaccine works by blunting the rewarding effect (no pleasure from using the drug)

The Muslims are Coming! (Dean Obeidallah)

Comedian Dean Obeidallah gave a stand-up performance and discussed his work using stand up comedy to counter Islamaphobia.

Resolving the Health Care Crisis (T. Colin Campbell)

Dr. T Colin Campbell discussed his take on how the health care system in the US could be improved.

  • Whats missing from our health care? Nutrition.
  • 80-10-10 diet is the best diet in his view (80% carbs, 10% fat, 10% protein).

Gillian Grassie. By Keith Bendis

Musical Performance (Gillian Grassie)

Gillian Grassie, a singer / songwriter / harpist, gave the background of the inspiration for one of her songs and then performed it.

You Are Not an Ape (Jon Marks)

Dr. Jon Marks discussed evolution and racism.

  • Decades ago we distinguished between what we are and what we were.
  • You are not your ancestry, nor are your DNA. Your genetics are simply who you were, not who you are.

SESSION 2 – THE RIGHT BRAIN

The Creation: Plus 40 (Carmen deLavallade)

Dancer Carmen deLavallade performed a piece titled The Creation: Plus 40.

Between Art, Architecture, and Monument (Maya Lin)

Maya Lin, an artist and architect, talked about her creative process and her current projects fusing art and architecture. See more of Maya’s work on Artsy.

  • There is tension between the straight and the curve.
  • Her work is a tripod of all three, can’t have one without the other.
  • Memorials are between art and architecture
  • “I do research for months, years, then put it away and try to create.”
  • Whatismissing.net

The Gap (Julian Crouch)

Keith Yamashita interviewed Designer / Director Julian Crouch about his work.

  • Success is tricky because people want you to repeat THAT success (the same thing you already did).
  • Failure can be an amazing cleansing.
  • Be yourself more. Do the thing you loved when you were 8.

Nix, Nada, Nameless (Peter Wegner)

Artist Peter Wegner talked about his work and projects.

  • Zero, Nameless, Speck are all real towns in the US.
  • What makes the buildings possible is the “city in the sky” (buildings made of sky in the space between 2 buildings on the street.)
  • Making the invisible visible.

How to Pass, Kick, Film and Run (Charles Atlas)

Charles Atlas, filmmaker and video artist, shared how he captures dance on film.

A Public Place (Oskar Eustis)

Oskar Eustis, an artistic director, talked about his work on Angels in America.

  • Change can feel like death.
  • You have to give time and space for creativity (like blocking downfield for a running back).
  • Art and creativity is not a commodity. One way to keep something from being a commodity is by making it free.

Meet Wendy (Matthias Hollwich)

Architect Matthias Hollwich shared the process of how he created his most recent project.

  • Creativity is about an exhaustion of ideas… and then one idea after that.
  • After generating a list ideas that didn’t work, went back through them and selected what they like about each idea. Molded them together into something new.

The Song Makes a Space (Michael Friedman)

Michael Friedman, composer and lyricist, talked about his creative process and shared a song from his upcoming musical.

  • Fortress of Solitude, the telling of a story told through pop songs.
  • Which comes first, the music or the lyrics? Both. Neither. Depends.
  • Why is this person singing? (Its not good enough to say, “because its a musical.”)
  • Make it simple, not simplistic.

SESSION 3 – FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Excerpts from Beauty (Jane Comfort)

Jane Comfort and Company, a dance company, performed excerpts from an upcoming performance.

Estranged Labour (Samantha Sleeper)

Fashion Designer Samantha Sleeper shared insights from her clothing line and explained why she uses local labor.

Musical Performance (PS22 Chorus)

The boys and girls choir from PS22 sang a collection of songs.

PS22 Chorus

Biology of the Mind: Who We Love (Helen Fisher)

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, talked about the biology of love.

  • 2 aspects of personality: nurture and nature; estimate 40-60% decided by nature.
  • 4 groups of personalities: explorers, builders, directors, negotiatiors.
    • Explorers: Dopamine/Norepherine, sensation seeking, live in big cities
    • Builders: Serotonin, conventional, numeric creativity, “more close friends”,
    • Director: Testosterone, analytic, rule based, direct. Use “Real”
    • Negotiators: Estrogen/Oxytocin, big picture, empathetic, indecisive, unforgiving
  • Love: Explorers and Builders want people like themselves. Directors and Negotiators want opposites of themselves.

Defining Photography (Antonio Bolfo)

Photographer Antonio Bolfo shared his worked and discussed the importance of perspective in art.

  • How do we make photos stand out? Finding a personal perspective.
  • Perspective is the key to photography. What did the photgrapher want you to believe?

Be Your Own Superman (Cassandra Lin)

Cassandra Lin, a 13 year-old social entrepreneur, shared how she was able to impact change in her community.

  • Steps to getting things done: 1) identify your allies; 2) Find adults to the work; 3) make sure everyone makes money; 4) keep it simple.
  • Do things for people (create the first draft, start the project, etc) instead of asking them to do it from scratch.

Dirty Minds (David Pizarro)

Psychologist David Pizarro talked about the emotion of disgust.

  • Disgust is one of the easiest emotions to elicit.
  • When something disgusting touches something clean that thing becomes disgusting (not clean).
  • Thus it can be used for politics and linking disgusting things with your target.
  • Signs reminding of washing hands increases political and moral conservatism.

SESSION 4 – REFRAME

Musical Performance (Julie Reumert)

Opera Singer Julie Reumert performed with an orchestra.

Julie Reumert

City as Platform (Beth Coleman)

Dr. Beth Coleman shared her dream of engaging strangers in urban areas.

  • Turn your city into a playground.
  • How do we use technology to be heads up (aka interacting with each other and the world) instead of head down (consumed in our personal lives).

Visual Anonymity (Sam Gregory)

Sam Gregory, a human rights activist, talked about the importance of anonymity in a world with social media.

Poetry of Misunderstanding (Ross Martin)

Creative SWAT Team Leader Ross Martin shared how the understanding and misunderstanding of poetry is important to creativity.

  • The best we can hope for is not to be understood, but to misunderstood by great minds.
  • People will not receive your work the way you anticipate it.
  • The world moves forward by creative minds using things in ways beyond our intention.

Prodigious Serendipity (Jeff Carter)

Jeff Carter, an innovator and creative, discussed how radical change occurs.

  • The audacity of self identity. I am who I say I am.

GERM that Kills Schools (Pasi Sahlberg)

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg shared what is helping schools Finland rank among the top in the world.

  • 3 reasons why Finland schools are doing well: 1) open to learn from other countries; 2) have never wanted to be #1; 3) take teachers seriously.
  • GERM — Global Educational Reform Movement
  • Accountability is what is left when responsibility is taken away.

Mahmoud Natout

How I Improved my Iteracy (Mahmoud Natout)

Educator / thinker Mahmoud Natout talked about the linear and nonlinear representation of life.

  • When presented with ambiguity, we project our feelings.
  • A refreshing bio would be about presenting our failures in addition to our successes. Do this?
  • We represent our life linearly. Why? 1) linear is predictable, clear and comfortable. 2) education told us to.
  • Linear representation leads to linear values (they are binary, either succes or failure).

There you have hit. Some ideas worth spreading from TEDxEast 2012.