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    • Maybe 6 months ago, John Werner, who runs TEDx MIT and TEDx Beacon Street (and maybe others?), casually asked if I’d be willing to speak.

      I said I would, but I couldn’t tell how serious he was. I wasn’t even sure How serious I was. But a few months later John sent the upcoming TEDx Beacon Street program, and I was on it. The list of other speakers was impressive and things just got real. Uh oh.

      The other speakers had obvious stories to tell; it was very clear why he chose them. What was he looking for from me? He knew I had co-founded SmugMug, he was one of our heaviest users. He knew of my involvement with Steve Jobs and had me tell a few Steve stories at a virtual reality company he worked for. He had heard my pitch on the promise of Cake Panel conversations. But if he had a topic in mind for me, he wasn’t saying. Uh oh.

      What I didn’t know is being invited to speak is one thing, making it to the stage is another. There were to be many rehearsals and re-writes. Speakers mysteriously disappeared from the program. When John addressed the audience on the day, he said they’re very proud of the rehearsals they put the speakers through and that it resulted in many speakers taking a gap year. The audience gave knowing laughter.

      The immediate crisis for me is I had to find a story a TED audience would want to hear. I ran through a list in my head and each had fatal flaws.

    • John didn’t know about my background growing up on the streets of Oakland, but I hated telling that story. It felt like it was all about me, a victim. Ugh.

      Just telling Steve Jobs stories, is that even reasonable? People who were closer to him than I don’t even do that.

      The hopes and dreams we have for panels haven’t yet been realized at the level they would need to be for a TED audience.

      My daughter pointed out that what makes me different from everyone else is the many lives I’ve lived. What would be a lesson from them an audience could relate to?

      So I decided to emulate Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford: three simple stories from my life and connecting the dots looking back. I put together an outline and presented it for the first rehearsal. John had torn into the three previous speakers before me, respectfully but forcefully, and when he heard my title he simply said what does that mean? Uh oh.

      I decided to lead off with homelessness. He seemed troubled and said it would need to be treated with sensitivity. Uh oh. The rest of the talk was fine with him but he said it’s not an A+ talk like two others are and I should learn from them.

      He revealed to the audience on the day that he did that to inspire all the speakers to get to the next level. He put one of them, Sylvia, through 15 rehearsals. He was right about her: she got a sustained standing ovation from the audience.

    • My impression before the invite was TED was the big stage for the best, TEDx was for the rest. Now I can see the wisdom in distributing creative control because TEDx organizers find great speakers we would otherwise not know — the way YouTube and podcasts found previously unknown stars.

      For example, TEDx Houston found this jewel, which in total has gotten 45 million views, according to TED.

      Anyway, questions for me?

    • Want to know what it’s like to get on the TEDx stage? Got questions you’re just dying to ask?

      @cake founder Chris MacAskill is sharing his TED Talk experience and answering your questions.


      Oops! I was already thinking about my next tweet.

      What was the interaction like with the other speakers?

      I think you mentioned helping other speakers practice their talks. What’s your approach to providing feedback to someone you don’t know well?

      What’s something interesting about TED that I wouldn’t think to ask about?

    • How reliant do you have to be on memorization? Are there teleprompters to at least provide guidance for the narrative. Even I were ever in a place to be considered I just don't think I could pull it off without just vamping the entire time. Did you feel you were going to forget the entire lot the minute you walked onstage?

    • What was the interaction like with the other speakers?

      Well, Sylvia asked me to marry her. ❤️

      The relationship felt like we were in boot camp together, at least to me. There was a lot of bonding as we all felt the pressure to have our facts right and somehow memorize our entire speech.

      On the other hand, John would really put us on the spot to critique each other. After Ofer Levy’s talk — he heads the precision vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital — John called on me publicly right after the talk to say what I thought. What I thought was the language was too inaccessible to the audience.

      He nodded but I couldn’t tell what that meant. John didn’t let speakers respond to the critiques.

      On the morning of, Ofer approached me in the lobby with profuse thanks and said he re-wrote the talk completely.

      Jon McNeil was another. He was the former COO of Lyft and Tesla, and I thought his talk was too much of a Tesla commercial. He and I have bonded over email since and we’re planning to get dinner.

      My talk would never have been as good without people like Sylvia setting the bar high and giving some pretty brutal feedback.

    • I wonder what the underlying motivation for the shows is, since so much effort goes in preparing the talks. Of course everyone's time is precious, and so audience ought to benefit from the best there is. But beyond that, who puts these shows together, how they choose where and when, and why, is unclear to me. Thank you Chris.

    • Watching John, I became fascinated with this too. He and the speakers put enormous energy into it.

      The rules TED lays out for TEDx licensees are super clear and super strict: no making money, at all, by anyone. They are purely voluntary. No pseudoscience.

      He’res an example of one set of rules:

      Speaker fees and ineligible speakers:

      • TEDx events may neither pay nor charge speakers.

      • Sponsors of your event cannot be speakers and can never present from the stage.

      • Organizers cannot be speakers at events to which they contribute.

    • I am guessing this is a post-discussion? Did you recently do your speak in front of a live audience yet? Thanks for the backstage pass. Similar to @Dracula 's comment, I am familiar with the platform but I have never actually listened or watched and entire presentation by any given speaker. I get a sound byte and move on. But, I am not a podcast guy either. Would it be safe to say that Beacon Street and Ted-talks are sort of the Steven Speilberg of Podcasts?

      It seems from a "marketing" perspective, "viral" gets the win when a person has a unique singular message - like maybe a photographers life mission is to capture the designs of live snail shells around the world. I might have taken pictures of snail shells but they are only interesting if that is the only thing I shoot.

      So, understand your conundrum. You are obviously a very interesting dude with MANY inspirational life chapters....but, how does that translate to ONE CUPCAKE?

      I cannot even imagine the internal stress of trying to put this together.

    • Looking at this year’s speakers is impressive. (Note: You have to select the year to see 2019’s lineup.)

      I wonder what life was like post-Talk for prior years’ speakers. Would love to have a panel on Cake where they shared their experiences post TED.


      I realize this is more nitty gritty craftsmanship, but can you talk about the thinking behind the slides you used and when it made sense to use a slide to emphasize a point? Or not to?

      Last year on Cake, you interviewed Wayne Goodrich, Steve Jobs’s presentation expert. Were there key rules of Wayne’s that you made sure to follow? Any that you chose to break?

    • I am guessing this is a post-discussion? Did you recently do your speak in front of a live audience yet?

      Yes, I gave it last Saturday. Hard to imagine a week has already gone by. I don't know how to compare various TED venues, but TEDx Beacon Street is one of the best because it's at WGBH Studios in Boston, which are very nice, and you can draw a lot of talent in and around there. Mainly, I have faith in the organizer, who has a license from TED that lets him draw a big crowd.

      TED talks are amazingly varied. You might like this one from Simone Giertz. She's the one who turned a Tesla Model 3 into Truckla, a pickup truck, and got a zillion views on YouTube for it.

    • What’s something interesting about TED that I wouldn’t think to ask about?

      That it was originally started by Richard Saul Wurman in a conversation format: two interesting people who often don't know each other from different fields facing each other and talking to each other while the audience listens and Richard keeps it on track.

      Richard said in a 60 Minutes interview that he did it that way because conversations between people are the best things in life. When I heard that, I hunted him down and got on the phone with him several times about it. He says the current format isn't as interesting to him — rehearsed speeches by one person at a time. I wanted him to help with panel conversations but he doesn't type. He's 88.

      He did, however set the time limit at 18 minutes per speech. He chose that time because it sounded precise and and like it had scientific so people would stick to it.

    • I realize this is more nitty gritty craftsmanship, but can you talk about the thinking behind the slides you used and when it made sense to use a slide to emphasize a point? Or not to?

      I love powerful visuals and to me the most powerful are photographs. The one almost everyone talked about after was this one of my future wife that I took when I was a lovesick 19-year-old who was trying desperately to not to let my crush on her show. I didn't expect that image to be The One.

      We had both been hired as summer camp counselors, but I had just failed at college and she had just graduated. I thought that put her out of my league and a secret crush was the most I could hope for. Later in the talk I had a line that ended "and she's sitting right there." The audience visibly warmed to that and surrounded her after.