If you were asked to give a TED talk tomorrow, would you be ready? How would you prepare? Chances are, you'd Google it first.
We live in the ultimate age of "How to's." People can use the internet to learn how to do almost anything...but even though the step-by-step instructions might be there, many of the articles and books that you find don't cover what happens when you aren't ready to receive what you ask for. Whether you want to get a TED talk or any other major opportunity, you need to learn one thing to prepare yourself: how to make the pitch.
The first sponsorship proposal that I ever created was at the age of eleven. I was in the 7th grade. My friends and I had just created a team to compete at our school's Ultimate Frisbee competition. While we didn't really need sponsors, we thought it would be awesome if we were the only kids showing up with some.
But I didn't really know what I was doing. This was before the Internet was widely used and the school library didn't have anything on the subject so there weren't any resources that I could have access to. So what did I do?
First, I made a list of everything wanted to get for our team. Then, I thought about all of the people who might be able to help get us those things: the local alternative radio station, clothing companies, and frisbee companies. Finally, I mailed a letter to the corporate offices of each those groups and waited for their responses.
While that experience didn't result in our team getting the cool custom jerseys that we were hoping for, I ended up learning valuable lesson about making an ask. It was never about our team and what an organization could do for us. It was all about what a sponsorship meant for their business and how working together could benefit everyone involved. In other words, it was more about a partnership than a sponsorship. I needed to communicate the return on investment for them.
Several years later, I had another chance to apply those lessons. When I was junior in High School, I started the first ever, school-wide Battle of the Bands. It was a huge event that needed the support of the local community - I even had to get my friend's older brother involved since I was only 15 and couldn't legally sign contracts with the professional security company I hired, the sound system we rented, or box trucks to move everything.
To pull that off, I biked to the doors of every business in our area. But I made a small change in my pitch.
Instead of saying something like, "I'm from Monte Vista High School, we're putting on a fundraising concert, will you donate something?" I said, "Hi, I'm from Monte Vista High School and we're putting on an event that will elevate and promote local businesses. How would you like to be a part of the biggest concert in our school's history?" And, whenever anyone said yes, I would include that in my next pitch, which gave me more credibility.
The same concepts that go into developing sponsorship proposal are the same for any kind of ask that you make in life. It can be distilled down to one thing: the pitch.
Whether you want that dream job, to get a date, or get a TED talk, it comes down to the pitch.
Now, many people get this part wrong. They think the pitch is about style, the how you ask. While that's certainly important, I've found that a good pitch has three main parts.
The first, is that you simply have to ask. A question that I often get is, "how did you get a TED talk?" or sometimes "how did you get so many TED talks?" The simple reality is that I went on the TED website, click on events, and contacted every single TEDx event where I could communicate in their language or had an idea that fit their theme.
It's not very sexy or dramatic, but almost every great achievement requires persistence and determination. I knew I had great ideas, so that wasn't an issue. I had to convince other people that those ideas were ones their communities needed to hear. But nothing happens until you make an ask. Waiting and hoping to get an opportunity doesn't get you that opportunity. Remember, until you ask, the answer is always no.
In addition to asking, you need to have something of value to offer.
Remember, whenever you ask anything from others, it's all about creating an equitable exchange. In the world of TED, this is an idea worth sharing. If your goal is simply to get a TED talk, then you've already missed the point. Let me repeat that: if your main goal is to get on the TED stage for yourself, you are missing the mark.
But if your goal is give an incredible idea that you're uniquely qualified to share, then you've got something special to offer.
The best way to prepare yourself for big growth opportunities and move ahead is to give generously.
The world's greatest innovators aren't celebrated because they are major consumers - we admire and follow them because they give the world better products, stories, and ideas. Think about it: we give all kinds of awards for people who write books but none for people who read them. Prolific readers are only lifted up are when they're able to give back somehow, either through recommendations or literary analysis.
So if you are making an ask, be ready to give generously. What you'll get in return will be so much more than you expected.
The third and final part of the pitch has to do with you: are you ready to receive what you're asking for?
Many say they a want job promotion, their ideal spouse, and so on, but they aren't ready for those things. If you want to be a leader tomorrow, you need to prepare for being a leader today. You don't wait until you get there to figure it out. If you want the opportunity to be on the TED stage, have you paid your dues by cultivating an idea and given to your community?
Here's a little secret of mine: I keep a running Google Drive folder full of ideas. In fact, it's just called TED ideas. Whenever I think of an anecdote, some useful information, or experience a powerful moment, I begin working on the idea. Some ideas have marinated and developed over years. But if and when a TED event says yes, I have plenty of things ready to go.
Desire is not enough. Passion is not enough. You have to take initiative, give to others, and prepare yourself for a yes. That's the pitch- and that's how you get a TED talk.