30 minutes. That’s 7 hours and 30 minutes short of the recommended 8 hours, and it’s exactly how much sleep I got the night before my TEDtalk. But, believe me, it was worth it.

TEDtalkTo get only a half hour of sleep is not glorious (or smart, as a long-term strategy). However, all-nighter mode is how a lot of us find time to ship those bigger projects that aren’t on the roadmap or part of the core business. It’s outside of that core where you can make some magic—for your startup and for yourself as a founder.

Have you ever noticed that some of the most important work may not be that urgent?

I was skeptical at first, but I’m here to tell you I was wrong. I’m here to share why taking time outside of your business to give a TED talk—that magical 10-to-20 minute presentation format—is not only worth it, but not as difficult as you might think. Here’s why…

Your scattered bits of thought become one solid thread.

My adrenaline was amplified higher than the time I jumped out of a plane above Miami. But by the time I heard my name called by the TEDx emcee, my message had been sharpened to a point.

Like all founders, my mission at my work has always been an enormously important part of my life. So, like any entrepreneur might do, I dug deep into my startup stories to compose the tapestry of my talk.

Of course, we don’t always feel like we have the luxury of time to look in the rear view. But when we give ourselves the gift of reflection, we can uncover value we didn’t even know was there.

After the weeks of background thought for TED x, I found that my musings in meetings and ideation sessions had more potency. As I catalogued my career experiences in moleskines and my evernote, it was like I discovered a Rosetta stone.  I developed a new language to express ideas and formed more powerful sentences from the words of my startup struggles.

This has become enormously powerful weapons as I suit up each day.

Well-prepared TEDxTalks turn your startup struggles into a fresh suit of armor.

TEDtalk preparation

Let’s face it, growing a profitable company can feel like a battle. And as a startup founder, you have to lead your troops charging across the field like you’re f*@king  Braveheart.

It’s true that nothing prepares you for battle like more experience on the field. But nothing locks in learning like glimpsing back at how your moves won you more victories (or didn’t). Well, there’s a reason.

Reliving the past struggles in your business will remind you what you’ve been through. As founders, we’re future-oriented creatures. This trait can be a strength when planning, positioning, or when painting the vision for your team. And if we let this future orientation keep ourselves oblivious to our blind spots, this trait can also hold us back from developing as leaders. But it doesn’t have to.

You’ve come a long way. You’ll feel it even more as you assemble your TEDx talk and dust off those start-up memories. Those scars are reminders that make us tougher and they become more valuable as we acknowledge them, derive new meaning, and celebrate them. But that’s not all…

Giving a TED lecture will shed your b#ll5h*t layer and get to the good stuff.


“So, do you want to jam some more?” I asked Jeb and Kevin, my fellow band mates.

“I’d rather talk more about this TED presentation,” Jeb replied as Kevin nodded his head. I was glad because secretly that’s what I wanted, too.  And then it hit me.

This is the kind of conversation that really matters. Not the trivial, surface-level banter, but the crucial conversations that make you better—not only as a leader, but as a person.

Grinding away at a topic doesn’t just help you become tougher and organize your thoughts. It can help you deepen relationships by making your conversations more meaningful. At the same time, your TEDtalk opportunity will spark all kinds of new connections. I’ve met so many inspiring people after presenting new ideas on stage. And TEDx was no exception.

As a founder, you’ll gain new allies—partners, talent, clients, and fans. And not just at the TED event, but in the research leading up to your presentation, and even afterwards, when that glorious video of your talk makes its way online.

I know you’re busy. It’s hard to justify taking hours out of your nights and weekends to construct a fluid 10-to-20 minute talk. But as a TED presenter, you’re going to ship more meaningful work in the long run (or not-so-long run).

It’s a magical event that will deliver a fuller entrepreneurial experience for you and your team. Trust me, sleep can wait just a little while longer.

UPDATE (11/18/2013): Video is now live on the TED YouTube channel:

This post was a reflection on the TED talk I gave at TEDxIndianapolis earlier this week. It was a huge honor share the same stage as some of the other creative presenters, including other company founders like my friend and fellow band mate, Jeb Banner (who talked about what businesses can learn from being in a band). Will update when the videos are edited and published!