I help entrepreneurs fund their dreams.


Speak Like a Pro: My video interview with Jenny Blake

By | business, change, commitment, communication, entrepreneur, marketing, personal branding, speaking, story, tools | No Comments

Getting paid to speak in public is likely the highest hourly rate you’ll get for anything (legal) in your life.

But more important than that, it’s one of the best ways to build confidence, spread your ideas and get comfortable at being uncomfortable.

Over the last ten years, I’ve worked on improving my public speaking. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and experienced some epic failures.

But the hard work has paid off. Now, I regularly get paid to speak, teach and share my ideas with others.

So I was honored when my friend Jenny Blake asked me to be part of her “Speak Like a Pro” virtual conference series.

Speak Like a Pro, is streaming free for five days from August 25 to August 29. The series features 25 compelling conversations with authors, TED speakers and the world’s leading experts on influence and behavior change.

Through this conference, you will learn to master an art form as old as time; whether in a setting as intimate as an important meeting or as big as speaking on center stage, learn how to find your confidence, hone your message, and manage your nerves to nail your delivery and inspire positive change in others.

Get your FREE ticket to my interview and all 24 others right here!

Jenny and I had a great chat and in our quick 31 minute interview, we covered everything below.

  • The singular moment (and book) that launched my entrepreneurial career (1:40)
  • What I learned from from my six-month MBA with Seth Godin (2:41)
  • The critical speaking tip that took me years to learn (5:22)
  • The exact process (and software and tools) that I use to plan and prepare for a speaking gig (7:10)
  • The one SIMPLE fix that will improve any talk (8:30)
  • The one and only reason to give any talk (9:45)
  • Exactly how to end your talk (whether there is Q&A or not) (11:10)
  • The most important thing to practice (that you’re probably not practicing) (11:35)
  • The biggest mistake most speakers make when they begin their talk (12:10)
  • How to begin any talk in a more interesting way (12:38)
  • The one thing the audience should know before you say a word (12:39)
  • What Arianna Huffington’s book intro can teach you about starting your talk (13:20) (Shout out to Christina Rasmussen)
  • The best way to practice in public (any why it works) (14:27)
  • The neurotic thing I do to prepare (that improves every talk I give) (16:02)
  • How I design my slides (16:40)
  • How to remove variables for speaking failure (17:40)
  • What Jenny packs in her speaking kit when she travels (18:30)
  • Seth Godin’s speaking rider (and which parts you should steal) (19:05)
  • The easy things and the hard things about becoming a professional speaker (19:35)
  • A foolproof three-step backup plan if everything fails (20:27)
  • The one thing you should write down a month prior to your talk (24:20)
  • How to figure out the best speaking slot for your talk (25:40)
  • My top three tips, tools and resources for speaking (26:40) (Shout out to Nancy Duarte)
  • The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career as a public speaker (28:40)
  • Why you should develop specific talks (and gather specific testimonials) (29:45)
  • My definition of what it means to Speak Like a Pro (30:24)

Sneak preview:

Below is a sneak preview of 4 minutes of our chat. Again, you can access my full 31-minute interview as well as all of the other Speak Like a Pro interviews for FREE right here.







The Best Conference Hack

By | book, entrepreneur, listening, marketing, success | No Comments

The best conference hack is simple, always available and won’t cost you a dime, just a little courage.

Sit in the front row.

Here are 5 reasons why…

You’ll meet amazing people

At the Summit Series – Summit at Sea conference in 2011, I attended Tony Conrad’s session and staked out my spot in the front row. A few minutes before the talk began, Tim Ferriss himself sat down in the seat right next to me.

Tim and I chatted briefly before and after the session and have stayed in contact ever since.

Clay and Tim Ferriss_2

You’ll connect with the speakers

Some venues have big bright lights illuminating the stage, making it hard for speakers to see more than a few rows into the audience. But if you’re sitting in the front row, leaning in and paying attention, you immediately become part of any speaker’s direct line of sight.

Your hand will be seen first if you ask a question and your face will be memorable when you talk to any speakers afterward.

Also, front row seats are often reserved for upcoming speakers, so you never know who you’ll sit next to. (It might be Tim Ferriss.)

You’ll actually be able to see the slides

Despite free and widely available advice from presentation design champions like Nancy DuarteGarr Reynolds and Jon Thomas, most slides (even from some amazing speakers) still suck.

Too many words per slide. Too small a font. The dreaded slideument.

Few speakers design visuals for the back row, so by sitting in the front, you get to absorb all the content; even the stuff in 10pt. font.

You’ll focus and learn more

If you hide in the back, every row between you and the speakers is a potential distraction. Staring at the backs of everyone’s head makes it easy for your mind to wander. It’s too easy to check your phone and tune out.

By sitting in the front row, you’ll avoid these distractions, focus on the speakers and learn more.

You’ll gain confidence in other areas

The amygdala, our “lizard brain”, is the part of our brain that tells us to sit in the back. It’s the little devil on our shoulder that convinces us to hide, fit in and hold back.

Simple actions like proactively sitting in the front row at a conference can help you learn to recognize and manage your lizard brain. Silencing it through simple victories like sitting in the front row will help you silence it in other areas as well.

Pretty soon, you’ll be the one up on stage.

Sit in the front row

There is a cost to attending conferences. Your time is valuable.

Next time you go, get the most value possible.

Get there ten minutes early and sit in the front row.

That’s where I’ll be.

If you see me, please say hi.


The New Way to Say No (That’s Actually a Yes)

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

It’s a frustrating conundrum.

At any level of experience or accomplishment, we all have people reaching out to us for help.

We’re all more connected than ever but with increased connection comes increased accessibility.

Tweets and emails become requests to “pick your brain” or for “a quick coffee meeting” and increase until they’re frequent enough to be a full-time job.

A full-time, unpaid job.

Most of us have no problem charging big companies for our expertise. Companies have budgets. There is a known process that involves contracts, invoices and retainers.

I’m talking about the one-off requests for “quick” advice from someone who finds you online.

My conundrum

I love teaching and helping others. I also want to pay forward all the help and wisdom that so many have generously shared with me.

But these requests had been increasing, taking up time and disrupting my flow. Contracts and invoices for a 20 minute call or a one hour coffee meeting would be ludicrous.

This left two options:

Option 1: Politely decline all requests.
This doesn’t allow me to help anyone, ever. It also eliminates all serendipity.

Option 2: Accept and take the meeting.
This maximizes serendipity but scales my productivity down to zero.

Neither option was ideal.

Even deciding between Option 1 and 2 caused unnecessary stress.

Should I take this call? Is this particular meeting worth it?

The combination of deciding which meetings to take, the back-and-forth scheduling and the meetings themselves was taking over 15 hours per month of my time.

15+ hours per month was unsustainable.
 Something had to change.

What I needed:

I still wanted to help but I needed a standard way to filter incoming requests.

I needed a way to:

  1. Keep all meetings as short and efficient as possible. An hour into many coffee meetings, no specific request has been made.
  2. Eliminate all unnecessary components. The travel time to and from the coffee shop doesn’t help anyone.
  3. Filter those who really want advice from those who just wanted to meet me. Lots of people are happy to buy a coffee for the chance to get to know you.
  4. Seamless scheduling. The back and forth scheduling often takes as long as the meeting itself.
  5. Seamless payment and collection. No invoices. No contracts. No hassle.

The Solution

Enter Clarity.fm.

Clarity is a community of experts who want to help but needed a better way to scale the delivery of that expertise.

Clarity is dead simple.

As an expert, you create a profile, add your areas of expertise and set a price per minute for your time. You keep the money, or if you want, you can donate the proceeds to your favorite charity.

As a user, you create a profile, search the directory and schedule a call with any expert.

Everyone in the header image above is on Clarity.

Clarity meets all of my goals:

  1. Keep all meetings as short and efficient as possible. When people are paying by the minute, they get to the point. Asks are made quickly and succinctly. Efficient transfer of value. Everybody wins.
  2. Eliminate all unnecessary components. No cafes. No travel time. Clarity works via phone. Not fancy, just effective. (Sorry, Starbucks.)
  3. Filter those who really want advice from those who just wanted to meet me. The per-minute rate has (so far) filtered incoming requests to people who want my advice, not those who want to be my friend.
  4. Seamless scheduling. This is one of my favorite parts of Clarity. Like most great products, the beauty is in the simplicity. Callers propose three time slots. Experts can accept one or counter-propose. It’s one-click to add to your calendar of choice. When it’s time for the call, a single click on the handy SMS reminder patches you into the conference bridge line. (This scheduling component works so well, Clarity could spin it out as a separate product.)
  5. Seamless payment and collection. I currently donate all proceeds to charity: water. It’s easy. When I hangup the call, I get emailed a summary that includes how much money charity: water made. I smile and go about my day. But you don’t have to donate. Many experts keep the money and some have substantially supplemented their income via Clarity calls. Clarity even allows you to create a temporary “free” link so you can take specific calls with no charge.

Steal This Script

Whenever I get a request for a one-off coffee meeting or phone call, I now respond with some version of the following:

Hey (name),
Thanks for reaching out. I’d love to help but I’m really focused on building my crowdfunding course right now.
If you want, feel free to book a phone call with me via my Clarity profile. There is a per-minute charge that I donate to charity: water to help them bring clean water to people who need it.
– Clay

My experience

Clarity has been the filter I’ve been looking for.

In the last 6 months, I’ve taken 14 Clarity calls, helping entrepreneurs with a variety of questions on everything from startups to marketing to succeeding on Kickstarter.


Before: 15+ hours per month + a lot of frustration

After: Less than 3 hours per month + $1,235 raised for charity: water



Saying no to every random meeting eliminates all serendipity and doesn’t allow me to help other entrepreneurs like so many who have helped me.

Saying yes to every random meeting scales my ability to ship work that matters down to zero.

Clarity is a perfect filter for me.

It’s my new favorite way to say no, that’s actually a yes.

Disclosure: I’m not an investor in or advisor to Clarity but the founder, Dan Martell is a good friend and a great entrepreneur. But even if I didn’t know or like Dan, I’d still love Clarity.


Bring Colleagues Together With The Skill Swap Office Pool

By | collaboration, productivity, relationships, sports, team, trust | No Comments

It’s that time of the year again.

Every March tens of millions of people participate in an NCAA Final Four office pool.

I’ve filled out office pool brackets since I was ten years old, when my mom would bring hers home from work.

But in 2009, I figured something out.

We’re all doing it wrong.

Stop me if this sounds familiar

Many office pools are free and exist to increase office camaraderie.

Those that do involve money usually keep the stakes friendly — everyone throws in a nominal sum, usually between $5 and $20, and fills out a bracket.

When the tournament is over, whoever had the top two or three brackets (often the non-sports fans) split up the winnings. Then everyone forgets about the whole thing until next year.

Wash, rinse, repeat.


The standard office pool is boring and doesn’t create the office camaraderie everyone hopes it will.

There’s a better way to run it that’s more fun and brings employees closer.

I call it the Skill Swap.

How Skill Swap Began

In March of 2009, I was one of nine people attending Seth Godin’s Alternative MBA program.

I wanted to run a Final Four pool for the team but nobody else cared about college basketball and they certainly didn’t care about gambling a $10 entry fee.

So I changed how it worked.

How Skill Swap Works

Instead of throwing in $10, everyone donates a skill. Something they are good at.

There were 10 of us, so 10 skills were swapped.

The donated skills are listed publicly so people can browse the list during the tournament and learn more about their colleagues.

  1. Seth offered Canadian Style canoe paddling lessons (called Omering).
  2. Emily offered guitar lessons.
  3. Al offered a comprehensive fitness and nutrition audit and consultation.
  4. Susan offered to design an e-book.
  5. Jon offered kayaking lessons.
  6. Becca offered a “Day with Becca” personalized guided tour of Manhattan.
  7. Alex offered to teach exactly how to make his famous melted ginger scallion sauce. (similar recipe here)
  8. Ishita offered a personal coaching session on conquering fears in business.
  9. Allan offered to teach someone how to read and build a cap table.
  10. I offered to cook a 4 course home-cooked meal.

After the tournament, instead of winning money, the winner of the office pool gets to choose first from the donated skills. Second place gets second choice, and so on.

Jon took first and chose Becca’s guided tour of Manhattan.

Susan took second and chose Jon’s kayak lessons.

Seth took third and chose Susan’s offer to design an e-book.

And so on…

Everyone teaches. Everyone learns. Everyone wins.

Run Your Own Skill Swap: Free Templates

Here are some free templates to help you run your Skill Swap office pool.

Optional Additional Rules

The skill should be something that can be delivered or taught in two hours or less.

You have one year to redeem the skill or it expires.

Why Skill Swap is Better

People generally do office pools to increase connection and camaraderie. But it doesn’t work. Nobody really cares about the $10 (and many people don’t even care about the tournament.)

The Skill Swap actually does increase connection and camaraderie.

Everyone is great at something.

Teaching that skill to a colleague helps everyone and brings employees closer.

Everyone teaches. Everyone learns. Everyone wins.

This year, instead of the traditional office pool, try the Skill Swap this year and bring employees closer.

Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Photo Credit: ChadCooperPhotos via Compfight cc

Things Our Government Needs to Understand2

16 Non-Partisan Links Our Government Needs to Understand

By | change, collaboration, communication, culture, ideas, positive, productivity, progress | No Comments

Election Day is tomorrow. Most polls say the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be close.

I’ll be watching closely to see who wins but not because I think either candidate understands what this country needs to move forward and even if they did, the bureaucracy of our political system is an innovation condom structured to prevent it.

Below are sixteen links I’ve curated on the topics of education, healthcare, the economy and innovation. These links are intended to be non-partisan and don’t explicitly endorse either candidate. These are the issues that I wish more people would read and understand and have intelligent discourse about.

These are the issues that I wish our two presidential candidates would read, watch and understand. Below are click-to-tweet buttons if you would like to share this post with your candidiate of choice or anyone else. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I’m going to steal a convention I like from Fred Wilson, and list “The Money Quote” for each link.


1. TEDx: Stop Stealing Dreams: Seth Godin at TEDx talk asking the question nobody else is asking…….”What is School For?”

The Money Quote: (right after Seth has the crowd recite the standard student-to-teacher morning ritual call, “Good morning, Mr. Godin”)

“Have you thought about how, for 100 or 150 years, that was ingrained into the process of public education? Have you thought at all, as people on the cutting edge, as people who are interested in making school work again, about a very simple question? What is school for? I don’t think we’re answering that question. I don’t even think we’re asking that question. Everyone seems to think they know what school is for, but we’re not going to make anything happen until we can all agree, about how we got here, and where we’re going. My goal today is to put that question into your head and help you think about it.”


2. Stop Stealing Dreams Book: The full book, free in every format.

The Money Quote:

“Changing school doesn’t involve sharpening the pencil we’ve already got. School reform cannot succeed if it focuses on getting schools to do a better job of what we previously asked them to do. We don’t need more of what schools produce when they’re working as designed. The challenge, then, is to change the very output of the school before we start spending even more time and money improving the performance of the school.“

3. Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Ken Robinson.

The Money Quote:

“The current education system was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution.“



4. The Road to Wellville, Jay Parkinson: 

Dr. Jay Parkinson outlines what a new, sustainable healthcare system might look like.

The Money Quote:

“We need designers to create from the ground up a new, sustainable, healthcare experience that’s split into three arms, each paid for with different business models than are applied today. Most important, these three systems should be focused on your needs, interoperable and powered by a platform that looks and functions like a secure Facebook designed to power health communication. You would be able to schedule your own appointments and email, IM, and videochat with your health professionals. You’d also have a guide, an expert in medical triage, to show you what kind of professional you need, how much you should spend, and who would be best for you in your area.”

5. A clinic with two doors, a symbol of two-tier care, Bill Dedman

The Money Quote:

“On Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side, the door on 77th Street says Lenox Hill Radiology. It’s a busy place, with 20 or 30 people typically waiting in chairs. It takes insurance.

But if you walk a few steps down the block to Madison Avenue, and one block up to 78th Street, you’ll walk through the door of New York Private Medical Imaging. The waiting room has only four chairs, usually empty. It takes cash, checks and credit cards. You can try to recoup some of your money later if you have insurance.

Both doors ultimately lead to the same area of changing rooms and scanning equipment. The same technicians perform PET scans and MRIs on the same machines. The employees are warned, in a written policy, not to tell the patients about the other door.”

6. How American Healthcare Killed My Father, David Goldhill

The Money Quote:

“My dad became a statistic—merely one of the roughly 100,000 Americans whose deaths are caused or influenced by infections picked up in hospitals. One hundred thousand deaths: more than double the number of people killed in car crashes, five times the number killed in homicides, 20 times the total number of our armed forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

7. The Cost Conundrum, Atul Gawande

Dr. Atul Gawande explains what the town of McAllen, Texas can teach us about healthcare.

The Money Quote:

“Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.”

8. Here are a few questions to consider before talking intelligently about healthcare reform, Jay Parkinson

From Jay Parkinson’s blog. Even more detail here.

The Money Quote:

“Don’t do the internet thing and glance at all of these questions. Sit down, read them carefully. Think about each one. Ask the right questions about each one like who, what, when, where, and why. Find the answers. Then go and talk intelligently about healthcare.”

The Economy:

9. The forever recession (and the coming revolution), Seth Godin

Seth explains the forever recession, the race to the bottom, why job creation is a false idol and the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Money Quote:

“Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created.

There’s a race to the bottom, one where communities fight to suspend labor and environmental rules in order to become the world’s cheapest supplier. The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win…”

10. VIDEO: Seth Godin explains the end of the industrial age

In this discussion with George Stroumboulopoulos, Seth goes deeper on the forever recession and the end of the industrial age, and how as a society, we are completely unprepared for this revolution. He explains the way to win is to pick yourself and focus on the race to the top. Instead of being “the same but cheaper”, focus on being interesting, unique, noteworthy and more expensive.

The Money Quote:

“The recession is a forever recession. There’s a cyclical thing that comes and goes but there’s this other thing and it’s the end of the industrial age. It lasted for 80 years. For 80 years, you got a job, you did what you were told, you retired. And good people could make above average pay for average work. And it ended. And so 2012 is not going to be more of the same, it’s going to be worse of the same, in that the industrial age is going away and a new thing is going to take its place.”

11. A Capitalist’s Dilemma, Whoever Wins on Tuesday, Clayton Christensen

The Money Quote:

“Our approach to higher education is exacerbating our problems. Efficiency innovations often add workers with yesterday’s skills to the ranks of the unemployed. Empowering innovations, in turn, often change the nature of jobs — creating jobs that can’t be filled.

Today, the educational skills necessary to start companies that focus on empowering innovations are scarce. Yet our leaders are wasting education by shoveling out billions in Pell Grants and subsidized loans to students who graduate with skills and majors that employers cannot use.”

12. “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read”, Leonard E. Read

The classic essay by Leonard E. Read explains cooperation without coercion; how it takes thousands of people who live in many lands, speak different languages, practice different religions, and may even hate one another to cooperate to produce a simple pencil.

The Money Quote:

“Leave all creative energies uninhibited.”



13. VIDEO: Clay Shirky on Cooperation Without Coordination

Clay Shirky explains how distributed version control systems like Github are really a revolutionary new form of arguing, what that means for how communities come together and how they can positively impact society at large.

The Money Quote:

“A momentous thing that can happen to a culture is they can acquire a new style of arguing: trial by jury, voting, peer review, now this. A new form of arguing has been invented in our lifetimes, in the last decade in fact. It’s large. It’s distributed. It’s low cost. And it’s compatible with the ideals of democracy. The question for us now is, are we going to let the programmers keep it to themselves, or are we going to try to take it and press it into service for society at large?”


14. What happened to the future? We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters. (The Founders Fund Manifesto)

In an in-depth look at Founders Fund’s investing thesis, the authors explain that human creativity and technical ability can build a better future for all humanity.

The Money Quote:

“The best founders want to radically change the world for the better. To many investors, visionary entrepreneurs come off as naïve or worse – isn’t it safer/easier/more profitable to create a(nother) social network for cat fanciers than to try to cure cancer, defeat terrorism, or organize the world’s information? The problem is that all start-ups are difficult – long hours, low pay, and fierce competition wear on even the most dedicated teams. The entrepreneurs who make it have a near-messianic attitude and believe their company is essential to making the world a better place. It doesn’t matter whether everyone agrees with the entrepreneur about the world-historical nature of the project – if the entrepreneur seeks an impact beyond his own payday and can convince employees of the same, the project is much more likely to get done. The engineers at SpaceX are passionate about commercializing and colonizing space; profit is a significant byproduct of their extraordinary effort to achieve that goal but not enough to get them to pull the thousandth all-nighter. The same is true of Jobs at Apple, or the programmers at Palantir, or the researchers at new drug companies. Early in a company’s life, an entrepreneur can make enough money to satisfy his own needs (though often not much of a return for the investor); to take a company from $50 million to $50 billion requires singular vision and dedication. Wild-eyed passion is not a bad thing by any means.”


15. The Awesomeness Manifesto, Umair Haque

Umair Haque argues convincingly that awesomeness is the new innovation.

The Money Quote:

“Let’s summarize. What is awesomeness? Awesomeness happens when thick — real, meaningful — value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That’s a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.”


16. Abundance is Our Future, Peter Diamandis

Peter Diamandis summarizes his excellent book Abundance in his 2012 TED Talk.

The Money Quote:

“I’m not saying we don’t have our set of problems — climate crisis, species extinction, water and energy shortage — we surely do. But ultimately, we knock them down.“


Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading. I know this was a long one.

If you would like to share this post with your favorite candidate, or with anyone, feel free to use the click-to-tweet buttons below or share using this link:http://spnd.ws/16links.

If you have thoughts of your own or any other links you would like to share, I’d love to discuss in the comments, although I don’t want the discussion to get political and debate the merits of either candidate or party. If you want that debate, it’s easy to find. Thanks.



Thanks to Al PittampalliDan LewisDan MooreDan ShipperGeorge G Smith Jr.Jason KeathTodd SchenkPaul Pettengill and Julia Roy for reading drafts of this post.


Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc